Nfld. & Labrador

No talks underway for sale of Muskrat Falls, says Dwight Ball

Premier Dwight Ball says there are no talks underway to sell all or part of of the Muskrat Falls, and admits that there would be few takers even if there were.

Premier says focus is to complete project, mitigate costs to ratepayers in the province

Dwight Ball speaks to reporters after a cabinet retreat Thursday. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Premier Dwight Ball says there are no talks underway to sell all or part of the controversial Muskrat Falls Project, and admits there would be few takers even if there were.

"Our focus is about getting this project on track," he said.

With members of his inner circle assembled behind him, Ball addressed the media Thursday morning following a summer cabinet retreat at The Rooms in St. John's.

He addressed a litany of questions on a broad range of topics, including the province's dire fiscal situation, the upcoming fall budget, a massive aquaculture development in Placentia Bay, and even a Pikachu costume wearing critic who was refused entry into the news conference because he was not a "registered" member of the media.

Jon Keefe, a critic of government and the 2016 budget, wore a "press pass" and a Pikachu costume, but the premier's staff would not allow him into the news conference. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

But it was a Wednesday interview by select media with former premier and Muskrat Falls champion Danny Williams — Williams has repeatedly denied interview requests by CBC News — that set much of the tone.

Hydro-Quebec snooping around

Williams is concerned that officials with Hydro-Quebec have visited the Muskrat Falls site in central Labrador, raising questions about whether talks may be underway to reach some type of deal in order to reduce costs to the province.

Ball dismissed that suggestion.

"There's no talks about Hydro-Quebec taking over Muskrat Falls. As a matter of fact, there's not a big lineup of people right now that would want to buy Muskrat Falls, given where it is," he said.

The cost to build and finance the hydroelectric project is now estimated at $11.4 billion, up from $7.4 billion when the project was sanctioned four years ago.

Ball said the No. 1 objective is to complete the project, and do whatever is possible within the next three to four years to reduce what are expected to be dramatic increases in utility costs for ratepayers in the province.

Stan Marshall was named CEO of Nalcor Energy this past spring. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Hydro-Quebec is a one-third owner of the Upper Churchill Project in Labrador, and Ball said it's "not unusual" for senior officials to visit.

Nalcor also released a statement this week on the matter, saying the meetings were held so new leadership at both Hydro-Quebec and Nalcor could get acquainted.

"The new teams gathered for a visit to the Churchill Falls plant, and while there they took in a tour of the Muskrat Falls site. The meeting was arranged simply as a tour of the Churchill Falls plant by the two business partners, and to provide an opportunity for the new teams to establish a working relationship,"  said Nalcor.

Nalcor's new CEO, Stan Marshall, stated recently he was considering all options in order to reduce costs and generate revenue, including talks with Hydro-Quebec, and an expanded loan guarantee from the federal government.

"We will focus on getting more value from the excess power by exploring new arrangements and longer term arrangements ... we will work with our existing business partners, Emera and Hydro-Quebec, in hopes of doing that," Marshall said in June.

About the Author

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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