Nfld. & Labrador

Nalcor boss reports 'great year', says Muskrat Falls mostly complete

Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall says the corporation has "turned a corner" on the project, which is now 90 per cent complete and largely "de-risked."

Plenty of smiles and few questions as Nalcor hosts annual general meeting

Nalcor Energy CEO and president Stan Marshall was all smiles at the corporation's annual general meeting in St. John's on Thursday. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Nalcor has "turned a corner" on the controversial Muskrat Falls project, which is now 90 per cent complete, and the province's energy corporation had a "great year" in 2017, said president and CEO Stan Marshall.

What's more, power from Labrador's Upper Churchill generating station will begin flowing to the island of Newfoundland by this summer, marking the first time the island will be connected to Labrador's iconic power generating facility.

And Marshall said the risks associated with the Muskrat Falls project have been managed, with no changes to the schedule and cost of the controversial project.

The overall cost is still estimated at a whopping $12.7 billion, including interest and other costs, and first power from Muskrat Falls will flow in 2019.

Potential for disaster has passed

That's wildly more than the $6.2 billion estimate released when the project was sanctioned in 2012, and years behind schedule, but Marshall said the potential for outright disaster has passed.

This is a January 2018 photo of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric construction project on the Churchill River in central Labrador, near Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (Nalcor)

"I'm a lot happier now than I was two years ago," a smiling Marshall told reporters afterwards, referring to his April 2016 appointment as the head of Nalcor.

"We came into a situation that was a crisis. We've worked our way through it. Any megaproject in the world would be happy to be where we are."

Those were some of the notable revelations Thursday as Nalcor, which is tasked to manage and develop the province's energy resources on behalf of government, held its annual general meeting in St. John's.

The mood was upbeat, with just a few questions from those in attendance.

And there was very little talk about government's decision to break off the profitable oil and gas division from Nalcor and establish it as a stand-alone Crown corporation.

"I'm totally OK with it," said Marshall.

'A tremendous year'

Profits are up, driven largely by oil revenues, and so is Marshall's outlook on things. He's no longer referring to Muskrat Falls as a boondoggle, despite the fact ratepayers in this province still face a doubling of their power bills by the time Muskrat Falls reaches full power in 2020.

"We had a very, very successful, a tremendous year, in 2017," said Marshall.

There have been numerous milestones in recent months, including the completion of the Maritime Link between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, the flow of power over a new transmission line from Churchill Falls to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and the near completion of the massive Labrador-Island transmission line from Muskrat Falls to Soldier's Pond.

At Muskrat Falls, the generating facilities were enclosed before the onset of winter, allowing construction to continue away from the elements. And two of the three dams at Muskrat Falls are now complete.

"We exceeded what everybody thought we could do," said Marshall.

I'm anxious. I mean, I turn 68 years old this year. I've paid my dues and did my time. But I would like to finish up.- Stan Marshall

But the prospect of skyrocketing power bills is fraying a lot of nerves in the province, and Marshall confirmed that rates will likely double, despite efforts to mitigate that.

"It will be that order of magnitude," he said.

Nalcor is also busy preparing for its role in the upcoming public inquiry into Muskrat Falls.

As for Marshall's future, he's halfway through a four-year commitment, but looks forward to taking a break.

"I'm anxious. I mean, I turn 68 years old this year. I've paid my dues and did my time. But I would like to finish up," he said.