Nfld. & Labrador

Stan Marshall warns Muskrat Falls inquiry would be distraction for Nalcor managers

The CEO of Nalcor warns the inquiry into the Muskrat Falls project could be an unneeded distraction for his managers and staff.

Nalcor CEO gave update on Muskrat Falls project Thursday night at Memorial University

Stan Marshall says Muskrat Falls has been "overgoverned"

The CEO of Nalcor is warning that the inquiry into Muskrat Falls could distract top managers from the key decisions they need to make to get the project done as quickly and cheaply as possible.

"The last thing I need is more people coming in for explanations," Stan Marshall told a packed lecture hall at Memorial University Thursday night.

"Now I've got all my key people distracted about what they did two or three years ago." 

"So if you've got an image of people at Nalcor, or contractors going with little black masks on and bags of money, forget it."- Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall

Marshall gave an hour-long overview of the Muskrat Falls project and gave some of his insights into where he thinks the project went wrong. He doesn't think it's been a lack of oversight.

"This has been the most over-governed project ever," he said.

He pointed to the seven boards of directors he reports to, the oversight committee, civil servants, politicians and now an inquiry.

The inquiry was called by the provincial government over pressure to get answers about how the hydro electric project ended up billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

The projected price of Muskrat Falls hasn't increased since June 2017, it's currently still estimated to cost $12.7 billion. (Nalcor)

"Yes I'm as interested in you are in finding out how all this came about, but my task is to get the job done, and by god that's what I'm going to do," Marshall told those in attendance Thursday night.

The Nalcor CEO said one of the key questions for the inquiry will be looking at whether this project was done for political or economic reasons.

He made it clear to the audience Thursday that he doesn't think Muskrat Falls has made sense as a way to provide the lowest cost electricity for the province.

Some good news

Marshall did have some positive information to comment on, confirming that the estimated cost of the project has stabilized.

The price tag is still $12.7 billion, the same cost he announced in June.

Within a week, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro will start buying power from Nova Scotia, importing it over the Maritime Link. That will save about $50,000 a day compared with the cost of getting power from the Holyrood oil-fired generator.

Some parts are even ahead of schedule.

Contractors also feeling financial pain

Marshall said contractors, like Italian-based Astaldi have learned from earlier problems and he praised them for how efficiently they're working.

Nalcor had to agree to pay the company more money after it threatened to walk away from the project. But Marshall said in negotiations he insisted that if ratepayers were going to feel the pain of extra costs, the companies would have to feel it too.

"Some of these contractors have lost hundreds of millions of dollars on this project," he said.

"So if you've got an image of people at Nalcor, or contractors going with little black masks on and bags of money, forget it."

He insists there are very few winners.

"When a project like this goes bad, almost everybody loses, except for lawyers and accountants — they're doing rather well," he said.


Peter Cowan

CBC News

Peter Cowan is a St. John's-based reporter with CBC News.