At what point, after being forced to change their plan so many times it now only remotely resembles the proposal they submitted for environmental assessment, will the misguided proponents of the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project finally bow to logic? When will they admit that it is too destructive and will never sell enough electricity to pay for itself?
The answer? Never. At no point will these people ever concede that it’s a horribly bad idea and is being terribly implemented. They seem blind to the impending natural harm and to the bankruptcy it could force onto the province. No criticism, no matter how clear and true, ever appears to offer them any justification to shut down the project before any more public money is wasted.
Cost and consequence play little part in how the proponents assess the value of building dams at Muskrat Falls — at least not as ordinary taxpayers would expect. When opponents oppose the project they do so partly for sentimental reasons (beauty and culture being more precious than industry), but they ground their opposition on reason. They use logic. That’s their mistake. The proponents — that is, the PC/Nalcor/SNC-Lavalin partnership, along with an assortment of co-opted mayors and other politicians — counter everything with circular illogic, changing their rationale as often as needed to justify the unchecked dispersal of construction and project-support contracts.
The electricity from Muskrat Falls has no outside market? Not true, said the proponents. We can sell it in New England, even though the market rates are triple the cost of production. Besides, we don’t need to sell it to the USA, not with new mines opening nearby. We originally had no intention of selling Muskrat power in Labrador and have no plans to run transmission lines westwards? Irrelevant! The mining companies will be able to buy cheaper electricity from Quebec unless taxpayers subsidize them? Unimportant!
We can always sell the power to the Maritimes. We’ve ensured that market by giving away 20 per cent of the power free to Nova Scotia. They want another 40 per cent at a fraction of the production cost, or no deal? No matter! We’ll just subsidize those Nova Scotians as well. We could also just build the undersea transmission line to somewhere else — maybe New Brunswick. A minor detail! Besides, we don’t need the Maritimes or their money. We can use all the power on the island and we’re sure that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will be overjoyed to pay for the whole project themselves — or rather to pay for some of it and to pass on the massive debt to their children and grandchildren. They won’t mind losing their public services. Who needs health care, education, roads, or ferry boats when there’s millions to give away every day to a large Quebec-based megaproject management company?
Guarantee isn’t guaranteed?
And don’t forget: we’ve got a federal loan guarantee that might save us a billion or two on interest charges. The guarantee isn’t guaranteed? We trust Ottawa. The guarantee might not survive the collapse of the Nova Scotia deal and the various court actions launched by the governments of Quebec, Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut? Again, none of it makes any difference. No court in the land will rule against us — except for the ones that already have, but they don’t count. Besides, even if the interest rates go up, this province’s residents will be happy to pay the extra cost. Weren’t you listening?
Wind power is cheaper? Not so! We have no proof, but we’re sure it’s more expensive than megahydro.
The North Spur clay wall may collapse? No, it won’t. Trust us!
Aboriginal rights violated? NunatuKavut people aren’t native, not according to the provincial government.
Mercury contamination? That’s silly: the Inuit live too far away.
Little benefit for locals? We’re hiring Newfoundlanders, aren’t we?
Arguing against the Lower Churchill project on the basis of its economic and environmental illogic is pointless. The majority of people in support stand to personally gain from it in some way, either politically or financially. The more money it costs, the more they make. Their interest ends once the last construction bill is paid. Why should it matter to them that they’ve built an unstable, poisonous, money-losing dam?
Michael Johansen is a resident of North West River, Labrador