In the months and years ahead we are all going to be hearing quite a bit about the upper Churchill and the lower Churchill hydro electric projects. But just the same as its difficult stepping into the middle of any other conversation, if you’re not relatively familiar with the whole story, you’re likely to be lost.
This particular story begins with the development of a hydro electric generating station on the upper Churchill Falls in the 1960’s. Newfoundland and Labrador signed a deal with Quebec which gave our province a fixed dollar figure for energy sold through Quebec’s energy grid – while allowing Quebec to sell at market value (which of course has increased significantly over time) and keep the difference.
We made a bad deal, a deal expires in 2041, and a lot of Newfoundlanders have been counting down the days for a long, long time. The one bright light has been the fact that our province could still develop the hydro resources at the lower Churchill, and that we have been trying to do for many years. But before skipping ahead to 2011, a lot has happened in the 50 years since. 5 years ago this month, The Independent published a piece by Clare-Marie Gosse that summed up the history of the project quite well.
… meanwhile in 2011
Last year, then-Premier Danny Williams and his government eventually decided to go it alone with the lower Churchill project in developing the Muskrat Falls portion of the resource. Not only were they going to go it alone, but they were going to bypass the province of Quebec by partnering with the province of Nova Scotia – to build an undersea link through Atlantic Canada in order to make the power available to the American market.
The merits of this new deal are being attacked by those who say it is too costly to go undersea in order to avoid Quebec, those who feel it is environmentally unsound, and those who feel we are taking far too great a financial risk by undertaking the project by ourselves. However, Nalcor and Williams are steadfast in their defense of the project – saying it is the cheapest and most effective means of future power generation available to us.
In the months and years ahead, especially with an election around the corner this Fall, much will be said about the lower Churchill project. And if you’re anything like me, armed with this basic background knowledge of the project you’re ready to learn more about the current project and to participate in the important discussions and decisions that lie ahead.