Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hydro Spin (updated)

In just a couple of days, the Hydro story has gone through several early spin cycles. In the Telegram's initial story, DW was focused on gloating about his great achievement. "Newfoundland and Labrador is now taking a bite out of the Big Apple," Williams said.

The Lower Churchill was in the back seat, with the Tely story offering a follow-up statement: "He also said the agreement may also put the province in a better position to develop the Lower Churchill." See http://thetelegram.com/index.cfm?sid=238932&sc=79

By contrast, by the time of the CBC's story, the focus had shifted: "Power transfer through Quebec good for Lower Churchill 'leverage': Williams." According to the CBC: "Williams said the deal — which allows Newfoundland and Labrador to export as much as 250 megawatts of power in the summer months, when domestic demand drops but U.S. demand is surging — sets up the Lower Churchill megaproject, which is still in the planning stages." See http://www.cbc.ca/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2009/04/03/williams-lower-churchill.html

The difference between the two stories may be the result of different reporters' interpretations or different information they obtained. For good measure, the CBC story ends with the Lower Churchill, too: "The Lower Churchill is far from a certainty. The province will require federal government involvement for structuring the financing, and it requires regulatory approval."

The Tely's story dealt with the issue via an interview with Danny Dumaresque. "He told The Telegram there is 'absolutely nothing new' in this agreement. 'It doesn't bring us one inch closer to a Lower Churchill project because it doesn't give us the essential ingredient which is the right to build a transmission line across Quebec, he said. Dumaresque also said there's no space on Quebec's grid to move the projected 3,000 megawatts from the Lower Churchill."

While Geoff Meeker has analyzed the spins taking place in the media coverage, Bond Papers has reported developments in the availability of government information. Whereas the media coverage has been highly fluid and, in some cases, erratic, the provincial state has been busy redacting pubicly available material:
http://thetelegram.com/index.cfm?sid=239030&sc=88
http://bondpapers.blogspot.com/2009/04/wheeling-deal.html

We'll see what the Tely has to say today, but three unanswered questions come to mind:

1) Where is the Romaine River project in all this? Even in normal times, the amount of available capital for massive hydro projects is finite; during a global recession, access to capital is significantly constricted. It's hard to imagine how the Romaine and Lower Churchill projects can be separated: the development of one will surely affect the other.

2) Where is the federal government in all this? No doubt DW wants this story to unfold in a provincial vacuum -- Ottawa, what Ottawa? -- with the theme of self-reliance eclipsing any disucssion of what role the Harper regime is willing to play in raising capital or supporting regulatory approval.

3) How do the alternate transmission routes fit into this? If DW is now emphasizing how he has leveraged a deal to show the viability of transmitting future Lower Churchill power to the bitten Big Apple, does this mean that the NALCO-Gros Morne transmission line is a red herring?

It looks like there will be quite a few red herrings swimming around this story, so it's useful to keep in mind the etymology of red herring, which originally referred to smoked herring dragged across the trail of the fox (Hydro) to throw the hounds (public) off the scent:http://www.fallacyfiles.org/redherrf.html


Power Play Update:
Check out this interview with DW:
http://watch.ctv.ca/news/power-play/thursday-april-2#clip157120

As others have already reported, DW is clear that there is no deal with Quebec. What's less clear is how the "all options" on the table approach is going to work if actual construction ever starts on the transmission lines.

What's abundantly clear is that it remains metaphysically impossible to discuss Churchill Falls (Upper or Lower) without dragging in the entire kitchen sink of nationalist blather, from ├╝ber-optimism to Harper to separatism and, curiously, back to George Baker. DW tries to declare that he's over Harper, who is now an official untermensch (DW says, with a straight face, that he doesn't have time for enemies), and he calls Curious George a great guy who doesn't really mean what he says (now how would be know that?).

As I've said before, the road to Newfoundland nationalism runs straight through Churchill Falls. To quote its namesake, "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

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