Give me Liberty or Give Me . . . Freezing in the dark?

By Ivan Morgan
September 22, 2023 Edition

Fool me a bunch of times, shame on us both. In case any Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro lawyer is asked to read this, the following are solely my opinions based on my personal experience.

I will never again believe anything Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro ever says. Ever. That’s my personal policy. During the Muskrat Falls “debate” I was working for an MHA and we met often with Hydro officials who told my boss things that turned out not to be true. That is absolutely not cool. Maybe at the time they believed what they were telling us. Go read Chief Justice Lamer’s report “Muskrat Falls: A Misguided Project” and make up your own mind. Either way you cut it; they did not tell any of us the truth.

Remember Dark NL? A company called Liberty Consulting was hired by our Public Utilities Board a decade ago to investigate Hydro to find out why our electrical system crashed during the coldest and darkest part of winter. It was clear at the time Hydro wasn’t telling us. Liberty was (and is) a very well-regarded international consulting firm from the U.S. that, when it comes to electricity grids, really knows its stuff.

Their report on Dark NL was highly critical of Hydro. Since then, they have been continuing to closely monitor the utility, writing reports – sometimes critical – for the PUB every four months. 

Liberty and the PUB have recently parted ways, with Liberty basically saying they have had enough of Hydro, expressing their continued concerns about reliable backup power to Muskrat Falls. They feel Hydro isn’t moving fast enough. They are taking their marbles and going home.  They quit. This is not good.

We should be grateful for the work Liberty has done for us. There is lots about Muskrat Falls you and I would not have known about were it not for Liberty and the PUB. Now the PUB is out shopping for a new consultant, but there may be a wrinkle there.

The PUB, which has been a watchdog over the utility, has a new chairperson, a former higher up from Hydro whom government has appointed. I don’t know the person or his qualifications, but the optics aren’t good. Will a consultant as tough as Liberty be hired?

Losing Liberty is a big blow to all of us. Hydro, which has already caused us no end of grief (not to mention bucks) desperately needs independent professional oversight. What more disastrous evidence do we need before we understand they are not great on their own. Based on my own knowledge and experience, I have learned, despite what their press releases may say, Hydro does not always do the best it can, its managers do not always make the right decisions, and do not always know what they are doing. I have also learned they do not enjoy criticism. These are historical facts.

The PUB, with Liberty’s capable assistance, has always tried to keep them on track. This was good for we ratepayers.  

Now Liberty is gone, and a former Hydro VP is in charge of the PUB. This is does not look so good.

Maybe I am repeating myself here, but a utility that recently misled us into approving a ruinous hydroelectric project which has cost us billions more than predicted (and still doesn’t work properly); a utility which also failed to provide us with reliable power, and plunged us all into darkness and cold during the very worst part of the year (a man died trying to keep warm) has now driven off an internationally respected consultant who was acting as a watchdog over them, and now has a former VP in charge of the organization which is supposed to oversee them. 

Do you see a problem with this? 

From out here, it looks like Team Hydro is getting back to the way they like things. My question is: are the rest of us going to allow this to happen?

Ivan Morgan can be reached at ivan.morgan@gmail.com

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