The proposed Lower Churchill hydro development was not the subject of today’s half-day St. John’s Board of Trade conference, but it was on the mind of attendees and presenters.
The conference was focused on Labrador and identifying the opportunities for Newfoundland and Labrador-based businesses in the Arctic in general.
In addressing the topic, guest speakers ended up touching on the questions of whether or not the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project will be going ahead.
“We’ll see what happens later on this year, but we sure need power,” said retired senator Bill Rompkey in his opening address — referencing the highly anticipated debate in the provincial House of Assembly.
In a presentation on iron ore in the Labrador Trough and the plans of New Millennium Iron Corp., vice-president of investor relations and corporate affairs, Ernest Dempsey, said the availability of low-cost energy “is a big issue” for multi-billion dollar developments in the iron-rich Labrador Trough.
“I can’t emphasize enough how much low-cost power has underpinned the competitiveness of Canadian iron ore,” Dempsey said, not directly addressing the proposed hydro project in this province, but making clear the power would be welcomed.
That power, should it come from Muskrat Falls, will be an extremely costly venture up front for the provincial government and the people within the province, as others in the room at the Holiday Inn in St. John’s noted.
“It doesn’t come without risk,” said Francis Clarke, executive director of the Innu Business Development Centre. “But I think the real big question is not about the development, it’s about what I’m going to have to pay for electricity at the end of the day.”
Clarke, a former employee with CFLCo., expressed faith in Nalcor Energy, but also questioned the availability of power on the Labrador coast- where supply is currently failing to keep up with demand.
Minister of Transportation and Works Tom Hedderson arrived at the hotel to address a luncheon event that followed the conference presentations.
Hedderson referred to hydro power as “a revenue-generating resource” for the province and “our great revenue stream.”
“We welcome the debate (on the project), but a (no or go) decision is going to have to be made,” Hedderson said.