Newfoundland and Labrador premier to make Muskrat Falls announcement

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – The premier of Newfoundland and Labrador is set to make an announcement later Monday on the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

Kathy Dunderdale has scheduled a news conference for 6 p.m. in the lobby of the provincial legislature about the development, which is expected to cost between $7.5 billion and $7.7 billion.

A podium, chairs and a big screen were being set up for Dunderdale’s announcement. Christmas decorations and risers for a choir gave every hint of a festive event.

During question period, Liberal Opposition Leader Dwight Ball drew laughs as he asked the premier: “Are you going to sanction Muskrat Falls today?”

Dunderdale declined to confirm the approval but invited Ball to her announcement, which was set to coincide with local television newscasts.

She said last week that formal approval of the project — which is set to be the largest public expenditure in provincial history — was imminent.

Ball said Monday it’s “irresponsible” for the Progressive Conservative government to approve the project before Nova Scotia’s private utility Emera (TSX:EMA) has sanctioned, and before related regulatory hearings in that province.

Ball also asked how the province can commit to Muskrat Falls when it just announced Thursday that its forecast budget deficit has almost tripled since April to almost $726 million.

Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy said the development will be a “revenue generating asset” that will not add to net debt.

The government says Muskrat Falls will earn about $20 billion in dividends over 50 years once it begins producing power, expected in 2017.

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said it’s outrageous that news of the government’s announcement came out late on a Sunday night and seems to be timed to limit debate in the legislature.

Dunderdale said the legislature will be open all week, and that she’d be happy to sit into the following Christmas week if the opposition forces extended debate on enabling legislation for Muskrat Falls.

The project in Labrador is a joint venture between Newfoundland Crown corporation Nalcor Energy and Nova Scotia private utility company Emera (TSX:EMA). It would include construction of a subsea cable that would link Newfoundland with Nova Scotia.

Muskrat Falls got a boost last month when Ottawa offered a federal loan guarantee for the project that would cut borrowing costs by about $1 billion.