By Ashley Fitzpatrick — TC Media
© Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
ST. JOHN’S — There is no way for an individual in Newfoundland and Labrador to scrutinize every last detail of the Lower Churchill hydro project.
That fact was made clear as Nalcor Energy held its annual general meeting in St. John’s Wednesday and, despite best efforts of the Crown corporation’s executives in responding to questions, many of those in attendance were dissatisfied.
The executives took questions in front of cameras, with one carrying a live feed online.
Their responses often included references to a limitation on how much information they could convey, as a result of either legal agreements or commercial sensitivities.
The questions were chiefly from a collection of people who have set themselves apart when it comes to the complex Lower Churchill project — studying the complex legal, regulatory and commercial aspects and challenging the plan on behalf of the public.
The group includes, for example, would-be Liberal leader Danny Dumaresque, former MHA Jim Morgan and former public utilities board chair David Vardy.
“I think the economics of this project are fatally flawed,” Vardy said on his first stint with the microphone.
He submitted 16 questions ahead of the meeting, expressing some frustration at being able to ask only one during the event.
“People showed up with some very legitimate questions on several different subjects related to the project. Many of those questions were the ones I would have asked myself,” NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said after the meeting concluded.
“There was very little in the way of actual answers provided to the people in attendance.”
A standard annual meeting question-and-answer session would not include a company revealing confidential information such as the exact value of a contract on a capital project, though they often present cost ranges, or costs that include more than one contract so as not to identify any particular one.
During the question-and-answer session at the Nalcor Energy general meeting, Nalcor executives included as much direct information as they felt was reasonably possible.
When Nalcor CEO Ed Martin was asked to provide the exact value of the contract awarded to SNC-Lavalin for engineering, procurement and construction management, his response was direct.
“We can’t do that,” he said.
That information is considered commercially sensitive by the Crown corporation. In fact, the exact value of any individual contract on the $7.7-billion Lower Churchill project will not be released.