Newfoundland premier moves motion to support Muskrat Falls despite protest

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – A curtailed debate on the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project began Wednesday in the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature despite a protest outside from opponents who say the multibillion-dollar venture could burden the province with debt.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale moved a private member’s motion that the house of assembly support the proposed project, which is estimated to cost between $7.5 billion and $7.7 billion. Debate on private member’s motions is generally limited to a couple of hours.

“It is the best answer to our question: what is the least-cost option to providing needed power?” she said as her majority Progressive Conservative government thumped their desks in approval.

“It will bring lasting benefits to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Former premier Danny Williams looked on from a packed public gallery as the development first proposed two years ago, just before he quit politics, was touted by the government.

Outside, skeptics said they fear the project could financially cripple the province of about 500,000 if costs soar over budget.

“I’m disappointed,” said protester Con O’Brien, one of about 35 people who showed up at a rally before the debate.

“We’re playing Russian roulette.”

But Dunderdale said Muskrat Falls has been endorsed by global energy consultants, though they have been hired by her government.

Now that Ottawa has offered a federal loan guarantee that would cut borrowing costs, the province and Nova Scotia private utility Emera (TSX:EMA) are expected to sanction the project in the coming weeks.