Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Is Newfoundland and Labrador Ready to Lose the Upper Churchill?

Is Newfoundland and Labrador ready to lose the Upper Churchill hydro-electric dam and facilities? Every single Newfoundlander and Labradorian would say a resounding "No". However, we are getting very close to that position, and here's how.

Just say for a moment that Hydro-Quebec or I are successful in the challenges on Muskrat Falls in Court, but Nalcor keeps building the dam and taking power from the Upper Churchill as it apparently is now (according to Hydro-Quebec's Statement of Claim). Where does that leave us? According to the legal opinion given by lawyers at the province's Natural Resources department it leaves us with billions in penalties and costs to Hydro-Quebec  which, according to the opinion, would bankrupt CFLCo unless the provincial government dumped money in to pay the costs off. However, it's not that simple.

When Dean MacDonald and Brian Tobin agreed to sign the Shareholder's Agreement of 1998, they gave Quebec some powers over that scenario. The Agreement gives Hydro-Quebec a veto over the following as it pertains to CFLCo's finances:

3.3.2 Any sale, assignment, transfer, lease or exchange of all or substantially all of the property of CFLCo or any Subsidiary of CFLCo.

3.4.2 The adoption of the annual operating budget and the annual capital expenditure budgets of CFLCo and any variations thereto which would result in the increase or decrease of any such budget by $10 million in the aggregate or $5 million for any particular budget item.

3.4.4 The issue of any Shares or any Rights, except for Rights attaching to subordinated debt obligations, or the issue of any shares or any debt obligations of any Subsidiary of CFLCo.

3.4.5. Any loan or borrowing on the credit of, or any issue, reissue, sale or pledge of debt obligations of, or the grant of any financial assistance, guarantee or security by CFLCo or any Subsidiary of CFLCo in each case having an aggregate principal amount of $25 million or more (whether it be one or more trenches), except for subordinated debt obligations.

8.1 Pre-emptive rights. Subject to Sections 8.3 and 8.4, no shares or rights may be issued by CFLCo to any shareholders or to any other Person (the "New Issue Securities") unless CFLCo shall have first offered it to N&LH and any permitted transferee of N&LH and to HQ and any permitted transferee for the same pro rata to their respective Pro Rata Shares, at the same price and on the same terms and conditions as those offered in respect of the New Issue Securities.

In other words, Hydro-Quebec could veto CFLCo from going into bankruptcy. Or, more dangerously, it could veto the acceptance of any financial assistance by the provincial government to keep CFLCo from going under.

If CFLCo is without funds to pay Hydro-Quebec the court awarded costs it would be unable to operate the dam. It would frankly be unable to meet its payroll. Should that happen, the Power Contract states:

             Should CFLCo, not being prevented by any event of Force Majuere, be unwilling at any time to operate the Plant, and should the plant then be operable, Hydro-Quebec, if not then in default here-under, shall have the right to cause the plant to be operated for the account of CFLCo in accordance with sound utility practises until CFLCo itself resumes such operations.

So, in other words, Hydro-Quebec can force CFLCo not to accept financial assistance from the province, and it can refuse to let CFLCO go bankrupt, and simply take over the operations of the plant while the bill for damages to CFLCo keeps rising to the point of being impossible to pay.

If the provincial government tried to sell some or all of its shares Hydro-Quebec gets first rights to them. If the provincial government tries to issue bonds Hydro-Quebec gets first rights to them as well. And that's only if Hydro-Quebec doesn't use its veto to stop that from happening in the first place.

Consider though that the province wants the Muskrat Falls dam operational by 2016, and consider damages start from that point, Hydro-Quebec can sit on those damages year over year until 2041. By 2041 those damages would be, or could well be, in the vicinity of $25 billion, not including interest. At that point Newfoundland and Labrador would have no choice, but to surrender the dam in its entirety to Quebec.

Is this what we really want? Are we ready to lose the Upper Churchill to Quebec?

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