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)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Alderon's Muskrat Falls Headache

A few weeks ago, Alderon Iron Ore Corp's Mark Morabito went "off his head" during a radio interview with VOCM during an open line radio show. He blasted the provincial government for not passing the environmental process for the Kami mining project in Labrador. He also criticized the failure of Nalcor and the government to sign a power supply agreement and build a $150 million power line system from the Upper Churchill to Lab West (and his mining project). Clearly, that line and power purchase agreement are crucial to the mine moving ahead. Here is an excerpt from Alderon's subsequent press release:

" We were informed of the status of power and various other files under review by the Provincial Government. Following our discussions with the Minister and his officials, we are confident that these matters are being pursued diligently and expeditiously, " says Tayfun Eldem, President and CEO of Alderon. " The Government's approval to build the power line is crucial to Alderon securing the previously announced debt financing and we are pleased that the Premier has expressed her support for the power line." 

"Is securing...financing." Interesting. All along the story about Alderon and Muskrat Falls has been Alderon doesn't need Muskrat Falls power unless it doubles its production down the road. Now it is suddenly necessary for financing. Of course. Alderon is calling it the "line", but the bottom line is Nalcor has no excess power to send on that line, so it would have to be power created at Muskrat Falls, and relayed through the Upper Churchill, and out to Lab West (and the mine). FYI on the environmental study issue - Alderon has to pay its Chinese partners $3 million a month for each month the approval fails to come through starting January, 2014 (which is now).

So, given the heavy weights behind Alderon, and all the dollars involved, how is it that Nalcor hasn't committed to the power line and a power supply contract to Alderon yet? According to earlier statements the price pure kilowatt hour has been agreed to. The problem is in the amount of power to be supplied. The answer lies in the Power Contract of 1969, and the Water management Agreement.

All Nalcor's, and the provincial government's plans involved implementing the WMA, which would allow Nalcor to take over the operation of the Upper Churchill. With that control, Nalcor could take power almost at whim from the Upper Churchill, and redistribute it as it wanted. For Alderon that would mean a secure power source. Whether Alderon's early founders Forbes and Manhattan were sold a bill of goods on the validity of this plan is uncertain. Who sold them on it? Williams? Altius? Both? It's hard to say right now. When push came to shove, and all the glossy pictures and back slapping were done, reality hit home. 

Hydro-Quebec filed suit, which will be heard January 20, 2014. That is a suit Hydro-Quebec is going to win, and when it does, the WMA is not worth the paper it is written on. What does that mean for Nalcor? It means Nalcor will not be able to take 1 MW of power from the Upper Churchill, other than the recall they already have (and is fully consumed). Nalcor knows this. They are playing a very dangerous, and frankly stupid, game of chicken with Hydro-Quebec that we can not win. 

What does that mean for Alderon? It means Nalcor can not commit to the power supply, and therefore it means there is no rationale reason to build a $150 million power line system. Unfortunately for Alderon, it has already used the credibility of Forbes and Manhattan's Chinese connections to make inroads - and promises. Now those promises are in serious doubt. Loss of face with the Chinese is a very, very bad thing.

In some ways there is a little poetic justice here. Danny Williams, the former Premier that brought in all the legislation that is now before the Court in Quebec, is also a main player in Alderon. Now his own legislation is hurting Alderon's chances of getting off the ground. Mean while, Dunderdale and company sit on the environmental application, likely as an out for them. It's all a bit of devilish karma coming to bite some people right in the arse. It begs the question: does Alderon have a Plan B to buy power from Hydro-Quebec, and if not why not? Politics is best suited divorced from the board room.

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