Monthly Archives: October 2012

How is it that MY government is not trying to understand MY concerns?

There are some talented people doing some great work to draw our attention to the lack of communication about the Muskrat Falls Hydroelectric Project.

Today I found Vision2041 who are breaking down the numbers and are suggesting that this huge financial burden can be avoided with some planning until we regain control of the Upper Churchill in 2041.

A week or so ago I discovered StandInYourPlaceNL who want to ensure clear and open discussion on the issue.  They are calling for a second PUB review into the alternatives to Muskrat Falls and a referendum.

There has been some news coverage, though I fear they are concentrating on the opinions versus the facts, and lots of debate in social media  However there is a lack of information.  Not to say that there is NO information.  In fact there is much promise of great deals of information and I am sure it is forth coming.  However, my understanding is that communication is a two-way street, and it seems to be the party line that is you are not with us you are against us.  The concerns surrounding the Muskrat Falls project are many and varied, however the only legitimate opinion that the Premier will acknowledge is “we are with you.”

This is a scarey prospect to me.  How is it that MY Premier, MY Government is not trying to understand what MY concerns are?  Should they be trying to put themselves in my shoes instead of looking for proof that they might be wrong?  Why is it that in her speech to the PCs that Dunderdale sounded cocky and smug about beating down the opponents?  Though I would like to think that government would work together and respect the differing opinions of the various parties, I know that is just a silly dream.  However, I am not affiliated with any party, shouldn’t MY opinion matter?  Maybe?  Somewhere?  I am NOT the competition.

Ok, so I have concerns … and they are mostly environmental.  And I know that environment is only cool as when it doesn’t interrupt business, however I feel that some of them might even be serious business concerns.  I am hoping to go into each of these a little deeper soon, however let’s start here:

1)  Grand River is the 7th largest river in the country and the main vein of Labrador.  We can only push our limits so much as we mess around with nature.  The dam will forever change the local habitat, the movement of fish through the river and the patterns of water flow.  How this will effect the environment is impossible to say.  We can put in our best guesses, however water IS the lifeblood of the earth and these large rivers are her veins.

2)  The flood plain of Muskrat Falls cannot be properly cleared.  As the carbon sink rots under the water it releases huge amounts of that carbon, substituting on carbon emitting giant (Holyrood) for another.  Yet when it all balances out, there will be so many more marvelous solutions to our energy requirements as governments around the world are funding innovation instead of this destruction.

3)  The rotting vegetation also will release methyl-mercury which will find its way into the local food chain over the next twenty years and contribute to growing mercury levels (ie – the reason we are more and more weary about eating large sea fish) in the ocean.  There are still populations in Labrador who live sustainably.  These people and their children will have increased exposure to this neuron-toxin.

4)  The people of Labrador are split on this debate.  However there are large groups of people close to the river who are fighting the development of Muskrat Falls.  It is their river, their culture and their heritage.  This river holds the stories of their ancestors and no matter how much we may understand this or not, the river is much more then just running water.  Whoa re we to displace them?

Let’s not say this is green energy.  That is unfair to the project and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.  I look forward to seeing this onslaught of information coming forth from our government starting as soon as Tuesday.

If you have concerns — PLEASE share them on THIS POST, thanks!

Denise Hennebury
N.B. — “MY” refers to “OUR” … ie, the everyday Jane who is wondering why this is barreling ahead as if we are the competition and our opinion is only worth serious consideration if we have the money and the resources to do the research that might have a hope in hell of helping the government to Rethink this project.


Calling Muskrat Falls “Green Energy” – a letter to Tom Mulcair on May 15, 2012

May 15, 2012

Dear Tom Mulcair,

I was watching the CBC news article where you spoke quite candidly about your thoughts on energy, coal and the problems we are having with a certain local politician who seems to be parroting Harper.  It is reassuring to hear such passion for the ideas of green and renewable energy and the importance of moving that way in all of our energy needs.  It was also reassuring to hear a politician speak out against the process being used to harvest the tar sands and the importance of moving away from burning coal.

Indeed I … was excited to see more NDPs take seats throughout the country.  This is surely a move in the right direction.

That said, the main topic of the interview did bother me greatly.  I repeatedly hear politicians call hydroelectricity “green energy” and the worst part it that it is said so wholeheartedly and honestly that I know they believe it.  Honestly, I used to believe it too.  Really, what could be greener than taking water that is already flowing and putting it through a turbine to capture the energy?  It does seem to make a lot of sense.  Until you consider the ramifications.

I know I certainly do not have all the facts and figures detailed on this issues.  Day to day I teach five-year-olds how to respect nature.  However, as an educator I am always learning, and the more I learn about damming rivers the more disturbing it is.  I believe the problem is that hydroelectricity might be renewable, however that does not make it sustainable.

To begin, if water is considered the lifeblood of our planet then our rivers must be the veins.  Like with blockages in our veins and arteries when you restrict that flow something has to give!  What we lose when we choose to build mega dams is the free movement of creatures in the water, we lose seasonal changes that the ecology of the area depends on and often we we lose the river!  How is this “green energy”?

With the building of Muskrat Falls and then the subsequent construction at Gull Island, we will turn the Grand River into a series of connected lakes.  We will create huge amounts of green house gasses that will release out of the boreal forest as it rots under the water, and it will create ideal conditions for mercury bacteria to flourish.  It happens in all dams, including the upper Churchill, mercury will be released from the flooded soils in harmful quantities for at least 20 years. This mercury will eventually leave the water, and enter other freshwater organisms, and also will flow out to sea contaminating the oceans and marine life, adding to the mess that we’ve already done to our oceans.  How is this “green energy”?

Most countries have stopped building mega dams, and others are taking down dams in the hopes that they can restore some of the natural movement of water through the ecosystem.

I know that well-intentioned people see projects like Muskrat Falls as a “better” solution to our increasing energy demands.  But how far are we willing to go with challenging and testing our hydrological systems?  On the simplest scale, culverting rivers and paving over wetlands to grow our cities already causes problems with flooding.  Our changing climate has been delivering more severe weather around the globe and we are more often caught off guard, unprepared to deal with what is thrown at us.  I fear that our belief that it will all work out in the end is leading us blindly to a self-made fate where we have choked the Earth and her resources too much.  There can only be so much give in the system before it ends badly for us.

I used to believe in hydro energy.  It seemed to make sense.  But the more I learn, the harder it gets to stand behind it.

You made a comment in your interview that everyone is for sustainable energy until it is in their own backyard.  Muskrat Falls is far away from most of Newfoundland and Labrador’s population.  Those who are speaking out against it are not worried about how it will look.  They are either worried about the dollars and cents, or, like myself, they are worried that we are making more changes to a main vein of Labrador without in the name of “green energy”.  Either way, we are all worried that we are letting this project go through because of how good it might look on paper.  As far as I can see, all the important costs of this project are so externalized that we could never measure it.  How do we calculate the costs of interrupting migration paths and threatening regional populations, pooling nutrients in the lakes and destroying what is already a delicate balance, and injecting mercury into the food chain in an area where many native communities still hunt and fish for their families.

In a debate, putting a hydroelectricity up against burning coal seems to lead us to an obvious winner.  However we need to think beyond this, because mega dams have a large carbon footprint to start with and their environmental impact continues throughout the life of the dam!  So, what if damming was not an option, what if we had not labeled it “green energy,” what would be the next solution?  There are lots of advancements and new ideas coming forth everyday about ways to approach an inevitable energy crises.  It will not all be pretty, but we need to take ownership of our energy needs.

Yes, many people have a “not in my backyard” attitude, however for myself, Holyrood is much closer to my backyard … and much dirtier.  I would dearly love to see it go off line, however Muskrat Falls is not the answer.  We need to think to the future.

I am excited to be attending the Public Forum: Exploring Renewable Energy Opportunities for Newfoundland and Labrador this Friday morning 10am at St. John’s City Hall, and I trust I will see Ryan Cleary and other NDP at the forum.  There is a better solution.  We do not have to take Muskrat Falls because it is the best of a bad lot and the only option presented.  We need to challenge our scientists and our energy companies to come up with a real solution.

My vote for the NDP was one that trusted that this party could not only get our nation out of a rut, but also see the value in sustainable living and building strong communities.  I also trusted that the NDPs are open to change, open to differing opinions and prepared to step back and take in the bigger picture.  I know you already stand up for renewable energy, now I am asking you to step back, reconsider what that means and please stand up for real “Green Energy.”  We can help others realize that there is a difference between renewable and sustainable.  We have passed the point where we can pass on this issue say that we will try better next time.  There needs to be a line drawn and we need to protect our rivers and our water ways, because in our lives, beyond anything else, they are really all that matter.

Denise Hennebury
Mount Pearl, Newfoundland and Labrador

cc –

NOTE:  I received no response back from Mulcair or Cleary

Muskrat Falls is not ‘green’ power

My letter to the editor that appeared in the February 6, 2012 issue of the Telegram.

I was listening to CBC Cross Talk on Thursday.  Ramona Dearing doesn’t exactly keep her opinion to herself, and the topic of the day: “Should we go ahead with the Muskrat Falls project.”

On air with her was Nalcor CEO Ed Martin.  I heard callers coming at the issue from many angles, however I am increasingly worried that people just don’t get the “green washing” that in employed when we call mega-dams “green energy”.  Ramona spent her time trying to tease out objections to the project.  There were some great questions, but the issue is so broad and the callers were just trying to understand it all.

One caller was most concerned about particulate coming out of Holyrood generator, and wants it cleaned up (or gone).  He was unconcerned about greenhouse gases since they don’t kill people, hence Muskrat Falls seems great. Sadly, greenhouse gases go kill. Whether from Holyrood or Muskrat falls, greenhouse gasses are the cause of changes in our environmental that lead to cancers and severe weather, and both certainly can kill. It does hurt us; it just might not be as obvious.

Mr. Martin rallied behind the partnership Nalcor has with the Innu nation, and said he “understands” one caller’s “respect for the animals and the land.” I was struck by how obviously uneasy the man was about the project.  Maybe because he knows that no matter what our best efforts are towards conservation and environmental protection, this project is going to create sustained environmental damage for up to twenty years and bring the region to a point of no return.

The flooding is going to destroy habitat, this is obvious.  However in the years after, the rotting vegetation and the soil will create perfect conditions for mercury bacteria to flourish. Then we will add to that the greenhouse gases that will be emitted in high quantities while the flooded vegetation rots.  This will be arguably comparable to the emission from Holyrood from now and when Muskrat Falls would come online (and in theory, Holyrood would close).  And though I am all for anything that gets us away from oil; in the same time and with the same money it will take to get Muskrat Falls on-line, we could introduce other power sources.

We have an opportunity to stop a huge environmental mistake. When this idea was first on the table, advances in energy generation were just starting.  I look at this project now and see missed opportunities.  Nalcor has the opportunity to get on board with amazing advances in tidal energy (which is being extensively used in Scotland right now), and “run-of-river” hydro power (as is developing in BC) which respects fish runs and doesn’t flood forests.

The truth of it all is that most developed nations do not build mega dams now (many are taking old ones down); they are just too environmentally and socially destructive and economically damaging.  Yet in a worldwide culture of increasing respect for nature, we are insisting that this is our only solution. I fear that one of the biggest reasons that the project hasn’t been put aside to this point is because of the dollars already invested in the project.  However what is the value of protecting our environment, our people and our resources?  But if we are learning that this is just a bad idea, should we not cut our losses in the name of protecting our home.

So all this was going on in my head as I listened to the callers during the show, but alas, I cannot always get my thoughts together well enough to speak off the cuff and by the time I was ready to call, they were ready to finish.  I guess the Telegram is more my style!

So I will propose my questions two questions to Mr. Martin here, and hopefully encourage some more discussion:

1) This project will irreversibly alter the local environment, change wild life patterns, destroy fish habitat and permit the release of mercury into the river affecting the animals that live, eat or drink there.  But let’s say that Nalcor wants to go ahead with this; have you received approval from DFO for the project? And if so, when can we see how you will replace (I shudder to type that, but alas, that is the regulation) all of this contaminated fish habitat?

2) I fear that you are holding onto Muskrat Falls with all you might.  When states, provinces and countries are in a time of innovative new approaches, this project seems dated and unnecessarily destructive.  Has there been anything more than a cursory look at alternative 21st century energy generating ideas such as tidal energy?

I know there is a huge debate around the economics of the project.  However there is something well beyond that.  We need to stop and think about what we are doing.  We need to get beyond ourselves and consider what moving towards a sustainable and responsible relationship with nature looks like.

This is not it.

We have a huge opportunity here to protect a river that was not given that same respect when Churchill Falls was installed.  Nalcor has the opportunity to show Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans that there is more than one solution to any challenge.

A Cree Proverb reminds us … Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.

But we can do this.  There has to be a stopping point, when we say enough is enough. Today we know better now and the destruction has to stop.
Denise Hennebury
Environmental Educator
Mount Pearl

Not All Have the Luxury to Speak Out About Muskrat Falls

My letter to the editor that appeared in the Octover 16, 2012 issue of the Telegram.

Dear Editor,

It would be much easier to believe that the government is right on this issue.  When you are in line with the prevailing party opinion you can nod and smile at the patriotic calls to action by Premier Dunderdale and the PC party.  It would be easy to stand up for the Muskrat Falls Project and say that it is the best option and to believe that this mega-dam is the only way forward for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Sadly that is not my opinion, and therefore it is not so easy to stand up for what I believe in.  I have been working in conservation and sustainability education for years and nothing about this project is sitting well with me.  Apparently I am part of what one member referred to as the “negative minority.”  And though I am led to understand that being against the Muskrat Falls Hydro project is somehow being anti-Newfoundland and Labrador, I am neither convinced that conservation is contrary to my identity nor that my opinion is actually in the minority.

It seems to me that the majority of people (and I have been asking around) are uncertain about the project.  They want to believe that the government would only go ahead if the project was necessary, and though many are uncomfortable with the project over all they are simply not so politically-minded as to jump up to yell and scream and demand answers.

With the new mobilization of Muskrat Falls Hydro supporters, I am realizing another truth: it is not only easy, but makes good business sense to publicly support this project. However do you know what could be a career-limiting move?  Of course … speaking out against the project!

The truth is that I have a number of personal friends who cannot even say a word.  They may be against the project, and if it were any other environmental or social issue they may even be writing and campaigning as well, however they do not have the luxury to feel that they will still have job-security at the end of the day if they choose to speak out.  The reality is that we all have to support our homes and live our lives.  Whether these individuals work directly for the government or are employed by businesses that are receiving contracts to survey, research or build in relation to this project, they must stay silent.  Then friends, family and neighbours of those individuals also do not want to stir the pot, so cannot publicly speak out against the project for the same reason.

The lack of freedom to speak openly is then extended to House of Assembly.  Though it is said that voting on this project in the house is a free vote, I even expect that those members who might still be on the fence are feeling a lot of pressure to tow the party line.

It is a luxury to be able to speak against this project.  However people are speaking up.  In my conversations with individuals on the island and in Labrador I have heard things such as:

–         “We need to stop this project just because it is so unnecessary.” ~ Charlottetown

–         “Our country should be advanced enough to come up with solutions that grow not destroy a region.” ~ Happy Valley-Goose Bay

–         “What scares me is the government is forging ahead on something even though the studies say otherwise.” ~ Mount Pearl

–         “This is 2012. While the rest of the world is stopping the damming of rivers, our government is going full speed ahead with no thought of what’s going to happen next.” ~ Cartwright

–         “Its not a good deal and will cost us a lot in the long run of things, so I would say NO.” ~ Mount Pearl

These are only a few people, and I implore all who have the luxury of speaking out: please do so!  Though it may seem like you are alone in your uncertainty about this project, this is far from true.  People are uneasy about speaking up because it seems like the unpopular view, yet I am finding it is not as unpopular as we are being led to believe.  Continue to have frank conversations, explore the rationale on both sides of the arguments and make an informed opinion.  Conversations and information are being constantly shared on the Rethink Muskrat Falls Facebook group, so please join in!

This is 2012, yet we may be on the verge of sanctioning a 20th century solution on a 21st century problem.  This is not the only solution and there is much more to this debate then just oil versus water, north versus south or industry versus taxpayers.

We do not need a compromise; no one wins there. What we need is forward thinking, real consultation on the challenge and then courageous individuals who will stand up and become part of designing a better solution.

Denise Hennebury

Environmental Educator from Mount Pearl, NL

Are you concerned about the Muskrat Falls Project?

It is time to be heard!

I am collecting your statements of concern about the proposed Muskrat Falls Hydroelectric Project.  Too many people in Newfoundland and Labrador cannot speak out because of their professional situation or relations; therefore many of the rest of us feel alone in their concerns.

Government is getting a “get on with it” message from those with no worries about retaliation for their opinions.  So we need to be all the louder! Let’s tell the government and the people of our province that we are many and we cannot support development at Muskrat Falls.

Share Your Concerns:  I encourage you to share your concerns in just a few lines in the comments here, and write a letter to your MHA and your Premier!

Please include: your name, community, occupation and your statement of concern in the comments below. (If you cannot leave all of this information, please share why.)

See more blog posts.