Premier Danny Williams told the PC party faithful over the weekend a deal to develop at least part of the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project could be announced "sooner rather than later."And he told the room that they heard the news first."Looming very large on the horizon right now is the development of the Lower Churchill project. Right now we are in discussion with Emera Energy and the folks in Nova Scotia who are anxious to be our partners as we move forward," Williams said in his keynote address to the PC convention.
"Imagine how exciting a day it would be if we could see that power avoid Quebec altogether," the premier continued.
"If there's anything that puts a smile on this face, that does every time."
The province is now focusing on the so-called Maritime transmission route, although Williams told reporters later the process to gain access to the Quebec transmission grid continues to wind through the regulatory process.
He said an agreement with Emera will build on the existing deal where the company sells recall power from the Upper Churchill on this province's behalf to the North American grid.
When Williams said the province no longer needed Quebec, he received his first stranding ovation of the night.
The premier said if the plan comes together, the Lower Churchill will be broken up into two phases.
The first phase would see the smaller of two dams built first - at Muskrat Falls - with a second dam at Gull Island built later on.
Muskrat Falls alone, he said, would eliminate the need for the Holyrood generating station on the island. Excess power would then be sold to Nova Scotia and beyond.
"By using the Lower Churchill power here in the province, we will be able to provide stable (electricity) rates for generations to come (as well as an) appropriate return to the (provincial) treasury," said Williams.
Williams said the second phase of the project could be used to attract new industry to Labrador if companies promise to provide proper economic benefits to the province.
He said details of a deal need to be worked out, but he's "extremely excited" about the talks.
Speaking with reporters after his speech, Williams said this province is showing Quebec it tried to negotiate with that province, but is now going to attempt to go another way.
The premier was also asked about the status of the New Dawn agreement with the Innu of Labrador, which is not ratified, but needs to be before the Lower Churchill can go ahead.
Williams said he recently met with Innu officials where the province offered support during the ongoing federal part of the negotiations.
He said the Innu want a "full package" in place before holding the ratification vote on New Dawn.
"We've struck a very good deal with the Innu. When I say a good deal I mean for them as well," Williams said, noting the negotiated deal also includes redress on the Upper Churchill.
As for splitting the project into two phases, Williams said the project is really too big to tackle all at once.
He also said Quebec can still get in on the action, if it chooses.
"If they want to come to the party and they want to earn some good money - because we would pay some very reasonable transmission rentals to Quebec - then no problem. But I said a long time ago, I didn't expect their co-operation. I wanted to look at this maritime route and I'm just delighted we are going that way," said Williams.
The premier also said the province will ask Ottawa for a loan guarantee to get the project started, if a deal can be reached with Emera.