Stan Marshall was asked to lead Muskrat Falls out of the abyss. He didn’t hesitate to jump in.
In April 2016, Stan Marshall came out of retirement and answered Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball’s plea to take over as president and CEO of Nalcor Energy.
Few envied him. Fewer still even understood why Marshall―who was not quite two years into his retirement after stepping down as president and CEO of Fortis Inc. in 2014―would want the job. After all, he was taking over a Crown Corporation that was being consumed by the Muskrat Falls mega-project, a project that was behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. His predecessor, Ed Martin, had been replaced for his role in overseeing the mess, and Nalcor’s board of directors had resigned en masse after Ball replaced Martin with Marshall. It was not the best time to be stepping into the CEO’s chair at Nalcor.
But Marshall has never been one to shy away from the challenges. And with a resume that included a 35-year career at Fortis, a St. John’s-based power company, Marshall felt he was the only person in the province who could save Muskrat Falls.
“The premier asked me who could do the job. I said I didn’t have anyone in mind, and he basically said, ‘It has to be you,’” Marshall says. “I felt it was my duty to help them. The project was in trouble and because of the magnitude of it, it was bankrupting the province. It’s not unlike a doctor who drives along and sees somebody dying on the side of the road. The doctor has an obligation to stop. It’s your duty.”
Marshall has performed his duty with zeal. He has stabilized a hydro project that had cost overruns spiralling upward and a completion date that was uncertain. The project will now cost $12.7 billion (its original estimate was $6.2 billion) and it’s scheduled to finally be complete and pumping out power by mid-2019. The large role Marshall has played in righting a heavily listing project is why he is our 2019 Industry Person of the Year.
Not that’s it’s been smooth sailing for Marshall or the project since he took over almost three years ago. In fact, the challenges never seem to end. The latest came in October when Nalcor terminated its contracts with Astaldi to build the hydro generating station and related infrastructure at Muskrat Falls (the parent company in Italy filed for creditor protection and its Canadian subsidiary was unable to pay its bills for Muskrat Falls work). That has raised fresh concerns the project won’t be finished by 2019.
Despite the continued turbulence, Brendan Paddick, the chair of Nalcor’s board of directors, has high praise for Stan Marshall’s work on Muskrat Falls. That includes Marshall’s decision to separate it into two projects―power development (Muskrat Falls) and power supply (the Labrador-Island Transmission Link and Labrador transmission assets that will deliver power from Churchill Falls to the island). He and his team were able to strike a $2.9-billion federal loan guarantee to finance the project’s cost overruns. Paddick also gives Marshall credit for addressing the numerous protests surrounding the project and its potential adverse environmental impacts and improving relations with indigenous people in the project area.
“When Stan stepped aboard, Nalcor equalled Muskrat Falls. Morale was low. Public sentiment was sour. Fingers were pointed in all directions. It was a political hot potato and a general state of chaos existed. Stan set out to calm stormy seas,” Paddick says. “We all owe a debt of gratitude to Stan Marshall for raising his hand and saying, ‘I want to help’.”
As this magazine went to press, Nalcor had released its 2018 third quarter results and provided an update on its progress at Muskrat Falls. Transmission lines from Churchill Falls to Soldier’s Pond on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula have been completed. Construction on the converter stations, switchyards and transition compounds was almost complete, and it’s developing the software needed to operate the Labrador-Island Transmission Link.
Marshall acknowledges with a project as big as Muskrat Falls, there are challenges that arise almost daily. Some, like getting rid of Astaldi, are bigger than others. But he says the key to getting the project back on track was taking a ‘big picture’ approach to solving the crisis. “When you’ve got a big project or a big operation, somebody’s got to be responsible for the big picture,” Marshall says. “Someone has to be stepping back and seeing like a commander on a battlefield. When I came in, nobody understood the big picture. Nobody understood that there were two projects instead of one. The key was to recognize that and separate them. The things we have done, nobody recommended because everyone was focusing on the details.”
Critics of the project are still focusing on the details, like how much power rates are going to go up in the next few years to pay for Muskrat Falls. However, Marshall believes the ultimate benefit provincial residents will gain from the project isn’t just the renewable energy it will create, but the experience working on Muskrat Falls has given a generation of young Newfoundland and Labrador workers. Before he leaves the job in 2020, Marshall’s final act will be figuring out how to keep them all in the province.
“The greatest benefit coming out of Muskrat Falls is we have another generation of bright people, not only engineers, but technicians and accountants, that know their stuff now. They have gone through this project and they will be among the best in the world here,” Marshall says. “For the next 40 years we’ll have people who will do things that I can’t envision right now to help the province. One of the legacies I want to leave is to make sure we retain these skills.”