Muskrat Falls goes global

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Project is big business for international contractors

To the end of 2013, images seen of the $7.7-billion Muskrat Falls project were of early works — establishing the construction site on the lower Churchill River, removing thousands of trees and tonnes of rock from the hydro dam site and starting drilling at either side of the Strait of Belle Isle for a power link between Labrador and Newfoundland.

World map of where Muskrat Falls work is being carried out. — Telegram illustration

Each piece of work is being completed under contract, mostly to companies with a local base.

However, at the start of 2014, the story is of Muskrat Falls going global — with work to manufacture unique, long-lead items required for the construction underway.

Only a handful of companies in the world are capable of producing some of the items needed for the backbone of Newfoundland and Labrador’s power system.

And those companies have a broad reach, leaving Nalcor Energy responsible for testing and manufacturing happening in 11 countries.

As one example, cable that will cross the Strait of Belle Isle and bring Muskrat Falls power to Newfoundland, in the spaces now being drilled, are to be created by Nexans. That company has a head office in Norway, where engineering of the cables was undertaken.

Actual manufacturing of the required 100 kilometres of cable has now begun in Futtsu, Japan.

It is expected it will take the specialized factory just over a year to finish the work.

Global scope

Muskrat Falls is being built in Newfoundland and Labrador, but also — piece by piece — in manufacturing facilities in the United States, China, India, Italy, Norway, Austria, Turkey, Mexico, Japan and Bahrain.

Specialization aside, the main contracts for the manufacturing of Muskrat Falls pieces are not small packages of work.

Should you take the 3,000 kilometres of conductor wire required for the power link between Churchill Falls and Muskrat Falls, for example, and run it along the trail circling Quidi Vidi Lake, you could make over 789 loops before running out.

Midal Cables has been contracted to provide that conductor and will be manufacturing it in Askar, Bahrain.

Seves Canada will be producing over 400,000 insulators for power towers for the project in Naples, Italy, under contracts awarded to date.

Manufacturing of the main turbine and generator components — the heart of the Muskrat Falls power plant — is being completed by Andritz-Hydro in China.

The mass of the combined turbine and generator rotor is 630 tonnes. That is roughly equivalent to the weight of 4 1/2 blue whales or, for a potentially more familiar image to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, the weight of 14 fully-grown humpbacks.

Manufacturing these and other specialized products will demand months and even years to complete. Nalcor Energy is expected to be watching all the while, attentive to potential cost overruns and anything that might disturb the product schedule.

“Depending on the various pieces of equipment, we’ll have people on site for the critical processes, we have ongoing audits, inspections, quality surveillance — both by our own people as well as consultants,” Nalcor’s project lead, Gilbert Bennett said in an interview this week.

The consultants include four companies contracted for “independent, third-party quality surveillance” beginning in 2013.

“So, for example, the submarine cable is just starting manufacturing now at the factory in Futtsu (Japan). We had people there to witness some of those activities. We’ve had independent material testing on things like the turbine blades and so on, metallurgy work and so on, that we would have done independently of the supplier, who actually does it themselves as well,” he said.

“It’s not like you can take it back to Costco and say, ‘This one’s defective, give me another one’,” he added. “With long-lead items, through the manufacturing process, you’ve got to catch it at the time.”

While willing to walk through project oversight, Bennett refused comment on whether the project schedule and costs to date are on target.

A detailed update on the project, providing over-under figures, is expected later this quarter.

Organizations: Andritz-Hydro, Costco

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador, Norway Futtsu Italy Japan United States China India Austria Turkey Mexico Askar Naples

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Recent comments

  • Fred Penner
    February 02, 2014 - 14:41

    It is comforting to know that our utility (NALCOR) has the best interests of our population at heart and is seeking out expert suppliers from across the Globe for the completion of the Muskrat Falls project. In leveraging international suppliers, NALCOR is ensuring that NLers get the best possible value for their money and are, inturn, availing of the best engineering minds on the planet to assist in the design and contruction of this milestone project in the history of our province.

    • Tony Rockel
      February 03, 2014 - 17:44

      Poor Fred, wait til you get your electricity bill in 2017-- thats if you actually live here.

  • John Brown
    February 02, 2014 - 14:20

    Interesting to see a map with "Canada" and "Newfoundland & Labrador" labeled as seperate entities. I was under the impression N&L was part of Canada.

  • Redgrave
    February 02, 2014 - 10:12

    I have been saying this for years now. Newfoundland has joined the Global Economy in way most people have no idea, including our politicians. This is not just a deal with Ottawa offering a few billion in bonds--the world has offered us several billion in bonds as well--risky bonds that we have to manage over the next half century. What we're managing is the interest . What we'll be borrowing for in the future will be to cover the interest. Seems a lot of this money could, and should be staying right here in Newfoundland (the same as support industry flourishes in Alberta) --if only we has the foresight to set up industry and a rail system decades ago. Still...diehard Newfoundlanders would rather worship the fish--like the recent lottery winner who wants to buy a 'crab boat' instead of building a real industry that can opperate all year and employ Newfoundlanders--"the fish is a false God" .

  • Maurice E. Adams
    February 02, 2014 - 09:02

    Well, I feel much better now --- knowing that our billions in one-time oil revenues are not being cubbyholed, not being safely tucked away in some sort of Heritage Fund for our children and children......... I feel much better knowing that we are not only spreading the seeds of our Goldren Age around to the rest of Canada, but being the altruistic, friendly, good-natured people that we are in "this place" , we are spreading our New-found-wealth around as evenly as possible to the rest of the less well off countries --- all around the world. What a wonderful, enlightened people we are. I am sure we must be the envy of everyone, everywhere --- especially Nova Scotia (and later, when the control of the Churcill River is shown to be with Quebec, or to avoid such an embarrassment and to get a modicum of water from Quebec, our government extends the Upper Churchill contract another 50 years past 2041).

  • observer
    February 01, 2014 - 18:20

    Thank you for this, Ashley. Great work showcasing some of the details of the Muskrat Falls project. I can't believe I'm reading something positive about it from the Telegram. What a refreshing change!

  • Corporate Psycho
    February 01, 2014 - 17:52

    Stop Muskrat now.

  • david
    February 01, 2014 - 09:58

    So just two days ago, Gilbert Bennett is busy writing letters to the Telegram begging for people to rely on facts and information before criticizing this project. But today? "Bennett refused comment on whether the project schedule and costs to date are on target." THIS is why we're Newfoundland.

    • Brett
      February 02, 2014 - 19:46

      Please, whether they are ahead or behind on budgeting now is irrelevant. There are so many moving pieces that that kind of information means nothing without a detailed breakdown of the future tasks to be completed, resources allocated/available and a huge number of other factors that can impact the price. Giving a figure is only going to create problems. Especially if the project is not at a milestone point. What do you want; weekly updates on costs put in the telegram with their master schedule and resourcing?

  • david
    February 01, 2014 - 09:48

    All the makings of a complete and utter fiasco.

  • JM
    February 01, 2014 - 07:39

    Mr. Bennett refused to comment on whether the project schedule and costs are on budget. Is this the same Mr. Bennett who wrote the opinion piece that the debate on Muskrat Falls must be fact based. The fact that Nalcor has not publically released the project estimates in over 14 months is not acceptable. They update the forecast cost to complete on a monthly basis. It should be released to the public.