Ten years ago, Holyrood’s power plant was named one of Canada’s worst polluters.
It’s a distinction the facility hasn’t been able to shake, and that bothers Terry LeDrew.
“We haven’t made that list since,”
the manager of thermal generation points out.
Last week, The Telegram dropped by the Holyrood Generating Station for a look around, and a discussion about the Nalcor-owned facility’s future with or without the proposed hydro-electric development at Muskrat Falls in Labrador.
The worst polluter distinction regularly comes up early in any such dialogue, or occasionally on open-line radio shows or in letters to the editor.
LeDrew considers that unfortunate. He says the listing was based on one contaminant in a single year, the facility’s most productive year on record.
He stresses there’s been an incredible effort to reduce the Holyrood’s carbon footprint in the decade since. There’s been a switch to a fuel that lowered sulfur emissions by 75 per cent, plus major improvements in combustion.
“The stigmatism with the facility, I find it personally irritating at times,” LeDrew admits.
Despite the bad rap — whether deserved or not — there’s no debating the plant plays a vital role when people flick a switch and get power.
Gilbert Bennett, vice-president of the Lower Churchill project with Nalcor, says Holyrood is essential.
Using thermal generation (see fact box, page A2) three turbines produce about a quarter of Newfoundland’s electricity. It has the capacity to generate 40 per cent if required.
Age of facility a big issue
At any one moment, the plant can pump out 500 megawatts of juice. Over a year, it could generate 3,000 gigawatt hours.
Holyrood, and the island’s entire system, would change if Muskrat Falls gets the green light.
The bulk of the province’s electricity would be generated on the Labrador river, and Holyrood would be connected to a “major intersection” of the Avalon’s transmission systems 10 kilometres away at Soldier’s Pond.
Holyrood’s prime focus would become power quality.
The towering stacks, gigantic oil tanks, and a marine terminal about a kilometre away would no longer be needed.
Emissions would be zero and Nalcor’s biggest expense at Holyrood — fuel — would disappear. (In 2011, the facility burned 1.5 million barrels of oil, at a cost of around $120 million.)
As well, with Muskrat on stream, Holyrood would become a lot less complex to operate, as the roughly 200 systems now involved in producing power would drop to about 40. Staffing levels would be reduced to about one-third of the current 113.
If power doesn’t flow from Muskrat, the Holyrood facility would become an even larger piece of the power puzzle, and would require an investment in the vicinity of $600 million as the stacks get a major upgrade to reduce the emissions to almost zero.
As well, based on forecasted factors — like future production at Vale’s nickel plant in Long Harbour — another turbine would be needed by the 2020s.
“Joey Smallwood dedicated this facility, “ notes Bennett.
“It is now middle-aged. If you look at the (non-Muskrat) scenario, it’ll be a 70-year-old facility in our planning right now. That’s a big issue.”
Another big issue is the predicted rise in fuel prices. If Muskrat doesn’t happen, Nalcor estimates its fuel expense at Holyrood would approach $270 million by 2017.
Asked which option he likes for the Holyrood plant, Fred Winsor answers with, “How about neither?”
He’s conservation chair of the Sierra Club of Canada, and he likes the idea of generating electricity naturally, with technologies like solar panels and windmills.
“Solar needs to be explored. We’re hardly out of the gate on that,” he says. “There’s wind enough to easily displace Holyrood.”
Windsor also suggests striking an efficiency agency to explore ways of reducing electricity use and the need for plants like Holyrood. He envisions such an entity doing things like assessing buildings and recommending retrofits.
“Energy efficiency has never been explored (here),” he says.
Whether or not Muskrat materializes — or even if Winsor’s ideas catch on — things will be changing at Holyrood in the coming decade.
LeDrew stresses they already have, and he’d like the public to see for themselves during the plant’s upcoming environment week open house.
After the discussion, he led The Telegram around the facility, on an information and photo tour.
To show the improvements since the plant made that dubious list 10 years ago, he suggests photographing the stacks.
LeDrew doesn’t like the oft-used photo with a plume bellowing from the plant.
“That plume picture never goes away,” he says. “Today, we’re on-line, and I’d encourage you to look at that plume. That picture is from way back, God knows when, but that’s not the way this place operates today.”