Generating change

Steve Bartlett
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Holyrood has lowered carbon footprint, manager says; plant will evolve

The view of the Holyrood power plant from Seal Cove. The facility is in for a major change, with or without Muskrat Falls. — Photo by Steve Bartlett/The Telegram

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.”

Twitter: @SteveBartlett_

Organizations: The Telegram, Holyrood Generating Station, Sierra Club of Canada

Geographic location: Holyrood, Canada, Newfoundland Labrador river Long Harbour

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Recent comments

  • Cold Future
    May 28, 2012 - 11:10

    The John Smith numbers indicate a significant subsidy for this project, The numbers show it would break even at $350 million a year income but would require a $200 million subsidy if the revenue is only $200 million which many have been saying all along. Quebec is developing Romaine River project at about $3 million a Megawatt and NL is trying to develop Muskrat at about $9 million per megawatt - does that make any sense? The $1billion cash: is that oil money put into the project to reduce taxpayer impact or just put in for hope of profit by government. Government keeps saying the project will provide significant revenue for the government. The subsidy to sell the power and the significant reveiues falls to the captive take or pary ratepayer and the revenue can only come from the pockets of the ratepayers of this province. Muskrat generating station should only be built when government can show that it can be done to the benefit of NL taxpayers which it does not look like so far. Give Joey Smallwood credit. He did not saddle the provinces rate payers with power subsidies. He caused a white elephant to be constructed for outsiders to benefit but it did not cast us one cent. It looks like this white elepant will cost us big time.

    • John Smith
      May 28, 2012 - 14:47

      The government has never...never said anywhere, at any time that this project would be a significant source of revenue...that is a blatant lie. This project was conceived as a means to produce power for our province...period. They decided that we would pay the same amount to produce 824 megawatts as might as well produce the 824. There will come a time we will use that 824 inhouse, as well as more, but right now we will sell the excess. Even if we did not sell one iota, and emera backed out completely we would still need Muskrat, as all the reviews and cost estimates were done without the loan guarantee, or sales to Emera. Oh, and you don't think the upper churchill hasn't cost us one cent??? LOL That just goes to show the depth of your ignorance.

  • where your to is where your at
    May 28, 2012 - 10:29

    Replacing holyrood is just the appearance of justice, while at the same time signing every taxpayers name to a over price project that we don't need. But these tories have make a career out of speaking from both sides of their mouth. Look at where CBPP is now and have been for a long, long time. Nalcor couldn't see this in their muskratfalls crystal ball perdictions. It may sound harsh but we should cut our losses at the mill because its not needed in the industry and doesn't make enough money to stay a viable operation. Even our own government won't support the paper indusrty in the province by announcing last week they they wouldn't be advertizing gov jobs in the newspapers anymore, or like they have been. That says alot about the need for it. Think of it this way, we could lose 1,700 jobs at the mill but it would save us, the greater good of the province, 10 billion dollars. At least then, we wouldn't have to pay to build a dam on the muskrat, but we could just give it away straight from corner brook. It's all the same to EMERA and those miniing companies because they'll still get theirs without their bottom line changing, be asured of that. We'll soon find ourseleves with an excess amount of unused power in the near future, just wait an see! But maybe we can still sell it for next to nothing because its already well know, long before sancation, the political decision has been made that any profits, THE GRAVY, will not be spent to pay off Muskrat. And Thats the slap in the face!

  • Maurice E. Adams
    May 28, 2012 - 08:34

    I think (if my recollection of NL Power's various reports is correct), only about 1% of NL Power's customers participate in their energy efficiency program. So, given that switching to heat pumps alone can reduce electricity costs from between 20-50%, then the programs currently provided seem grossly inadequate (20-50% reduction would in itself negate the need for increasing the provinces debt to pay for Muskrat Falls and would keep rates low).

      May 28, 2012 - 15:40

      As my submission to the PUB shows , Nalcor expects reductions in demand from energy efficiency going forward at only two tenths of one percent per year. I show the potential from efficient heating systems( inverter controlled mini split heatpumps at 423 Megawatts, for residential alone. When you add small commercial and hot water use it comes upto 600 mw or more potential reduction- that is more than the average output of muskrat falls. We need to achieve only some of this to solve our energy problems, at a much cheaper cost while keeping rates fairly constant

  • John Smith
    May 28, 2012 - 08:18

    Maurice has now raised the cost of the development at muskrat to 14.5 What will it be tomorrow maurice 25 billion? The truth, of course, is that we will borrow around 4 billion for the development of Muskrat falls, so maurice is only about ten billion off today. Emera will pay 2 billion, we will pay 1 billion in cash, so that leaves around 4 billion to finance at the lowest interest rates in history, with the best credit rating we ever had. We spend 3.5 billion a year on health care every year in this province, just to give the 4 billion one time expenditure some perspective. maurice also said oil costs are going down? When hibernia was costed oil was 18 dollars a it is over 100 dollars a barrel...again Maurice is totally fabricating facts to suit his non-sensical ravings.Can anyone with a grain of sense think the best thing for us to do is invest up to a billion dollars in an aging plant that will require us to spend hundreds of millions a year on oil? Really? When we can invest in our childrens future, provide the most stable rates in NA, connect to the mainland which will allow us to persue alternatives, sell the excess for 200 to 400 million a year untill we need it. Get rid of the pollution in holyrood. We can't plan a development 5 years down the road dependant upon whether or not a mill in CB functions or not. There will be plenty of uses for the power, and not one iota will go unused. There will always be fluctuations on the industrial side, mines open, mines close, mills open mills close...we can't base all future plans on industrial usage. that is the beauty of the connection to the mainland. It allows us to sell all the excess untill we need it here. Muskrat falls is a very well thought out, and much needed development. It is a true shame that there are still people out there with the level of ignorance that Maurice exudes. There are no rational arguments against the project...none. people like Maurice can only make up facts, and lies and innuendo. You will never win a debate like that Maurice...

  • Paddyjoe
    May 28, 2012 - 08:17

    Mr. Winsor of the Sierra Club is wrong when he says " energy efficiency has never been explored here". I worked at Newfoundland Power for 33 years. As the main distributor of electricity on the Island, 90 percent of the population were and are customers of this company. For years Newfoundland Power has had programs in place to reduce electricity. Wrap up For Savings rebate program. Energy Efficient thermostats, high efficiency hot water boilers and many more such initiatives to reduce electrical use. Thousands of customers have participated and reduced energy use as a result. For the industrial and commercial customers programs and incentives to improve Power Factor and energy audits to identify sources of energy waste have also resulted in significant savings and have reduced energy demand.

    • John Smith
      May 28, 2012 - 08:23

      That is a very good point Paddy Joe...both NL Hydro, and NL power have offered many programs to consumers to reduce energy usage. The fact remains that residential use has increased every year for the past ten years, as can be seen on the PUB site, nalcor exhibit #103. So we need to access additional power, and muskrat is the lowest cost option available to us.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    May 28, 2012 - 07:56

    Mr. Bennett forecast that Holyrood will burn $270 million worth of oil by 2017. ..... From 2001 to 2010 Nalcor forecast that the island demand would be, in total, over that 10 years, more than double what we actually had in 2010................ $270 million in oil costs????? That could be 1/2 that amount. ...... Nalcor's documents show that from 2018 to 2041, EVERY YEAR, the debt servicing and operating costs for Muskrat Falls will be about $350 million per year ---- and then it continues just a little lower than that for the next 25 years til 2067.... Those numbers are based on the DG2 $6.2 billion cost estimate --- which does not include $1.1 billion in addtional interest during construction costs, and while large such projects usualy run 56% over, if we add just say 25% (another $1.5 billion), then til 2041 debt operating costs could be $450 million per year til 2041, $250-$300 thereafter til 2067 for a total of $20 billion. At today's usage/costs, that's enough to fuel Holyrood for 200 years.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    May 28, 2012 - 07:13

    Holyrood provides 25% of the island's energy?????........ In 2011 it was around 12%. In 2010 -- 11%, that is a long way from 25%. We often hear Nalcor (Mr. Bennett) and government talking about Holyrood burning 18,000 bbls of oil operating at capacity in winter............ Well, the facts are that in 2011 Holyrood did not operate at capacity at all ---- not even in winter. ...........Also, since Holyrood operates so infrequently and at very low capacity, Nalcor knows that it has had studies done that confirm that Holyrood "age" is as if it were only 1/2 of its 35-40 years, and therefore this fully paid for asset could easily be used as a backup until 2041...... Pollution is way down, oil costs are coming down, usage is down, demand is down, income from offshore oil is down ---- so why incur $14.5 billion is debt servicing and operating costs over the next 50 years for an unneeded white elephant --- Muskrat Falls?

  • Cold Future
    May 28, 2012 - 07:09

    Why flog the dead horse? With the Corner Brook mill in trouble and the price of oil coming down and predicted to stabilze, lets give up on the Muskrat energy warehouse on the backs of the taxpayer/ratepayer "under take or pay contracts". If we must cut out the oil burning at Holyrood plant, build the transmission from Labrador and bring in the available power at Upper Churcill suplemented by purchase power from Quebec if necessary. The free power from upper Churchill is not that far down the road. It will be the cheapest way forward. Muskrat should be a dead horse long before now.