Muskrat plans tested

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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About $5 million spent on scale-model dam, turbines

The up-front investment by Nalcor Energy into engineering and design work on the Lower Churchill project has been described as “extensive and appropriate” by leaders of the Crown corporation.

With the project yet to be sanctioned, the reason for the spending to date has been questioned.

The spending has covered an array of items — legal evaluations and financial consultations, for example. Yet it has also been used for “front-end loading,” with engineers conducting in-depth analysis of project components and searching for any potential hiccups that might be encountered with project design, making adjustments as required.

“By taking a front-end loading approach, Nalcor increased the quality and accuracy of the development plans for Muskrat Falls. The company also mitigated many risks that could arise during construction potentially impacting both schedule and cost,” states a response from Nalcor staff to questions on the work.

In a presentation at the annual conference of the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association, held June 12-21 at the St. John’s Convention Centre, Nalcor vice president Gilbert Bennett provided a description of some of the front-end work the project team has done.

Engineers started with detailing Muskrat Falls. They moved to computer models and further defined their plans. Next came the construction of tangible scale models. Nalcor contracted outside the province for the creation of the models.

The Telegram was told there was no capacity for this modeling work in the province.

Northwest Hydraulic Consultants in Edmonton, with a head office in Vancouver, constructed a 1 to 70 scale model of the Muskrat Falls dam site in July 2011. The model required about half a hockey rink worth of space to lay out, according to Nalcor representatives.

Hydraulic testing was conducted using the model. For example, as water was run to the hydro dam, small shots of coloured die were dropped in, allowing engineers to monitor water flows.

Engineers also tested how the design withstood severe environmental conditions, including flooding.

The need for small changes to the design — for the protection of the facility, or to maximize energy production — became evident. Adjustments were made and evaluated using the model.

In addition to the mini version of the site, the project team sought further information on the generating turbine to be used for the hydro facility.

“All it is, is a big fan. A huge fan,” explained Nalcor Energy CEO Ed Martin, during an interview with The Telegram. “The water hits that and turns it like mad and it’s that motion that gets translated in the generators, that turns the generators and that gets translated into the electricity.”

Contracts were awarded in February 2011 for three different scale models of the turbine options, to the three largest turbine manufacturers in North America — Andritz Hydro, Voith Hydro and Alstom Power.

The modeling work, including simulated water flow and making alterations to maximize output, was completed in March 2012.  

“The shape and form of that, how the wings are shaped, is very critical to the amount of power you get out of it,” Martin said.

“Certainly, the physical modeling did identify issues that we have incorporated now in our final design,” Bennett told NOIA members.

“Had we not done that work, we would have had to ultimately have made compromises in the engineering design and we would have had a lesser quality product at the end of the day than what we can see at this point in time.”

Bennett said similar comments could be made about separate front-end work on the cable which will cross the Strait of Belle Isle and preliminary work at Gull Island.

Nalcor is spending about $5 million on the generating site modeling and turbine testing in total.

Organizations: Nalcor Energy, Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association, Convention Centre The Telegram

Geographic location: Edmonton, Vancouver, North America

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Recent comments

  • Cold Future
    July 03, 2012 - 10:04

    It is rapidly reaching a point of no return form the Muskrat fiasco. Itr needs a full review by PUB with the so called full information available. The generations to come will be paying dearly to subsidize electricity rates on the mainland. Proceeding with this project is akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face. Stupid newfy here we come again.

  • Winston Adams
    July 02, 2012 - 10:25

    John Smith, the Take Charge program is a crock, and you should know it, and moreso it's considerably misleading, and unethical. And we don't need to conserve, we need to use our current supply of hydro energy wisely. This means use it efficiently- more heat for less energy used, more savings for the consumer, because it's cost effective, about 4-5 times less costly than new generation. We spend over 100 million a year for oil for Holyrood and a million or two to assist homeowners in efficiency rebates, for Take Charge programs that are designed to do little to help homeowners save significant energy. When one third of our generation is being wasted, some 600 Megawatts, Nalcor and Manitoba hydro suggests potential energy savings has saturated and we can only expect 2/10 of 1 percent reduction . What baloney. Obviously, this must come from electrical engineers with little or no knowledge of heating systems- just ask any of our local professional mechanical engineers who routinely cut heating loads for their designs by 50 percent with efficient systems for their commerical buildings. We just need to apply this to the homeowner, and assist the transformation. The current waste is so great and it is so cost effective to correct this. And conversions will speed up anyway as power costs go up, which will kill demand on the island for Muskrat power,but this high cost then locked in. We need to agressively stimulate these real efficiency savings now, which can reduce demand to delay Muskrat power for the island for a decade or two, when it may then be needed. And John, with efficient heating the average electric heat consumer saves about 560.00 per year, not the 1.37 per year saved by compact lights etc. Add to that - rates can be held stable instead of the escalation planned. My God man, in the interest of the common people, this should be common sense. And with a bit of education and promotion it can happen. Even Nalcor makes no case for more power for industrial use on the island beyond Vale. And even V ale ,I understand are NOT using energy efficient heating, while our government buildings now demand it.

  • Old Salt
    July 01, 2012 - 12:43

    It seems to me that while the Smallwood bedazzlers were scr--ing us with the much hated Upper Churchill deal we were somehow enjoying it because we believed (in our uneducated ignorance) that 'raising the child' would not be too difficult or expensive. We know different now. Yet here we are in 2012 with what seems like another pot of gold being dangled...Muskrat. I feel we should feel stressed by the burden of potential commitment of our financial future and the burden that our heirs will inherit from our foolhardiness. Investment is wise but needs careful planning and research. Major projects spurned on by the expectation of personal glory and the hope for p[olitical immortality need far more investigation than current advocates are willing to wait for.

  • John Smith
    July 01, 2012 - 08:02

    @Charlie...those numbers are completely false.@ Winston...we all wish we could conserve our way out of ever having to find new sources of electricity...but it will never happen. NL Hydro and NL power currently have a program called take is designed to lessen electricity use. The fact of the matter is we need to grow our economy, and grow our province. Our rates have gone up by 60% since 1998, they are going up by 6% this week according to NL Power.. to pay for the oil we burned at holyrood last winter. Muskrat falls is the only hope we have to get off burning expensive crude oil, and start to pay into our own resource...which will provide us with stable rates for the next 50-100 years. When you combine the 10 cents a kwh we pay now, with the adustment formula we have to pay every year it comes out we are paying about 14-15 cents a kwh now. NL Hydro has said power at Soldier's pond will cost about 16.5 cents. This is a smart project for the province, a much needed project.Let's get it done.

  • Geoff Meeker
    June 30, 2012 - 18:55

    If Muskrat Falls becomes operational, power conservation won't make any sense. Yes, we can do our best to conserve, and if a handful of people do, that's fine. But don't forget: the bill for Muskrat still has to be paid, so if a large segment of the population actually uses less power then rates will go up to compensate. It will be expensive power as it is and if consumption goes down, it will be even more expensive.

    • John Smith
      July 01, 2012 - 09:17

      If you want to really see what expensive power is let's forget about muskrat and invest billions in to holyrood and continue buying oil forever....then you will see what expensive power is all about...

  • Winston Adams
    June 30, 2012 - 15:46

    Hanitoba Hydro pointed out that Nalcor failed to do "end-use " modeling for load forecasts which other power companies do to aid accurate forecasting and is considered best methods. And of course, they can tell consumers products like compact lights save considerable energy, which they don't indoors, as tthe heaters just stay on longer to compensate. They have no mandate to help consumers as to the true products to save significant energy and reduce costs for the consumers, so end-use models be dammed. Just bring on more high cost power.

  • Randy
    June 30, 2012 - 11:40

    Who died and made Ed Martin god over nl oil money? Well never know were all the money has disappeared ,with bill29 firmly in place

  • William Daniels
    June 30, 2012 - 10:29

    What a waste of taxpayers money. 5 more million on a dam to no where. STOP the spending NOW. Why doesn't Danny pay for it?

    • Charlie
      June 30, 2012 - 11:54

      Joan Burkes boyfriend was appointed chair for the Board of Directors for Nalcor and Hydro. He is gonna be paid $100.00 per hour for his work plus $250.00 per meeting plus $2 500.00 per year. But we won't be able to find out how much he is claiming because government has shoved Bill 29 down our throats to protect there shameless, deceitful ways!!