Long-standing warnings on reliability of Hardwoods, Stephenville, Holyrood generators
While continually stating reliability is a cornerstone of its system planning and operations, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro has failed to replace power generators that have past their life expectancy, even after they have been identified as obsolete and risks to the system.
The old, problematic machinery has been the source of Hydro's woes during this week's cold snap.
“Right now Holyrood is at about 40 to 45 per cent capacity entirely and, if we get Unit 1 back up, we would likely be at about 80 per cent capacity when that happens,” said Nalcor Energy president and CEO Ed Martin during a news conference at Confederation Building in St. John’s Sunday afternoon.
“The two gas turbines – the one in Stephenville, it’s up at 25 megawatts and there are some fuel line issues there that we’re dealing with,” he said.
Twenty-five megawatts of power is about half of that unit’s full production capacity.
Martin said Hardwoods, with similar capabilities, was not in service at all as of the time of the news conference, and was experiencing fuel line issues.
He said it's important to note the work on the power generators is unplanned repair work, rather than planned maintenance. However, in at least one instance, the repair work kicked in the very day after a planned maintenance program was completed. So what’s the real problem? “Hydro’s gas turbine plants at Stephenville, Hardwoods and Holyrood are more than 30 years old. The generally accepted life expectancy for gas turbine plants is between 25 and 30 years,” notes Hydro’s own 2014 capital budget application, filed with the Public Utilities Board (PUB).
“A complicating factor in Hydro’s case is that the manufacturer of the power turbines, one of the key components at the Stephenville and Hardwoods plants, is no longer in business, eliminating the availability of factory technical support and spare parts.
Also the manufacturer of the gas generators ( jet engines) at the Stephenville and Hardwoods plants has declared them obsolete and the supply of spare parts, technical support and repair facilities continues to diminish.”
In 2007, Hydro began a review of the Stephenville and Hardwoods units, in order to plan for an extension to their service lives. This is despite having already acknowledging the units were past their useful service lives.
The Stephenville gas turbine was commissioned in 1976. The Hardwoods gas turbine was commissioned in 1977.
Multi-year life extension projects were planned for both units, even as the Stephenville turbine suffered a service failure in late 2011, as noted in Hydro’s submissions to the PUB. Work at Hardwoods began in 2010, while Stephenville's refurbishment was to begin in 2014.
“Gas turbines will continue to play an important role within Hydro’s integrated generation plan in both isolated island and Labrador infeed scenarios,” stated Hydro.
The Labrador infeed option is more commonly known as the Muskrat Falls project plan.
The gas turbines are not the only pieces of power generation infrastructure stretched beyond reasonable limits. The generators at the Holyrood power plant are also on that list.
“The three units of the Holyrood Thermal Generating Station have now reached or exceeded their generally expected service life of 30 years,” Hydro has stated.
“Condition assessment and selective life extension will permit them to operate reliably until 2020.”
Meanwhile, Hydro has delayed submitting documentation to the PUB in recent years with regards to plans for the Holyrood power plant.
The PUB ordered Hydro to submit a detailed plan for Holyrood, to help it assess what might be necessary spending at the plant between now and 2020, when decommissioning is expected to finally begin as Muskrat Falls is up, running and through its earliest power-producing years. Yearly updates to this plan are expected.
Hydro has also noted an intention to seek approval – but has yet to file documentation and actually get approval – for a new powerproducing turbine for the island.
The Crown corporation has, however, stated to the regulator it can expect to see dramatic increases, records, in its proposed year-to-year spending on infrastructure — above and beyond Muskrat Falls project spending.