Lights on for now

Russell Wangersky
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Well, I guess the best thing we can say is that we’re lucky February was right up there with the warmest February in history.
Otherwise, we might have been taking turns shivering in the dark, while also watching our power bills rise.

Russell Wangersky

Some of that we’ve already heard about: low water levels and persistent maintenance issues (right now, Hydro says those issues mean the Holyrood generating station will run at 17 per cent below its full operating level in 2016, even if there are no more breakdowns) meant that Hydro had “to run standby thermal generating sources, notably combustion turbines and diesel generators, at considerably higher levels than forecast,” according to a recent request to the Public Utilities Board.

Those thermal units come on fast when you need power, but they’re not cheap to run. How expensive are they? Well, when Newfoundland Hydro submitted an application to the PUB on Feb. 5 to create a new customer-based fund to pay for the extra fuel they were burning, the utility was talking in the tens of millions: as much as $33 million, in fact.

Hydro’s backing down from that $33 million number now, after increases in some water levels and the near-record-breaking warmth of February. Look back at January, though, and you can see that Hydro was cleary concerned, both about that cost and its ability to keep the lights on.

Buried away in another request to the PUB — this one to spend $6.3 million to buy six of the eight 2 megawatt diesel generators the utility is currently renting at Holyrood — is an explanation of how close Hydro came in January to having yet another total power meltdown.

It’s startling reading: “In January and February of 2016, Holyrood Units 1 and 2 were forced out of service for urgent boiler tube replacements. During this same timeframe, the Hardwoods Gas Turbine experienced operational issues, including a requirement for an engine replacement. These operational issues have increased Hydro’s requirement to run standby units to ensure energy and reliability for customers. There has been a substantial increase in the requirement for standby generation to ensure reliable service for customers on the Avalon. Specifically, the operation of the diesel units was required on 20 occasions during this period to ensure adequate reserve levels.”

During that time, you might remember that Newfoundland Hydro issued a power watch a number of times — what the application says is that the difference between that power watch and a Level 4 power emergency, complete with rolling blackouts, included a backstop as thin as eight 2 megawatt mobile Caterpillar diesel generators.

“(If) Hydro had not operated Hydro’s Avalon Standby Generation, the Avalon Peninsula would have been in a Level 4 Power Emergency for the majority of January 2016 when there were boiler tube issues at Holyrood, and Hydro would have worked with    Newfoundland Power to institute rolling customer outages on the Avalon Peninsula,” according to the document filed with the PUB.

So, when was Newfoundland Hydro using the mobile diesel generators to maintain power? Well, Dec. 24, 29 and 31, and Jan. 2, 6-14, 18, 22 and 26. You can see why Hydro wants to buy the equipment, because that’s a pretty slim margin standing between us with the lights on, and us taking turns with the lights off. (Interestingly, in their current connection configuration, only five of the eight diesels can supply power to the grid at any one time.)

One other interesting aside? Hydro also needs the mobile generators as one option to “black start” Holyrood’s main units. That was supposed to be something that was going to be handled by the utility’s purchase of a combustion turbine for Holyrood. The thing is, the ability of the combustion turbine to black start the main Holyrood generators has never been tested. Tests were set for August and September 2015 — now, the earliest opportunity is this spring or summer. Good to see we’re on top of things.

The bottom line?

February was kind and we were lucky. Cross your fingers for March.

Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at — Twitter: @Wangersky.

Organizations: Public Utilities Board.Those, Newfoundland Hydro, Newfoundland Power

Geographic location: Holyrood

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Recent comments

  • Winston Adams
    March 08, 2016 - 09:35

    Fred and Maurice, re Holyrood generators, you are both right. Yes, Fred, the fact that Holyrood sometimes reach near maximum capacity suggests they were sized right, and the less often needed at this capacity the better, as less fuel is used and we use more water power. But also, the fact that they see little overall running time means that the wear and tear is more like 25 years than 50 years. Therefore can have long term useful life with appropriate maintenance. But reliability can be expected to decline and maintenance of a greater priority is needed. Our gas turbines see little use, these do not wear out, they get obselete and issues of corrosion. As to MF, reliability is still in doubt. Sure hydro is generally more reliable, but problems with transmission is generally proportional to the distance, and made worse with areas exposed to coastal salt contamination, high winds , alpine regions of the GNP and undersea cables. Praise reliability for MF after operating for at least 5 years without major outages. For that reason Holyrood must be kept reliable before decommissioning, so likely until 2025. Liberty has warned about this, and the PUB is yet to hold hearings on MF reliability. All in all, a lot of doubtful reliability for a decade.

  • Fred
    March 08, 2016 - 06:28

    I cannot help but wonder why someone would hold up "facts" as being damning when in reality they are completely normal. The "fact" that Holyrood operated at maximum capacity for 1.6% of last year is normal, expected and is evidence of proper engineering design and correct operating practice. So tell me ....Maurice....whats your game? Do you know the difference or are you just a **** disturber?

    • Maurice E. Adams
      March 08, 2016 - 10:43

      Fred, government and Nalcor have repeatedly said how Holyrood burns 18,000 bbls of oil a day in winter................. Tto quote former Minister Kennedy in 2012 ---- "Holyrood is used at its full rate of capacity in wintertime"..... "When Holyrood gets to its full rate of capacity, Mr. Speaker, it burns 18,000 barrels of oil days".............Does that convey a clear representation of the issue? Historically, Holyrood has it operated 'at capacity' at a mere 1.6% of the time, and not at all in 2011. Accordingly, on average burns about 80% LESS THAN the much advertised 18,000 bbls a day. To keep repeating the 18,000 bbls a day is misleading -- PERIOD and conveys a misleading message.

    • Maurice E. Adams
      March 08, 2016 - 13:27

      Fred, you are intentionally or otherwise doing what I refer to as "hopscotching" --- shifting the discussion. I have never claimed that operating at capacity for 1.6% of the time is not normal. I do not argue that it is not "proper engineering practice". Likewise, I do not argue that it is not "correct operating practice", etc. I agree fully. That is not the issue. It is the fact that government and Nalcor essentially misrepresents how, to what extent and therefore even deceptively, by repeating the 18,000 bbls a day number, the preceived cost of Holyrood operations.

  • Fred
    March 07, 2016 - 18:26

    Here is a little engineering parlance for "load duration curve". You will see a nice peak value which is about 1.6% of the year.

  • Dave T
    March 07, 2016 - 10:03

    The province was saved by 10 MW?? BS!! The system never came that close to rolling blackouts this year.

    • Maurice E. Adams
      March 08, 2016 - 11:33

      Dave T --- Yes, Holyrood operates at capacity less than 1.6% of the time (a few hours at a time here and there, when we have peaks approaching our buffer). In total it adds up to less than six , 24-hour days a year. That would add up to the total amount of time that Holyrood burns 18,000 bbls of oil a day.

  • Fred
    March 07, 2016 - 08:35

    Yes Holyrood is unreliable and yes we need alternate generation sources. FYI....Hydro has been saying this for quite some time I believe (re Holyrood planned Obsolescence). That's why MF is being built! Also, every utility in the world has power outages...regrettable but it happens. It seems like the sky is constantly on the verge of falling here. Why is that?

    • Maurice E. Adams
      March 07, 2016 - 09:38

      There was a Hatch consultant report done for Nalcor a few years back which concluded that operationally Holyrood generators were the equivalent of only 20 years old --- because they have been used/needed sparingly and when used, rarely were/are they needed to operate at capacity ---- about 1.6 % of the year. SO the problem is clearly (intentionally or otherwise) --- POOR MAINTENANCE.

    • Fred
      March 07, 2016 - 11:10

      Horse Hockey. The "fact" that the generators are used at 1.6% of maximum capacity illustrates that they are, in fact, sized correctly. Holyrood is intended to be used as a supplement to Bay d'espoir. If they were to be operated at capacity all the time then they would not be supplementary units! Just so you understand, the units in Bay d'espoir are intended to be run all the time but the Holyrood machines are not.

    • Maurice E. Adams
      March 07, 2016 - 12:03

      Fred, the generators are NOT "used at 1.6% of maximum capacity". They are used at maximum capacity 1.6% of the time". Big difference. In other words, most, by far, of the time there is much less strain put on these generators because they are very infrequently and not for much of the year used "at maximum capacity" less than 6 days a year.

    • Dave T
      March 07, 2016 - 14:30

      Maurice, are you saying the Holyrood is at max capacity less than 6 days per year?

    • Fred
      March 07, 2016 - 14:45

      Yes as I said, if they are used at maximum capacity for only 1.6% (of the year) (that 140 hours) then they are correctly sized.

    • Fred
      March 07, 2016 - 14:53

      Yes, Holyrood only operates at maximum capacity for 1.6% of the year. It cannot be otherwise. The generators at Bay d'espoir provide base (cheap) generation and the units at Holyrood (for the most part) make up the remaining generation. There are three units at Holyrood and the usage of each is minimized because there is no benefit to running generators without the requite load. If the system load is 1000 MW then the maximum amount of generation will come from hydro resources and the minimum quantity will ALWAYS come from Holyrood. Why would you want to run the more expensive generator more than the cheaper option?

    • Dave T
      March 07, 2016 - 16:27

      Well Fred, I can tell you that you are totally wrong. Unit 3 has operated at max load since Christmas, and is still operating at max load. Units 1 and 2, although derated, are also operating at max load for months.

    • Dave T
      March 07, 2016 - 16:33

      The issue is that only 400 MW of power can be supplied to the avalon from BDE and other Hydro generation. The rest of the Avalon load comes from Holyrood, which is requiring Holyrood to operate at higher loads for longer periods of time.

    • Maurice E. Adams
      March 07, 2016 - 18:29

      Yes Dave T..... and told by Nalcor that they did not operate at capacity at all in 2011 (when informed by Nalcor a couple of years back that they defined 'capacity' as 95% of max). Most recent info from Nalcor is that it operated for 8 hours at capacity in 2011 but they define capacity now as at 90% max.

    • Wallace
      March 07, 2016 - 20:06

      Fred, The units in Bay D'Espoir will provide power to Nova Scotia.

  • John Smith
    March 07, 2016 - 08:04

    and yet people still question our need for new reliable sources of generation? Give me a break...

    • Maurice E. Adams
      March 07, 2016 - 09:21

      Peak demand average yearly increase over the last 15 years is about half Nalcor's forecast 0.8% (and that includes Vale ramped up to operating at its Long Harbour nickel processing plant and record cold winter temps over the last few years) ---- and energy consumption? Still below what we used in 2002.

  • concerned
    March 07, 2016 - 07:13

    Just imagine in the new CT was not ready for this winter? It is a good thing they had to fast track that project by buying used equipment, on a sole sourced basis. NLH are in reaction mode. They have been caught flat footed by peak capacity (MW) requirements which exceed what was predicted in their historical models. From face value NLH seems like an organization in crisis. It is time in this province that NLH is purely a "holding" company. Let NF Power run the assets. Like the oil and gas business, let Nalcor purely be an equity holder, with no operational input.

  • Ken Collis
    March 07, 2016 - 03:55

    And yet Ed Martin and his management crew still have jobs. As one of my Polish buddies says, "Why like this?"