Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is moving fast to complete repairs, welding work, on a key piece of infrastructure at the island’s largest power plant — the hydroelectric power plant at Bay d’Espoir.
The push is on to complete the required maintenance, estimated at $12.9 million, to avoid heading into the winter season with significantly reduced island power reserves.
The utility is also trying to repair access roads in the area, after damage from more than 200 millimetres of rain dumped on Oct. 10 by the remnants of hurricane Matthew.
There were at least 24 washouts on roughly 400 kilometres of utility roads around the Bay d’Espoir power system, including an access road to the neighbouring Upper Salmon power plant. The road repair is estimated at an additional $4.6 million, according to information filed with the Public Utilities Board.
Reduced ability to generate power
The goal for Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is to have its generation facilities ready by Dec. 1, to meet winter power demands. And the situation at Bay d’Espoir has the utility under pressure to meet that goal.
The plant repair work is on a single penstock — one of three lines feeding water to the main powerhouse. It is essentially a tube about five metres wide and 1.2 kilometres long, used to move water from the reservoir, with the water in this case reaching two turbines (Unit 1 and Unit 2) to produce electricity. While the penstock is out of service, the two generating units (of seven total) are offline.
Hydro would expect to have about 300 megawatts of reserve power on an extreme weather day in early winter, according to the vice-president responsible for production Jennifer Williams. But with the penstock repair ongoing, about 150 megawatts is unavailable.
“We have quite a few people on site now. I think it’s approaching 50, of the contractor themselves. We’re probably going to ramp up to even more than that,” she said, in an interview Wednesday.
“Those folks have now been on site for a couple of weeks and we’re resourcing that to make sure we’re back online in advance of December.”
Not the first leak
The leak in the penstock was discovered in mid-September. That finding led to an investigation by Hydro staff, working with consultants from Hatch, to determine the extent of the problem.
Water was coming from a crack, found at a point on the penstock where it was originally welded together nearly 50 years ago. The area of the leak is being re-welded, but other areas have to also be addressed, welded, to strengthen “unacceptable” original welds found during the investigation.
The other areas could end up with leaks in future, if left as is.
One other leak was found in the penstock before now, back in late May. That leak was also investigated, corrected with welding, but believed to be an isolated case, based on investigation by Hydro staff and consultants Kleinschmidt.
The welding now required runs about 700 metres, with the lengths added up.
Consumer Advocate Dennis Browne said he was aware of the work, based on the application filed with the PUB. More specifically, Hydro will be using a $1-million “Allowance for Unforeseen Items” account.
“It’s one of our most important facilities, our largest facility on the island, so it’s important the work is done in a timely fashion,” he said.
As for who will ultimately cover the bulk of costs — ratepayers or the province — it has yet to be decided.
The costs for the work are apart from the more than $270-million capital budget proposed by the utility for 2017.
Spending a boost to area
With the staff brought in to complete the penstock repair work, plus the roadwork, there has been an unexpected influx of people to the area.
There are some accommodations in Milltown-Head of Bay d’Espoir, but even about an hour’s drive away in Harbour Breton, The Southern Port Hotel’s owner Bill Carter said storm repairs generally — including Hydro’s repair work — are providing a boost to the local economy.
“It’s unfortunate this rainstorm comes through, you get roads washed out and a lot of people had personal property damage … but here it meant we had contractors coming in to repair roads, we had government inspectors coming in, we had salvage companies coming in, there was just a whole pile of people around that normally wouldn’t be this time of the year,” he said.
For small businesses, it has been a boon. “This fall has been pretty good actually,” he said.