Provincial Liberal Leader Dwight Ball has said a lack of transmission space between Bay d’Espoir and St. John’s prolonged the power outages experienced in the past week, leaving the most populated part of the island of Newfoundland unnecessarily in the cold.
Ball has pointed to talk in recent years by Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, before the Public Utilities Board (PUB), of adding a new, main power line from the island’s largest hydroelectric power plant at Bay d’Espoir to the Avalon Peninsula.
Hydro will need to get approval for the project from the PUB. It has been working on a formal proposal for years now, but has yet to actually put the request to the regulator.
Specifically, the project is a new, 230-kilowatt line from the Bay d’Espoir and Western Avalon terminal stations.
The idea is that the new line would allow more power to be moved from various sources from central and west — including Bay d’Espoir and Corner Brook Pulp and Paper — to the Eastern half of the island, where new businesses and rapid new home construction, with electric heating, has added to the power demand.
Regardless of the current situation, the plan is still to build the line, potentially starting within the next year, Hydro staff has stated, if the PUB approves the project. The total cost is estimated at $268 million.
In perspective, that’s about two and a half times Hydro's entire capital budget for the last year. It would be the most expensive piece of construction for Hydro, and the largest Nalcor Energy — its parent company — has taken the lead on, outside of the ongoing $7.7-billion Muskrat Falls project.
At a news conference at Hydro Place in St. John’s Monday afternoon, both Premier Kathy Dunderdale and Nalcor Energy president and CEO Ed Martin said they have no idea what Ball is talking about in suggesting the new power line would have helped the power problems in the last week.
“We do have the capacity to bring power through our (existing) Bay d’Espoir lines,” Dunderdale said. “There’s no power being held up anywhere. A third line would not have made any difference to this situation. This is not a transmission issue. It’s a generation issue.”
Ball was asked about those comments. He said he has received different information on the status of the main lines, suggesting they were operating at capacity, with no room to bring in more power from Bay d’Espoir or other points central and west.
If there was room, he said, the Avalon could have been fed more power more quickly.
“If there’s space on the lines, OK, I could understand what she’s saying, but there’s confusion here,” he said, requesting that Hydro, Nalcor and the province put forward some solid numbers on the line’s usage.
Meanwhile, Hydro has previously told the PUB the new line will only be needed when a new power generator is brought online. The line project was pushed back while a decision was being made on whether or not Muskrat Falls would go ahead.
Since the green light was given by the Dunderdale government for that project in late-2012, Nalcor Energy and Hydro staff have told the PUB the line project would be built to coincide with the 2017 in-service date for power infrastructure associated with Muskrat Falls.
“Given that the expected in-service date of the Labrador-Island (high voltage direct current) transmission link is 2017, Hydro has moved the upgraded transmission line corridor — Bay d’Espoir to Western Avalon proposal to coincide with the 2017 in-service date.”
Nalcor Energy leaders have stated the request for approval of the project, while not filed with Hydro’s 2014 budget application, will be put to the PUB at some point in 2014.