Powering up to Muskrat Falls

N.L. Hydro says it will handle demand 2014-2017

Ashley Fitzpatrick afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com
Published on February 11, 2014
NL Hydro is working on upgrading the Holyrood site, adding a collection of small-power diesel generator units which will increase the site’s generating capability. — File photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is confident in its ability to provide power to Newfoundland Power’s customers, without any significant interruptions, for the rest of 2014 and beyond.

The assertion has been made in interviews by senior management, since a series of rolling and unplanned power outages throughout Newfoundland from Jan. 2-8. It has now also been put to paper, filed with the Public Utilities Board (PUB) for the ongoing review of reliability of the island power system.

As The Telegram has reported, at the core of Hydro’s planning is the purchase of a 60-megawatt turbine, estimated to cost roughly $100 million.

The utility was planning to buy that unit before the blackout events, in anticipation of a forecasted need for more power on the island as of 2015.

A formal application was expected with Hydro’s last capital budget plan, submitted to the PUB in 2013. It was not submitted as scheduled, but Hydro is now promising to apply for approval this year.

The plan is under a final review by Hydro, “in light of recent system events,” according to a filing made to the PUB.

“Hydro does not expect delay of submission to be significant,” a spokeswoman for the utility said Monday, assuring a submission in 2014.  


Holyrood addition in progress

Hydro is already pressing forward with an upgrade to the Holyrood site, approved in November 2013. It provides 16 megawatts of power generation capability, through the addition of a collection of small-power diesel generator units.

The cost is estimated at $6.8 million, including $1.1 million in capital cost to accommodate the diesel units and $5.7 million annually to lease the required machinery.

The addition was OK’d by the PUB because the plant needed to be able to handle the rare requirement of a black start. Essentially, the power is used in the case of a significant system failure, keeping large generators inside the plant on warm standby, rather than letting all power to the units be dropped.

So far this year, the job of supporting Holyrood’s large power producers has been covered by a mobile Newfoundland Power unit.

With the diesel generators currently expected in service in early March, Hydro has suggested their 16 megawatts of power might alternatively be tapped in the case of an acute power need within the next few years.

The idea of setting up the units to feed the island system, in addition to acting as standby for blackstarting Holyrood, is under review.

Meanwhile, the addition will free up the Newfoundland Power unit.


Increased capital spending

Power from the hydro plant at Muskrat Falls is scheduled to begin flowing to the island in 2017. The power plant at Holyrood is set to come offline in 2020.

Hydro has not ruled out any additional lease or purchase of generating units in the interim, if it is found to be required after its internal review, or under a PUB directive.

Between 2017 and 2020, the utility has planned a dramatic increase in the amount of money spent each year on maintaining existing infrastructure, with the hope of minimizing down time.

From 2008-12, average yearly capital spending by Hydro was $59.3 million. From 2014-18, the utility expects average annual expenditures of $162 million.

As for what will provide power post-2020, in the case of an interruption of power from Muskrat Falls?

“The backup plan for the future is part of the future design and we have a number of years before us, so that will be dealt with in time,” said Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro vice-president Rob Henderson, addressing reporters at the PUB’s offices on Feb. 5.