With electric veins reaching across the wilds of Newfoundland and Labrador, connecting scattered hydraulic power centres and far-flung communities, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro employees often work in locations not easy to reach.
Getting workers in and out, including for regular environmental and maintenance work, can drop notable costs on the utility.
One such remote location is known as Ebbegunbaeg — a fly-in, fly-out spot in central Newfoundland, where Hydro has a hydraulic structure used to control water flowing along the Bay d’Espoir hydroelectric power system. That system includes the Bay d’Espoir power plant, but also smaller plants along the way, including the Granite Canal power station and the Upper Salmon power station.
The piece of infrastructure at Ebbegunbaeg is operated remotely, but testing and maintenance mean Hydro staff quite often need to go to the site via helicopter.
“On average, 12 trips are made from Bay d‘Espoir to Ebbegunbaeg for corrective maintenance per year. In addition, water controllers are flown to the site bi-weekly,” a spokeswoman for Hydro stated Thursday, in an emailed response to questions.
Each trip — same day, direct and return — costs Hydro $5,000.
“The helicopter schedule is done to optimize usage, (so) staff may be dropped at this site on their way to another site. Therefore, costs are not specifically allocated to individual sites within the Bay d’Espoir system,” the email noted.
The Ebbegunbaeg structure is one water-control structure on the system, but is considered critical, being downstream of the largest reservoir.
“In the coming years, Hydro will be focusing on upgrading our hydraulic structures,” reads the response to questions.
“A large amount of work is planned (at Ebbegunbaeg) starting in 2017 and will require more crews over a longer period of time.”
As previously reported, Hydro wants to spend about $1.5 million over two years to replace the accommodations and septic system at the site. The idea is it will prepare for the future, longer-term work.
The utility has asked the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities to approve spending on new housing with rooms for six people, each with a dedicated washroom; a kitchen area; laundry facilities and a common/recreation area. The project is detailed as one of 109 construction, maintenance and replacement projects in Hydro’s capital budget application for 2015.
“Employees no longer stay at the facility, but rather are transported to and from the site via helicopter daily,” that application stated.
Hydro has since told The Telegram the existing facility was not used for a period in 2013, following complaints from workers, but upgrades have allowed use of the existing housing again.
The existing accommodations facility was built in 1966.