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Solution for Labrador-Island Link software problems years away: Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall

Nalcor Energy CEO Stan Marshall walks to the hearing room Tuesday morning at the rate mitigation hearings being held at the Public Utilities Board’s offices on Torbay Road in St. John’s.
Nalcor Energy CEO Stan Marshall walks to the hearing room Tuesday morning at the rate mitigation hearings being held at the Public Utilities Board’s offices on Torbay Road in St. John’s. - Joe Gibbons
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Nalcor Energy CEO Stan Marshall says the software problems plaguing the Labrador-Island Link (LIL) are not going away any time soon. 

Marshall gave testimony to the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities (PUB) on Tuesday during hearings on rate mitigation options for the province. 

The Labrador-Island Link is the transmission system connecting the Muskrat Falls project in Labrador to the island portion of the province. 

General Electric (GE) has been working on software to operate the transmission system for the $12.7-billion megaproject. The software was due to be operational in 2017, but the company has yet to complete the project, Marshall said. He said he will travel to Europe in the coming week to tour a number of similar GE projects that have been successfully completed. 

Workers install a tower during construction of the Labrador-Island link. - Contributed
Workers install a tower during construction of the Labrador-Island link. - Contributed

Marshall says it could be two or three more years before the software is operational.

“This is a very complicated system. GE has been struggling with it. My best estimate is that we’ll have a version early in the new year — late this year, early in the new year — that we’ll start testing again,” he said. 

“It doesn’t mean we’re not going to exchange electricity. We exchanged electricity last year with a different version of the software.”

Marshall says the software is critically important to the delivery of electricity throughout the electrical grid.

“We’re tied into Quebec, we’re tied into Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, we’re tied into the island. We’re going to bring on a new generating plant into the system — four new systems coming on at the same time,” he said. 

“These systems have to be stable to operate what’s there. There’s thousands of different control pieces in the project that this controls.”

In testimony last week, John Antonuk, founder of Liberty Consulting, was less certain on the timeline than Marshall was on Tuesday. 

Antonuk said his group has “lost confidence” in the ability of GE to deliver the LIL software.

“There have just been too many, too many misses. The problems are still pretty substantial. And again, I say that without intention of saying that I think — I’m not intending to say management’s not on top of it, and when we meet with them, it’s clearly as big a concern as they have in running the business,” Antonuk told the PUB on Friday. 

“But, no, I don’t think I have an ability to state with confidence when we think the LIL will be fully functional.” 

“There have just been too many, too many misses." — John Antonuk

Despite the issues with the LIL and having to complete the remainder of the construction on the Muskrat Falls generating station, Marshall says there have been no effects on the cost and schedule for the beleaguered hydroelectric project. 

Meanwhile, Marshall says the search for a new CEO for Nalcor Energy has begun, as he informed the board of directors of the utility of his intention to leave his post when his contract expires in April 2020. Marshall says he’s not playing a role in finding his successor just yet. 

“I have given a commitment to the premier that I wouldn’t leave with anything in a state of limbo,” said Marshall.

Before he leaves, Marshall said, he has been directed by Premier Dwight Ball to take part in the province’s meetings with the federal government on rate mitigation options, though he did not say what his role in the negotiations will be.

david.maher@thetelegram.com


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