There’s a lot still to be done to get to the milestone of first power from the Muskrat Falls project. It includes working through issues arising with the Labrador-Island Link, to assure it can handle the power from Muskrat Falls when the plant is ready.
On Friday, the Muskrat Falls Inquiry heard more about the link’s operation from Thierry Martin and Laszlo von Lazar from GE Grid Solutions (created in 2014-15, when GE acquired Alstom’s power and grid business, already working on the project).
Martin worked as the contractor’s project director from November 2014 through May 2016. Von Lazar was a senior executive focused on the project, beginning in April 2016 and finishing at Muskrat Falls in December 2018.
When it comes to getting the roughly 1,100-kilometre Labrador-Island Link transmission line fully functional, Von Lazar said he wasn’t aware of any “extraordinary issues” that could risk the shipment of first power from Muskrat Falls to users on the island in 2019.
“(But) there’s always issues on a project. There’s never not issues,” he said, making it clear the company is still working through its punch list and troubleshooting.
Its contract packages involved the supply of converters, AC switchyards and related control software.
The Labrador-Island Link is already in limited use. It operated over winter as a “monopole” system.
Von Lazar said new software being installed “as we speak” should help get it to a “bipole” system, ultimately with the expectation of fewer trips and full operation.
According to the latest contracts, the commissioning date for the bipole is Oct. 31, 2019.
Von Lazar testified the power line has yet to move more than 150 megawatts of power at a time. He said there have been about 20 trips on the line since May 2018, and there has been more than one cause, from problems with a cooling system to telecommunications issues (the latter the contractor lays at Nalcor’s feet).
The latest software was available in December. Its installation involves taking the link offline, Von Lazar said, so Nalcor Energy opted to wait until the spring for it. Over the winter, the Crown corporation used recall power from Churchill Falls, and moved that power over the link, helping Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro with power supply and supply costs.
Von Lazar said having the newer software installed would have avoided about 15 of the line trips over the last year.
It is expected to take about five weeks to install.
Martin and Von Lazar testified about some of the things the inquiry has already heard from contractors, including conflict with site management, and issues with other contractors (there’s ongoing arbitration between Grid Solutions and Pomerleau, with potential added costs for Nalcor).
Von Lazar spoke about a lack of accommodations for workers at times. He said Grid Solutions had entire shifts flown in, only to have them turned around and sent home because of a lack of space.
“I’ve never had that situation where we’ve had to turn around people,” he said, explaining there is normally enough advance notice to avoid the situation.
The witnesses were asked about other GE Grid Solutions projects worldwide, and shown slides from Nalcor Energy, commenting on operational concerns and commissioning delays noted there. Projects referenced included the SydVästlänken (or South West Link) in Sweden. Nalcor Energy noted it is four years behind schedule. As stated in a column by Russell Wangersky in The Telegram in December 2018, work for the project in Sweden was being done in Stafford, U.K. — the same site where control systems for the Labrador-Island Link were produced.
Von Lazar commented on each project raised, saying the project in Sweden used a new product, different technology from Muskrat Falls and was “not comparable.”
“Do these other projects that are listed in this (Nalcor) presentation raise any issues with GE’s ability to complete the Labrador-Island Link and the software involved with that?” von Lazar was asked.
“I don’t believe so,” he said.
While the inquiry has been hearing from contractors, Nalcor Energy’s senior project managers and executives will have an opportunity to respond when called to the stand later this month and in June.