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Commissioning delays mean generators may be ready before new line
The Labrador-Island Link is down, for continued commissioning work, including installing software required for full service. With some delays along the way, the line is now not expected to be back up until at least January 2020 — part way through the coming winter season.
The issue was noted to the Public Utilities Board (PUB) in a letter from Nalcor Energy, but further detail is reported by Liberty Consulting in a quarterly update to the PUB. The consultant reports are made in the context of tracking the reliability of power during the transition to generation at Muskrat Falls.
“While our contractor, GE, has faced challenges in the development of the required software, we are continuing to assist them in being successful in the development and integration of the bi-pole software that is required to safely and reliably operate the Labrador-Island Link,” stated a spokeswoman for Nalcor Energy, in response to questions from The Telegram this week.
Nalcor subsidiary Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro (main supplier to Newfoundland Power) typically plans to have all generators and supply lines ready for winter demand levels as of November 1. Last year, Nalcor Energy supplied Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro with power over the Labrador-Island Link. This year, at least for the beginning of the winter season, those imports won’t be possible.
Nalcor says the plan is to get more power from Holyrood Thermal Generating Station at the start of this winter.
The power imported to the island over the link last year was power from the Churchill Falls power plant. That hydroelectric power is much cheaper than oil-fired power from the Holyrood plant. The imports saved money — every imported kilowatt that offset flat-out use of Holyrood saved consumers money.
At the Muskrat Falls Inquiry in July, Nalcor Energy president and CEO Stan Marshall estimated the savings from the season at about $36 million, including both the Labrador-Island Link imports but also some imports over the Maritime Link (connecting the island to Nova Scotia).
The imports last year over the Labrador-Island Link were limited however, based on where Nalcor and line contractor GE Grid Solutions had reached in the commissioning process.
The Labrador-Island Link reached “first power” – sending power to the Soldier’s Pond converter station on the island of Newfoundland on June 11, 2018. That milestone then made headlines when a joint corporate event and media update was held at the Soldier’s Pond site at the end of June, but it did not mean the power line was fully functional.
The line is expected to be able to carry 900 megawatts (MW) when fully commissioned. Over winter 2018-2019, it was limited to 140 MW to 150 MW, and was running with only about 75 megawatts at the time it was taken offline for further work on June 5, 2019.
Marshall said the line was shut down then and handed over to the contractors, to assure nothing could be claimed as interference in the contractor’s work in meeting their contractual deadlines. And at the time of Marshall’s inquiry testimony, the contracted deadline for the bipole service, the availability of the advanced service on the line, was October 31.
At the Muskrat Falls Inquiry, Thierry Martin and Laszlo von Lazar, testified on behalf of GE Grid Solutions Canada (GE Grid Solutions was created in 2014-15, when GE acquired Alstom’s power and grid business, already working on the Muskrat Falls Project).
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 late 2019, but there was at least some troubleshooting expected in getting the line to full power.
Nalcor Energy would not comment when asked about whether or not the Crown corporation would pursue legal action against GE Grid Solutions, based on the missed October deadline.
A response to questions from Nalcor Energy says the software work for the Labrador-Island Link does not affect the planned first delivery of power from Muskrat Falls generators. However, Liberty Consulting says significant risks remain, and it’s not guaranteed the line will be ready.
“The Labrador-Island Link’s unavailability to transmit initial power from Muskrat Falls will require Nalcor to secure a dependable delivery path for Muskrat Falls power westerly over the Labrador Transmission Assets,” Liberty stated.
The Labrador Transmission Assets are the lines running from Muskrat Falls back to Churchill Falls, with connection then available out through the Quebec system.
If the line is not available, Nalcor’s Energy Marketing arm is expected to be tasked to deal with the power, to begin with using capacity held by Nalcor Energy on Quebec lines (Marshall testified Nalcor pays to hold the capacity and 250 MW is available. The space is used for excess power from Churchill Falls, he said, with a chunk of that power used in Labrador right now).
To date, Nalcor has internally re-baselined its Muskrat Falls Project schedule, with the line work clearly behind, but there has been no public update to the schedule, with Marshall saying the cost and schedule estimates for the project still stand. The project is currently estimated at $12.7 billion including interest.