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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Labrador Island Link also behind schedule

Submitted — A map shows the route of the Churchill Falls-Muskrat Falls and the Labrador-Island Transmission Link transmission lines.
The route of the Churchill Falls-Muskrat Falls and the Labrador-Island Transmission Link transmission lines. — Submitted image

I know I’m a voice in the wilderness here.

In fact, at this point, I sometimes think I’m the only one who cares.

But problems with the Muskrat Falls project don’t end in Labrador.

There’s another problem, stretching right across the island, a problem with its roots in the financial circumstances of a major contract — and no, not Astaldi, the Italian firm that was pulled from the Muskrat project.

No, this problem is with GE Grid Solutions, the firm that is supposed to be completing the software needed to make the Labrador Island Link power line work.

(As I pointed out in an earlier column, GE Grid Solutions has been trying for over four years to make software for a Swedish power line system function properly.)

GE Grid Solutions officials have already told the Muskrat Falls inquiry that the power line will be ready when there’s power to transmit.

But consultants are warning that, when the first power can be generated at Muskrat Falls, the LIL may not be ready to transmit it.

Liberty Consulting is doing work on the LIL for the province’s Public Utilities Board. The board is concerned because Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro has built the LIL into its power supply plans — and the PUB wanted a second opinion.

Liberty’s been doing regular updates on the progress — or lack of progress — on the project, issuing their sixth report on May 22. They point out that commissioning even one line out of the twin powerlines on the LIL has taken far longer than it should: “Management achieved ‘First Power’ on the LIL on June 11, 2018. Achieving first power marked the start of dynamic commissioning, and initiated a list of tests of power transmission from Muskrat Falls to Soldiers Pond — tests seeking to demonstrate specified performance prior to commercial operation. It typically takes two months from First Power to the completion of commissioning of a pole. At the time of writing, dynamic commissioning remained uncompleted.”

Consultants are warning that, when the first power can be generated at Muskrat Falls, the (Labrador Island Link) may not be ready to transmit it.

So, instead of two months, it’s taken 11 — and now, new plans at Nalcor mean the commissioning likely won’t take place until the end of November, meaning 17 months. The company was going to commission one line first, described as monopole service, and then the second, called bipole operation. Now, Nalcor hopes to commission both at the same time.

The problem? “Control and protection software required for operation, the primary cause of delay to date, remains unavailable in a final form,” Liberty says. “We have found surprising the large number of software problems exposed during the commissioning process. Such software should undergo rigorous factory testing prior to dispatch to site.”

At this point, GE has hired two independent third-party consultants; those consultants don’t seem to think GE will make the next deadline, either. As Liberty says, “Preliminary information from management and from GE’s Independent Third Party (ITP) consultants gives very low confidence GE will deliver the bipole software by the required August date.”

One of the independent third parties said the GE plan has an “aggressive” schedule with no float to address delays. Sound familiar?

Liberty says, “It also appears that GE’s current financial troubles have resulted in high staff turnover rates, making it difficult to retain competent personnel. Management reported that GE is attempting to secure other third party support to assist in the development process. This situation will continue to threaten its work on the LIL, as GE management allocates limited resources among multiple clients who, like Nalcor, will pressure them for delay-mitigating efforts.”

The bottom line? More delays. “We see substantial risk that bipole commissioning will slip. Such slippage would take commissioning well into the winter operating period, thus increasing the probability of system outages. Substantial reason for concern also arises from management’s statement that bipole software development will not be fully completed until some testing, using the initial version of the software, at the site. We find this process unusual, and believe that it creates a risk of extensive delay.”

Liberty’s pretty blunt about it all: “With first power on pole 2 on the 30th October, the bipole commissioning date of 22nd November is not realistic. Furthermore, with the first generator being ready for operation on the 4th September, two months of energy production will be lost.”

All juiced up and no place to go.

Wild. Just wild.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.


MORE FROM RUSSELL WANGERSKY

• A tale of software and power lines

• Muskrat problems go right down the line

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