There’s something about politicians and hydro engineers that keeps them on a chosen track regardless of information to the contrary. Specifically, they seem to pick one option and push it regardless of other potential choices. By way of example, the project at Muskrat Falls is now estimated to cost in the order of $12 billion. Don’t be surprised if this exceeds $16 billion, (probably more, including financing expenses) before it produces one kilowatt. This latter figure represents a per capita debt of about $30,000 that will have to be covered by electricity prices.
Other options or new options deserve consideration.
The unfortunate agreement to “sell” Churchill Falls power to Quebec still has 24 years before it expires. It represents a significant power source for the future — all that’s needed is to get by to 2041. This could be achieved by constructing wind generation farms that would fill the gap for those 24 years. There’s no doubt that wind will be available! As an aside, Scotland expects to be 100 per cent reliant on green energy within three to four years, largely due to huge offshore wind farms.
Technologies are advancing quickly: in 24 years there may well be other financially competitive options. Moreover, avoiding a long amortization period could leave the door open to benefit from advantages of future efficient technologies. Solar energy can be efficient under the right circumstances, but this province’s climate may be more conducive to electricity from wind generation.
Shifting to green technologies to fill the gap to 2041 can also be applied to replace the expensive carbon-spewing Holyrood plant that burns fuel oil to generate some 490 megawatts.
Adding carbon to the atmosphere feeds warming temperatures that may or may not manifest in the immediate area. However, increased frequencies and intensities of major weather events are representative of climate changes that are now being measured and reported, especially in the northern and southern Arctic regions at this point. These will eventually impact local climate as well as more global ones, such as modifications to ocean currents, ice movements and shifting fish and bird habitat and migrations.
Over the past few decades, Arctic ice (as well as Antarctic ice) has been notably reduced in area. Ship operation has been demonstrated practical in Arctic waters (particularly by China, as well as Russia). This implies a need for increased attention to national security, especially for Canada with its large archipelago of islands reaching to within 500 miles of the North Pole.
Huge Antarctic ice shelves are threatening to break off the main ice sheet, and could considerably impact ocean temperatures and result in higher sea levels. Concurrently, open water in the high Arctic has expanded drastically in recent years, suggesting that shipping routes through this huge region, especially in Canada and Russia, will become commonplace whether desired or not. This brings with it the need for security and safety in areas previously believed to be the domain of bears, belugas, seals, caribou and wolves, and a few explorers being “tutored” by those indigenous people who have survived in these regions for centuries.
Clearly, emissions solely from a generating plant such as Holyrood won’t create all this disaster on its own, but it, along with all other human activities, has already made warming sufficiently evident that it cannot be ignored.
Consequently, electrical power must be sourced from operations that emit virtually no carbon particles. Hydro, wind and solar generation of electricity can improve the quality of the atmosphere for the future. Just 24 more years to regain Churchill Falls — in the interim, wind generation can readily and efficiently fill the gap.
Editor’s note: Jim Collinson is a management consultant specializing in energy, economic and environmental issues. He previously held assistant deputy minister positions in the Manitoba and federal governments.