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EDITORIAL: Back to the future

The Holyrood Thermal Generating Station. JOE GIBBONS FILE PHOTO/THE TELEGRAM
Holyrood Thermal Generating Station. — Telegram file photo

Right now, COVID-19 has delayed many things, among them, work at the Muskrat Falls dam and generating station, work on problems with transmission equipment at Soldier’s Pond, and work on software problems hampering the completion of the Labrador-Island Link (LIL).

But as crucial parts of the project are being put on hold, other things are being examined in a surprising group of new studies that have been requested by the province’s Public Utilities Board.

Some of the things that Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro has been told to do include new studies on are things you might think would have been done much earlier. For example, the utility is examining the likelihood of a failure of the cross-island power line due to extreme weather.

Closing Holyrood was a key justification for the whole Muskrat Falls project.

As Hydro puts it, “The objective of this analysis is to assess the overall line reliability of the LIL considering associated climatological loads and two predominant types of icing exposures: (i) glaze icing due to freezing precipitation and icing in combination with wind; and (ii) rime icing due to in-cloud precipitation and rime icing in combination with wind.”

The utility hopes to have that study done by November, and says, “these findings will provide a more comprehensive assessment of risk associated with the integration of the LIL into the overall power system.”

Another piece of work that’s underway? An even-more complete emergency plan for dealing with transmission line failures — something that, once again, you might expect to have been done earlier than now.

But the third study is a little tragic, if you’re one of the ratepayers expected to pay for Muskrat Falls.

If you cast your mind way, way back, you might remember being told that one of the reasons that Muskrat Falls was so necessary was because the Holyrood Thermal Generating Station (TGS) was ancient and failing, and that it absolutely had to be replaced — that modifying it to operate any longer would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, including expensive pollution control equipment.

Closing Holyrood was a key justification for the whole Muskrat Falls project.

Well…

A month or so ago, Hydro was talking about having the generating station available for two more winters. The latest study, which is due to be handed over to the Public Utilities Board in September, is looking at how much it would cost to keep the plant going for years as a necessary backup to Muskrat Falls.

“Hydro confirms that this report will focus on whether it is technically and economically feasible to modify Holyrood TGS to become a suitable backup facility and thus be considered as a long-term resource option in Hydro’s assessments,” Hydro says in a letter to the PUB.

It’s worse than bad planning. It’s turned into dark comedy.

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