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EDITORIAL: Power struggles

The Holyrood Thermal Generating Station.
The Holyrood Thermal Generating Station. — Telegram file photo

It’s been safely in the long shadow of delays at the Muskrat Falls generating station.

But now, delays on the Labrador-Island Link (LIL), the power line that is supposed to bring power from Labrador to the Northeast Avalon, are making their own headlines.

That’s because changes in the schedule for the LIL mean the generating station will be generating power before the LIL is ready to carry it consistently.

So, once again, we’re expecting to run through the winter with the support of a trio of thermal units at Holyrood that Hydro has said were long past their operating lives.

First power from Muskrat Falls is expected in late fall this year. But late last week, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro advised the province’s Public Utilities Board that trial bipole operations of the link — where power runs on both of the side-by-side lines of the LIL and which had been scheduled for November 2019 — now won’t occur until halfway through February 2020. The LIL will be shut down until dynamic testing begins in January 2020.

That really shouldn’t be much of a surprise; the PUB’s own consultants, Liberty Consulting Group, have been warning about delays for months, saying in its last report in May, “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.”

So, what will fill the gap?

Well, we’ll let Hydro give you that news: “To support the provision of reliable service to customers through the 2019-2020 winter season, Hydro is carrying out necessary work at the Holyrood Thermal Generating Station to help ensure that it is fully capable of providing maximum output this coming winter.”

That’s right: Holyrood.

So, once again, we’re expecting to run through the winter with the support of a trio of thermal units at Holyrood that Hydro has said were long past their operating lives. Here’s what Hydro told the PUB about the Holyrood units in September of 2012: “The three units of the Holyrood Thermal Generating Station have now reached or exceeded their generally expected service life of 30 years.” At that point, the units were 42, 42 and 33 years old. They’re now, for anyone still counting, 49, 49 and 40 years old.

In 2012, Hydro said that with the right amount of spending, the units could limp along until 2020 — but that was under the long-forgotten schedule that would have seen Muskrat Falls coming on line in 2017, and the Holyrood station being relegated to a standby facility.

Instead, at what was supposed to be the end of its life, it’s expected to be capable of operating at maximum output.

Oh, and after the LIL finally does go through testing, there will be another outage to allow for the higher power transfers the line was always supposed to carry. That’s now set for late April to mid-May of 2020 — unless there’s another schedule change and delay.

Imagine: Muskrat Falls may have power, but with no way to deliver it.

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