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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: More power problems for Muskrat Falls

Workers install a tower during construction of the Labrador-Island link.
Building the Labrador-Island Link. — SaltWire Network file photo

I know, you’re probably sick and tired of hearing about Muskrat Falls and the Labrador Island Link (SEW1`87LIL), the power line that’s supposed to bring electricity from the Labrador project to the northeast Avalon.

I get that.

But, since memories of #DarkNL were probably rekindled as we hear more and more news out of the electrical system collapse in Texas this week, it’s important to at least keep a finger on the pulse of our latest overbudget boondoggle.

News tends to trickle out slowly about the power project.

Bad news? Even more slowly.

But bad news, there is.

On Jan. 11, an ice storm caused damage to the power line.


But this was supposedly an extremely robust power line — one able to resist the elements so well that emergency backup power on the northeast Avalon would not be needed.


At first, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro said, “damage to the electrode line in Labrador was isolated to eight of 1,229 towers, which included eight damaged crossarms, and 16 areas of electrode line conductor damage that required repair, including one span where the conductor was broken and laying on the ground. It was also noted that the majority of the damage was isolated to the electrode line, predominately, electrode line one (EL1), with minor damage to electrode line two (EL2).”

Power line testing was delayed to allow for safe repairs — not easy repairs, either, given the snow. Here’s Hydro talking to the regulators about the challenges involved: “Tracked equipment with extended reach was mobilized to enable access to the towers. One of the work areas is relatively close to the highway, enabling easier access, while the other work site requires snow clearing of approximately 65 km.”

Let that soak in: 65 kilometres of snowclearing in unplowed terrain.

But that information, in a Feb. 4 update from the company to the Public Utilities Board, was only the beginning.

Now, there’s a Feb. 15 update from Hydro: “Since that (Feb. 4) update, additional damage has occurred on EL1 and EL2. Currently, damage has been identified on 30 of 1,229 towers, which includes 29 spans that require conductor splicing, repair, or restringing, including four spans where the conductor has fallen to the ground, as well as 12 crossarms that require repair or replacement.”

So, the damage got bigger. And along the way, it also got dangerous.

“On Feb. 7, 2021, while crews were repairing a section of conductor on EL1, a section of conductor on EL2 failed in the same vicinity resulting in notable shaking of the nearby towers and associated lines, which caused ice to fall in the vicinity of workers below. As a result of the safety incident, work activities were paused while the safe work plans were reviewed. A third party with experience removing ice from transmission lines has since been engaged to reduce the ice loading on the lines in order to minimize the risk of working on the repairs. Ice removal is expected to be complete on Feb. 16, 2021. Once the ice has been largely removed, a detailed line inspection is planned to determine if further repairs will be required now or during the summer work season.”

Basically, that would mean, if the line was now in full operation, it would have to have operated at reduced capacity between Jan. 11 and Feb. 7, when the second line fell, and would have been unable to supply power since then. Or, as Hydro puts it in the present case, “power transfer over the LIL has been paused since the EL2 failure on Feb. 7, 2021.”

So, if we’d been depending on that power, we would have been without it for almost two weeks, from Feb. 7 until now. The schedule for repairs now is that the work is expected to be done by the end of February.

This, while at another location, another portion of the LIL collapsed near Forteau, separate from the weather issues — a transmission tower eyebolt failed, an insulator fell, and problems were found in another similar eyebolt on another tower. Reviews are now planned.

Think about all that.

Teething problems on a brand new line? Perhaps.

But this was supposedly an extremely robust power line — one able to resist the elements so well that emergency backup power on the northeast Avalon would not be needed.

It’s not the best of beginnings.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire newspapers and websites across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at [email protected] — Twitter: @wangersky.


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