Although constructed primarily for Newfoundland and Labrador, by 2017 when the new Muskrat Falls hydroelectric plant goes into operation, it will be increasing prosperity in the entire Atlantic Canada region.
Muskrat Falls Hydropower Project On Its Way
Labrador’s Muskrat Falls hydropower project has started construction. Intended to benefit the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland/Labrador and Nova Scotia, two dams are being built on the lower Churchill River in Labrador, below an older dam operated by the government of Quebec. Nalcor Energy, Labrador’s government-owned energy corporation, expects that with the dams the province will be able to meet 98% of its energy needs from renewable sources.
Not only will the project provide much needed electricity to the region, but it will also provide enough to sell to markets in Atlantic Canada and New England. Nalcor expects to use 40% of the power generated to meet the province’s electricity needs and sell 20% to Emera Inc. for the island of Nova Scotia. Nalcor also expects that the electricity will stimulate industrial growth in Labrador, which will need a projected 80% of the dam’s power by 2036. That leaves 40% for export for the next 20 years.
Exporting more electricity will help the government of Canada to meet its international climate change commitments by reducing the need for coal and tar sands crude oil, both of which are heavy contributors to carbon dioxide and methane in the air. And it will help to fuel the electric cars being manufactured and increasingly purchased in the United States (including the Tesla Model 3 released this year).
In Newfoundland and Labrador, Muskrat Falls will power homes and businesses for generations to come. It will also allow the government to shut down an old oil-fired generation station to reduce its own carbon emissions. The plant is being built to last more than 100 years, providing stable electricity rates well into the future.
The Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project was sanctioned by the government of Newfoundland/Labrador in December of 2012 and will take an estimated five years to complete. Eventually it will produce enough electricity to power 1.5 million homes. The project includes construction of an 824 megawatt facility and more than 1,500 kilometres of associated transmission lines. Some of the infrastructure needed to operate the facility includes switchyards, converter stations, grounding stations and enough guy wire to wrap the world twice.
Nalcor approached this massive project using a “front-end loading approach,” with intensive engineering and design work early on to minimized problems later in the construction process. The upfront work included onsite investigation and measurement, followed by computer modeling and then physical modeling of the proposed plant setup. Engineers built a scale model and conducted over 200 tests to make sure the hydroelectric flow would work as envisioned. Nalcor also hired three engineering firms to design and test turbines, conceived to be the highest quality turbines built in North America.
The largest part of the project – the plant’s powerhouse, intake, and gated spillway – Norcal contracted to the Canadian subsidiary of Italy’s Astaldi, at an estimated cost of $962 million. It will take four years for that part of the construction to be completed. Norcal also awarded a contract for $170 million to Andritz Hydro to supply seven turbines and generator units.
Other contractors working on the project are Pennecon Heavy Civil Ltd. supplying civil engineering services, Midal Cable supplying conductors, Locke’s Electrical Ltd carrying out line construction, and ALSTOM Renewable Power handling installation of synchronous condensers. Included in the construction process also is IBEW International of Canada, a non-profit labour union of electric power professionals, which is promoting their code of excellence to workers on safety and meeting deadlines.
According to the project’s overseers, construction is progressing well. “We are nearing the end of our third full year of construction and we continue to make steady progress in all areas of the project,” said Gilbert Bennett, Vice President of the project. “Construction began in early 2013 and today construction and manufacturing is ongoing in more than 100 locations across the province and around the world.”
Muskrat Fall Benefits to the Local Community
Nalcor Energy is committed to announcing procurement opportunities locally and has made agreements to that end, including an impact and benefits agreement with Labrador’s Innu Nation to give indigenous people precedence in hiring, a benefits strategy with the government of Newfoundland/Labrador, and a memorandum of understanding between the governments of Newfoundland/Labrador and Nova Scotia.
The construction stage has already generated significant employment opportunities, with more than 3,000 jobs offered last year (2015). It is expected to infuse an estimated $1.9 billion into labour and businesses in Newfoundland and Labrador, along with $2.2 billion in the other three provinces of Atlantic Canada, and an estimated $4.7 billion across the rest of Canada.
Once construction is complete and the plant is operational, Muskrat Falls expects to provide around 1,500 direct jobs per year, spread across more than 70 occupations, with more than half of those in Labrador. Youth of the Innu Nation are already preparing themselves to be hired by the facility, once it is operational. Nalcor estimates that $450 million will be infused annually into the local economy.
The Muskrat Falls project is supporting the local community in other ways too, providing anti-bullying education in schools, organising pancake breakfast fundraisers for the homeless, fundraising and sponsoring youth sports teams and leadership training projects, as well as canoeing and golf competitions, and promoting good health, local conservation, and cultural events.
By 2017 when the plant goes into operation, Muskrat Falls will be increasing prosperity in the region. In addition to having its own electricity, the government will have electricity to sell outside the region for twenty years, which will generate the financing needed to build an industrial base, which in turn will have enough electricity to operate and will hire more local people.
Written by: Susette Horspool
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