Power-hungry Labrador needs $20M upgrade to transmission lines, NL Hydro says

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro wants to spend $20 million to increase capacity in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and surrounding towns, where demand for power is surging.

5 Wing Goose Bay, data centres, asking for more megawatts

After the upgrades, customers in Upper Lake Melville will still receive power from the Churchill Falls plant, seen here. (CBC )

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro wants to spend $20 million to increase capacity in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and surrounding towns, where the power utility and the local MHA say demand is surging.

In its 2018 capital budget application to the provincial Public Utilities Board, NL Hydro makes its case for the multimillion-dollar project, citing requests from industrial customers including 5 Wing Goose Bay and owners of data centres looking to set up shop in Labrador.

5 Wing Goose Bay is seeking an additional 10 megawatts to power electric boilers and replace fuel-fired boilers. The move is part of a nationwide effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions. (CBC )

"Electricity demand in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and area is growing, and that is forecast to continue into the future," Hydro spokesperson Erin Squires said in an emailed statement.

"To support growing load levels and deliver electricity reliably, the capacity of [the] transmission system supplying the area must be increased."

More megawatts

According to documents submitted to the PUB, NL Hydro's electrical system in the Upper Lake Melville area is designed to support loads up to 77 megawatts, but peak demand in 2017 was 79.8 megawatts.

We're going to need a lot more power.- Perry Trimper

Demand that is higher than capacity leads to power outages, the application says.

The utility's proposal would see capacity increase to 104 megawatts — enough to supply the 5 Wing Canadian Armed Forces facility and other emerging customers with requested increases.

The plan is called Muskrat Falls to Happy Valley Interconnection, but in her email, Squires stressed that customers would continue to receive electricity generated in Churchill Falls, which is significantly cheaper than forecasted rates for Muskrat Falls.

NL Hydro wants to route power from Churchill Falls through a terminal station at Muskrat Falls, once construction is complete. (Nalcor)

"What will happen is a split of the transmission line with the ends of the split connecting into the Muskrat Falls Terminal Station," Squires wrote.

"What this does is lessen the voltage issues and line losses that we see now with one long line, so with added support in the new terminal station the lines can actually deliver more [megawatts] to customers in Happy Valley-Goose Bay."

Growing demand

The Department of National Defence asked NL Hydro for access to an additional 10 megawatts of electricity, in order to phase out fuel-burning boilers.

A spokesperson for NL Hydro stressed that customers would continue to receive electricity generated in Churchill Falls, which is significantly cheaper than forecasted rates for Muskrat Falls. (CBC)

"This increase is to accommodate our intent to utilise electric boilers, rather than fuel fire boilers, for central heating on the Wing in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," spokesperson Jessica Lamirande wrote in an emailed statement.

Lake Melville MHA Perry Trimper said the air base is just one on a growing list of customers looking for access to more electricity.

Trimper said two data centres, which are essentially warehouses for networked computer servers, have already moved into Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and he's heard interest from others.  

"Data centres need a lot of energy, but they also need … a cooler environment," he said.

"Places where you have a readily available source of electricity that's affordable and a cold environment are extremely attractive."

Lake Melville MHA Perry Trimper says he's been fielding calls from business owners who want to set up data centres in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (CBC)

Trimper said three or four more data centres could double the demand in the Upper Lake Melville Area.

"These use huge amounts of energy," he said.

"We're going to need a lot more power."

Power rates to increase

To pay for the changes, customers in Labrador will see power rates rise, and not only in Upper Lake Melville.

Domestic customers on the Labrador Interconnected grid, which includes Labrador West and Churchill Falls, will pay 0.04 cents more per kilowatt hour in 2018, and 0.11 cents more in 2019.

Data centres need access to a reliable, affordable energy source and a cold climate. That makes Labrador the ideal candidate, Trimper says. (iStock)

NL Hydro says for an average customer, that works out to $1 and $2.75 a more a month, respectively.

The Public Utilities board will have the final say on whether construction can begin.

Squires said the board requested additional information, which the utility plans to send this week.