Asbestos removal at Nova Scotia Power plants could reach $40M

Nova Scotia Power says it's finding ways to lower the cost of removing some 3,500 metres of asbestos insulation from two of its coal-fired electrical generating plants.

Power company looking for ways to cut cost of removing dangerous substance from 2 of its facilities

Removing asbestos from Nova Scotia Power properties will cost millions of dollars. (Shutterstock/HikoPhotography)

Facing a potential price tag of $40 million, Nova Scotia Power says it's finding ways to lower the cost of removing asbestos insulation from two of its coal-fired electrical generating plants.

The company told regulators in a Dec. 28 filing that it's tackling a large portion of the expense: staging and enclosing work areas to meet Nova Scotia Labour Department guidelines.

Nova Scotia Power's 500,000 customers have a stake in the exercise, as they ultimately will foot the bill.

"Nova Scotia Power's review of its asbestos-management practices included examining how to minimize these costs and has resulted in modifications to the application of these practices," Mark Peachey, the utility's manager of capital filings, told regulators.

The company said there is no set end date for this work at Trenton and Point Tupper. It expects it will continue over the next five to 10 years.

Response from Nova Scotia Power

Spokesperson Tiffany Chase said the company does not yet know how much its new plan will save.

"We are currently developing estimates based on the new practices and validating them with a third party. We expect to have all the estimates complete by March of this year," Chase said in a written statement to CBC News.

The company said the program is supported by joint occupational health and safety committees, which have had input into the revised practices.

Trenton cleaning cost $2.1M in 2016 alone

The Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education said it is not normally consulted unless there are questions around its guidelines.

"It is positive when anyone commits to managing the safe removal of asbestos using our guidelines," spokesperson Lisa Jarrett said in a statement.

The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board started asking questions after the cost of removing asbestos at Nova Scotia Power's Trenton generating plant for the 2016 year when it jumped from a budgeted $154,000 to $2.1 million.

The Trenton plant has had an asbestos-removal program since 2009. (Google Streetview)

The company said it was forced to address an unexpected discovery of asbestos in areas of the plant that are prone to vibration. To integrate more intermittent wind power onto the grid, Trenton and other plants are being shut down and restarted more frequently, increasing vibrations and the risk of asbestos disturbance.

Nova Scotia Power told the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board it must remove about 2,225 metres of asbestos insulation at Trenton and 1,524 metres from its Point Tupper plant at the Strait of Canso. It was used primarily on high-temperature piping, boiler and duct work.

The company estimated the total removal and encapsulation costs for each plant at between $15 and $20 million, which means the entire project could cost $40 million. 

The board told Nova Scotia Power to complete a review of the way it deals with asbestos by Dec. 31. In response, Nova Scotia Power has developed a new risk matrix that prioritizes removing asbestos from pipes that vibrate, such as steam lines. The aim is to maximize removals during regularly scheduled maintenance downtime.

Could use longer contracts

Nova Scotia Power says it has subdivided areas with asbestos into 25 distinct abatement areas.

"This approach introduces cost efficiencies by allowing the utilization of larger enclosures to deal with all piping in an abatement area at the same time, instead of completing an asbestos abatement on one section of insulation as it is found," Peachey told the board.

The utility is also considering multi-year contracts with third-party companies, if that's cheaper than awarding on a project-by-project basis. The power company says its revised asbestos management plan will be completed in the first half of 2018.

It will be put into practice first at Trenton during a planned outage this fall and during a planned outage at Point Tupper in 2019.

A third plant — Tufts Cove in Dartmouth — has a small amount of asbestos remaining. Abatement there will be completed in 2018 at an estimated cost of $200,000.