'The lake stays': NB Power opts to keep Mactaquac dam until 2068
Options included removal of the dam, the route favoured by Maliseet communities, who want old riverbanks back
NB Power wants to maintain the Mactaquac dam for its intended lifespan, until 2068, at an expected cost of $2.9 billion to $3.6 billion.
The utility made the announcement Tuesday at the Mactaquac Generating Station, saying it took into consideration environmental, technical, social and cost factors.
With the generating station approaching a premature end in 2030 because of problems with the concrete, the Crown corporation has been exploring a variety of options.
NB Power said the option it chose for dealing with Mactaquac's problems came with the lowest cost estimate of all the options it investigated.
In coming months, NB Power said, it will seek environmental approvals from the province and follow the application and review processes for financial approvals defined by the Energy and Utilities Board.
"We believe we have made a sound decision about Mactaquac that makes good business sense, meets the present and future needs of New Brunswick's changing power grid and reflects the values of New Brunswickers," Ed Barrett, chair of NB Power's board of directors, said in a release. "As a public utility, we clearly understand that any course of action regarding Mactaquac has deep and lasting consequences."
Options considered by NB Power also included:
- Building a new generating station on the opposite side of the St. John River for an estimated $4.4 billion
- Leaving the dam in place but without power generation, at an estimated cost of $5.6 billion
- Removing the dam and generation station and allowing the river to return to its natural state, at an estimated cost of $4.3 billion
NB Power's debt stands at about $5 billion, and the province's debt is forecast to hit $14 billion by the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Friends of Mactaquac 'delighted'
Larry Jewett, president of Friends of the Mactaquac Lake, said he's delighted NB Power chose to keep the dam for its intended lifespan.
"It maintains the lake," Jewett said.
There are homes, tourism businesses and provincial parks that use the lake and will benefit, he said. Uncertainty about the future of the dam has been a cloud looming over the heads of neighbouring communities for a few years.
"A lot of people now depend on that lake and have grown accustomed to it," he said. "The lake stays."
Kingsclear 'deeply disappointed'
However, Kingsclear First Nation Chief Gabriel Atwin issued a statement saying the Kingsclear community, which is located on the riverbank opposite the dam, is "deeply disappointed" by the decision not to remove the dam.
"All six Maliseet communities had urged NB Power to remove the dam and restore the St. John River so as to finally end decades of interference with their Aboriginal title lands, fishing rights, wildlife and plant harvesting rights, river travel and deep spiritual connection with the river," reads the statement.
"For too long, this dam has damaged our territory and resources and has compromised our way of life," Atwin said. "It has eroded our riverbank here at Kingsclear and has made our shoreline hazardous.
"The river is not what it used to be," he said. "To this day Maliseet members grieve the existence of this dam."
WWF also 'disappointed'
The World Wildlife Fund also reacted with disappointment, saying they money should have been instead directed at an option to ensure "the long-term resiliency and health of the St. John River ecosystem for the benefit of wildlife and communities."
"Large dams like the Mactaquac fragment the natural habitat, are harmful to wildlife and disrupt the natural flows of water that are essential to a healthy and resilient river ecosystem," said Elizabeth Hendriks, WWF-Canada's vice-president of freshwater conservation.
"New Brunswick will spend at least $2.9 billion to put a small Band-Aid on a big problem that future generations will have to resolve at an even bigger cost."
Premier Gallant 'excited'
Premier Brian Gallant said his government was "excited about the opportunity to obviously have some pretty big investments made in infrastructure in the province, that's going to create jobs in the near future."
Work on the project is expected to begin in 2020, pending environmental and regulatory approval, and carry on through 2036.
NB Power president Gaetan Thomas said the first turbine replacement at the dam is likely to take place between 2024 and 2026.
Thomas put peak employment on the project at 150 or more workers in summer months.
Gallant said the decision also helps the province with efforts to combat climate change.
"We're also very excited about the fact we'll be able to have hydro remain a good part of our generation of electricity here in the province and that will help us with our plan to combat climate change."
Gallant said the province will pursue getting financial help from the federal government for the project.
660 MW of renewable energy
The existing dam has a capacity to generate 660 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to supply about 12 per cent of the province's homes and businesses with electricity, says NB Power.
In information released throughout the public discussion about the Mactaquac options, NB Power said if the decision is made not to retain power-generating capacity at Mactaquac, it would have to replace the power from Mactaquac with renewable energy.
Other sources of renewable energy include biomass, biogas, solar, hydro, ocean and enhanced geothermal.
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However, an alkali-aggregate chemical reaction in the dam's concrete caused the dam to expand over the years, reducing its expected life span to 62 years.
The building of the dam on the St. John River created a 96-kilometre long headpond above the dam, which has led to real estate development along its shores.
The headpond is also a popular fishing and boating venue.
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