Nfld. & Labrador

Reliability of power winter supply puts Newfoundland 'at mercy of weather': report

An independent consultant says there may be power outages in Newfoundland this winter because we can't count on the Labrador Island Link to deliver power in the coming months.

'Labrador Island Link is unlikely to be reliably in operation,' consultant tells PUB

The Labrador Island Link sends power to the Soldiers Pond terminal and converter station, outside St. John's. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

An independent consultant is questioning if the brand new Labrador Island link can be counted on to supply power to Newfoundland this coming winter

In June, Nalcor Energy confirmed it had successfully sent power from Churchill Falls to the Avalon Peninsula through its more than 1500-kilometre link, but now the Liberty Consulting Group says it doesn't expect the link will be up and running consistently this winter.

Poor performance at the Holyrood thermal generating station increases the risk of outages considerably.- Liberty Consulting Group

In a report prepared for the PUB, Liberty says that Nalcor consistently reported that the $3.4-billion link from Muskrat Falls to Soldiers Pond would be available this winter, but now there is a strong possibility that will not be the case.

Relatives scrambled to help residents of the Cambridge Estates personal care home in St. John's during a prolonged power outage in January of 2014. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

"What we have learned supports a conclusion that the Labrador Island Link is unlikely to be reliably in commercial operation at the start of the winter," says the report dated Aug. 30, 2018.

The link relies on software provided by General Electric but Liberty says there are lingering questions about GE's ability to ensure the necessary software will be in place this fall.

"At an August meeting, company representatives did not express confidence in GE's ability to meet an in-service date for the Labrador Island Link of mid-November," says the report.

Liberty also says testing the link for a brief period this spring and fall doesn't demonstrate long-term reliability.

"The link will remain prone to the uncertainties any new major facility faces early in its operating life, especially one involving technology new to the operating company," according to the report.

Holyrood trouble

The report goes on to say island residents should also be worried about the reliability of the troubled Holyrood facility — a facility that's important when demand for energy is high during winter months.

The Holyrood thermal generating station burns up to 18,000 barrels of bunker C oil per day to generate electricity for the Newfoundland power system. (Twitter/@markwbutt)

Liberty says "poor performance at the Holyrood thermal generating station increases the risk of outages considerably."

The group's report concludes the deteriorating condition of Holyrood is a major threat to the island's power supply and Liberty says that threat "could produce very severe consequences when the Labrador Island Link is unavailable."

The consultant says questions about the Labrador Island Link's readiness combined with concerns about the reliability of Holyrood may mean power outages.

"This all suggests that, for at least part of this winter, the island interconnected system may be at the mercy of the weather."

The consultant's report also includes five recommendations to the PUB.

In essence, Liberty is calling for the board to direct Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro to make plans for the possibility that the link won't be available this winter. It's also calling on hydro to do more to improve the reliability of its other assets, such as Holyrood.

Response to Liberty's report

Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall defended the Crown corporation's winter preparedness in an email statement to CBC.

Nalcor Energy leaders outside Soldiers Pond, celebrating the transmission of power from Labrador to Newfoundland. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

"The right level of planning and investment has been made for our existing equipment so we can continue to meet all of our customer electricity needs for this coming winter season," he wrote.

Regarding the Labrador Island Link, Marshall called for patience.

"This is new technology for our province and integrating the new transmission assets into our current electricity system is complex work that takes time," he said.

There is also a more detailed response from Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro which was sent to the province's Public Utiltiies Board.

Hydro says it will keep testing the Labrador Island Link and increasing the megawatts that are wheeled through it. It also says in October it will begin to give the PUB regular reports on the link's anticipated in-service date.

The consultant's report and the response to it are available on the PUB's website.