Nfld. & Labrador

Barring any more pandemic disruptions, Muskrat Falls should be completed a year from now

Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall says the controversial energy megaproject will be finished a year from now, its completion pushed back by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall updates programs on completing controversial megaproject

After a three-month disruption because of the global pandemic, installation and commissioning of critical equipment has resumed on the Lower Churchill project. (Nalcor Energy)

Nalcor Energy CEO Stan Marshall said Tuesday that Muskrat Falls should be completed a year from now, after the work on the controversial hydroelectric megaproject was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"All this assumes the pandemic remains contained, and will not cause us to suspend commissioning again," Marshall said during Nalcor's virtual annual general meeting, which was delayed for two months because of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Work on the massive hydroelectric project was suspended in March to help contain the spread of the virus, with special care being taken to ensure the disease was not introduced into already vulnerable Labrador communities.

But with the province slowly relaxing public health measures, activity has now resumed, though with a reduced workforce and productivity levels.

In his remarks, Marshall said he expects the first of four turbines at Muskrat Falls to be in operation by later this summer, with the second to be completed in the fall.

'End is in sight'

He expects an interim software used to operate the 1,100-kilometre transmission line from Labrador to the Avalon Peninsula to be ready for testing this summer, with "all other elements of the project" completed in the first half of 2021.

"The end is in sight, even through the fog of the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.

Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall said Tuesday's he's 'extremely disappointed' that Muskrat Falls was not completed before his planned retirement, which he has now postponed. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

In addition to the temporary shutdown caused by the virus, Marshall forecasts that new requirements for working in an era of physical distancing could add between two and six months to the schedule.

The unprecedented upheaval that the pandemic caused is coming at a steep price for the project, which is already billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

Marshall says the disruption at Muskrat could add up to $200 million in direct costs, mostly in the form of added labour costs.

With interest and financing charges adding about $1 million each day to the bill, Marshall said that could mean another $200 million.

Since Nalcor is not yet generating revenue from the sale of Muskrat electricity, that cost will have to be picked up by the provincial government, which is already coping with a financial crisis.

The final forecast cost could surge from $12.7 billion to more than $13 billion, but those figures are very fluid, Marshall said.

He said the uncertainty related to COVID-19 "makes it difficult, if not impossible, to be definitive on cost and schedule at this time."

With a massive blizzard in January followed by the pandemic that struck in March, Marshall described 2020 as already "an unforgettable year."

But he said the electricity system experienced "only minimal issues" during the storm, and he added Nalcor will also overcome the challenges of the pandemic.

Marshalled admitted he's "extremely disappointed" the project was not completed during the four years he committed to leading Nalcor, and that his retirement plans are now on hold.

Meanwhile, he expects that electricity from Muskrat Falls will be providing energy to homes and businesses in Newfoundland this coming winter, though at varying levels as the long-delayed control and protection computer software for the Labrador-Island Link is perfected.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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