Nfld. & Labrador

Hydro closing Holyrood station would be an 'act of insanity,' says Muskrat Falls critic

A critic of the Muskrat Falls project since its inception says Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro's decision to close the Holyrood power generating station in the future could spell disaster.

Station will be operating until at least 2024

Muskrat Falls critic Des Sullivan says closing the Holyrood generating station would be an 'act of insanity.' (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

A critic of the Muskrat Falls project says a future decision from Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro to close the Holyrood power generating station could spell disaster in the coming years.

Des Sullivan has spoken about the issues facing the project for close to a decade through the Uncle Gnarley blog, and was part of the Muskrat Falls inquiry in 2018.

He called the project "an act of deceit" Tuesday, accusing the provincial government and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro of changing the narrative of the project in order to get it sanctioned in 2011.

On the heels of news that Hydro will delay the decommissioning of the Holyrood station — a key power source for the Avalon Peninsula — by another year, Sullivan says following through with a shutdown would be a mistake.

"I think it would be a complete act of insanity to close the Holyrood generating station," Sullivan told CBC News. "That is the only alternative source of supply for the province in the event of a [Labrador-Island Link] failure."

The Holyrood generating station will stay in operation until at least the spring of 2024, according to a letter from Hydro to the province's utility regulator. The decision is connected to continued delays at Muskrat Falls, along with growing questions about whether the Labrador-Island Link transmission line will be able to withstand severe weather like ice and rainstorms.

The link was damaged in January 2021 and took six weeks to repair, raising concerns over power security in the province.

"Now, you can imagine, we had Dark N.L. going on for one week with major social and economic fallout. Imagine a crisis lasting six weeks or longer," Sullivan said.

Hydro president and CEO Jennifer Williams could not provide a cost estimate for the Holyrood life extension, saying a staffing and maintenance strategy is being developed. A series of recommendations will also be provided to the province's Public Utilities Board in the summer.

But Sullivan says more answers are needed in the short term to ensure the province has power security.

"The whole idea at the time was to get sanctioned," Sullivan said.

"Now today, partly as a result of last January's events and partly too because of Dark N.L., this whole notion of security of supply has re-emerged. We can see this is a serious, serious issue on the LIL."

The Holyrood thermal generating station, which burns up to 18,000 barrels of oil per day to generate electricity for the Newfoundland power system, will be in operation until at least the spring of 2024. (Twitter/@markwbutt)

Sullivan said conversations about power security shouldn't have to happen in the winter, which he says shows the need for reliable power in Holyrood — even if it has to be converted into a more eco-friendly option.

"I really don't [think] we have a choice but to maintain Holyrood," he said.

Province has to be straight with Hydro: Sullivan

Heading into 2022, Sullivan says the discussion about Muskrat Falls can't be a choice between cost and security, and called on Hydro to assure a plan is in place for an alternative power source.

"All that was ignored in the interest of proceeding with Muskrat. We have Muskrat now in some fashion. It doesn't work, but we have it. And we have a $15-billion price tag," he said. "Here we are today, $15 billion spent, and we're still talking about power security. Someone has to take leadership here."

Sullivan said the ball is in the government's court to tell Hydro the LIL can't be the only alternate power option for the future — before a bigger hole is dug.

"We are running into a time where we're likely to spend tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars more, on the Labrador-Island Link in an effort to achieve the unattainable," he said.

"I think that we are going to have to entertain some very hard questions over the next few years."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Terry Roberts

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