Nfld. & Labrador

Ramea wind project at a standstill as residents worry about high power rates

The town's deputy mayor says the Nalcor-owned experiment appears to have ground to a halt, even as residents pay electricity rates higher than elsewhere in the province.

Wind turbines have barely moved in months, says deputy mayor

Three wind turbines were erected in Ramea as part of the unique wind-hydrogen-diesel project. (Nalcor)

Progress on an experimental wind-generated electricity project in Ramea appears to have ground to a halt, even as residents deal with ever-increasing power bills, says the town's deputy mayor.

The Nalcor Energy project, first announced in 2007 and commissioned in 2011, established three experimental wind turbines on the island in an attempt to generate power that could both be used immediately as well as stored in a hydrogen generator system. But it appears to have hit a snag.

"Since last fall — October, November — those windmills belonging to Hydro have hardly been used at all. I've seen them maybe once or twice in operation," said Ramea Deputy Mayor Lester Gould.

"We're not benefiting in any way, at all, from the windmills."

The isolated town of about 450 people, located on Northwest Island on Newfoundland's south coast, is one of 21 communities in the province not connected to the larger grid. Instead, Ramea's power comes from a mix of six other wind turbines and diesel-powered generators.

Gould said those generators run constantly, and the community's electricity comes with a big price tag: residents pay double the province's regular rate of 10.604 cents per kilowatt hour, once they surpass abut 900 kilowatt hours. Gould estimated he uses 2,000 kilowatt hours in the coldest months.

He worries about the price increases on the province's horizon, as NL Hydro looks to raise electricity rates by 16.9 per cent by Jan. 1, 2019.

"Our bills are going to be humongous," he told The Corner Brook Morning Show.

Besides the experimental turbines, six other wind turbines do partially power Ramea. (Nalcor)

Experiment gone awry

The experimental wind power project was hoped "to allow the shutting down of all diesel generators on Ramea Island during periods of low energy demand," according to a Natural Resources Canada outline of the project, although Nalcor, in a statement to CBC, said it was a research project never meant to supply electricity to the community.

However, the corporation did state that "issues were experienced with the storage aspect of the project," leaving the equipment operating at less than full capacity, and that sometime in 2014 or 15, Nalcor "reprioritized its efforts to address reliability issues on the island electricity grid."

Nalcor stated the entire project is now operating "in safe mode" while options are assessed and the corporation applies for federal funding to keep the experiment going.

Gould worries Nalcor has abandoned the project as it deals with the ballooning costs of "the Muskrat Falls fiasco."

"I'm wondering if their minds are not elsewhere, or they're just putting it by the wayside because we don't have the funds now, we're busy kicking the funds in somewhere else," he said.

In its statement, Nalcor called its alternative energy options for communities such as Ramea important, but  said the company "must balance this long-term objective with the short-term focus on completion of existing projects." Nalcor expects to hear back about federal funding for the Ramea wind turbines this summer.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

With files from the Corner Brook Morning Show