Nfld. & Labrador

A DC to AC story: Nalcor says Labrador-island transmission line making good progress

A $3.4 billion project to build a transmission line from central Labrador to Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula is nearly 80 per cent complete, with first power expected just over a year from now.

Complex conversion station outside St. John's will switch high voltage DC power from Muskrat Falls

The Soldiers Pond station outside of St. John's is a complex 50-acre site where high voltage DC power from Muskrat Falls will be converted to AC and then distributed to homes and businesses in the province. The large switchyard pictured here is nearly complete. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

A $3.4 billion project to build a high voltage transmission line from central Labrador to Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula is nearly 80 per cent complete, with the line scheduled to be energized just over a year from now.

That's the word from officials with Nalcor Energy, who gave an update on the project during a media tour of the sprawling and complex conversion station at Soldiers Pond on Tuesday.

Robust enough to handle the elements

The so-called Labrador-Island Link is the transmission side of the controversial and costly Lower Churchill Project, which also includes the 824 megawatt power generating station in Labrador, and the Maritime Link that will see electricity transmitted to Nova Scotia.

The 1,100 kilometre direct current (DC) line will carry power from the generating station near Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Soldiers Pond outside of St. John's, where it will then be converted to alternating current, or AC, and distributed to homes and businesses along existing power lines.

The man leading construction of the line promises improved reliability for the power grid, suggesting it is being built to standards that can hold up to the toughest conditions.

This transmission tower at Soldiers Pond will be the last to carry DC power from Muskrat Falls before it is converted to AC. In all, 3,200 towers are being erected along the 1,100-kilometre Labrador-Island Link. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

"We've challenged our engineers. They are very confident in the design that is being built," said Nalcor's Peter Whelan.

"We're very confident in the ability for the towers and the anchors and the lines to withstand the worst that Newfoundland can throw at it."

Nalcor says 65 per cent of the island portion of the transmission link has been completed, while the Labrador portion is 98 per cent done. The subsea cable across the Strait of Belle Isle was completed last year.

In all, 3,200 transmission towers are being erected.

The generating station is behind schedule, and power from Muskrat Falls is not expected to begin flowing until 2019. However, Nalcor plans to send "recapture" power — as much as 220 megawatts — from the Upper Churchill generating station to Soldiers Pond as soon as possible.

This power will be used to offset costly oil-fired electricity at the Holyrood thermal generating station.

"Right now the focus is really on construction efforts to make sure we can get that Churchill Falls power to our customers by mid-2018," said Steve Follett, the man charge of the Soldiers Pond station with Nalcor.

It's a massive and costly undertaking, with roughly 1,600 people currently working on all aspects of the transmission project, and another 3,300 people working at Muskrat Falls.

The overall price tag has also grown to nearly $12 billion, up almost $4 billion since the project was sanctioned by the former PC government nearly five years ago.

The Maritime Link, meanwhile, is scheduled to be completed later this year.

About the Author

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