OPG Atikokan plant steps up output during cold snap
It's unusual when the Atikokan, Ont., biomass plant provides electricity for more than a few peak-hours per day, but during a recent cold snap, the plant was crucial to ensuring northwestern Ontario had enough power.
Ontario Power Generation said the operation generally provides electricity to the market during periods of high demand, generally in the morning and late afternoon, Monday to Friday.
However, in January and February of 2021, the plant operated for 24 days on a 24/7 basis.
"To some extent, the regional requirements, are often met regionally," said Darcey Bailey, the director of plant operations in Atikokan.
"We have the ability to move power around, but often, you can almost look at is as a locally sourced electricity."
Bailey said the extreme cold, which drives up the demand for power, was coupled with lower than average water levels throughout the fall and winter, meaning hydroelectric dams in the northwest cannot be used to their full capability.
He said demand for electricity was high throughout most of North America, meaning imports of power from Manitoba, were not available, and a line used to move power to Minnesota was unavailable.
Electricity from the OPG plant, Bailey said, is usually consumed in the northwest, but can be exported to southern Ontario via transmission lines when demand is high.
Bailey said the Atikokan plant stores about 10,000 tonnes of biomass pellets on site, which are manufactured in Thunder Bay and Atikokan. He said those pellets last about four or five days when the plant is running at full capacity.
During the latest cold snap, Bailey said, the plant ran at about half of its full capacity of 205 megawatts of power.
65 staff work at the plant in Atikokan, which was converted to biomass in 2014.