By any measure, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Muskrat Falls hydroelectric scheme is a mega-project. The 560,000 cubic metres of concrete for the power house and spillway alone would be more than enough to pave a one-metre wide and 10-centimetres thick path from St. John’s to Vancouver.
But it’s the $7.7-billion project’s contribution to Canada’s sustainable energy inventory that really sets it apart.
Muskrat Falls is phase one of the Lower Churchill Project. It includes an 824 megawatt hydroelectric generating facility, the Labrador-Island Link that will transmit power from Muskrat Falls to Soldiers Pond on the Avalon Peninsula, and the Maritime Link, being constructed by Emera of Nova Scotia, con- necting Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Construction of the major component is underway and expected to take five years to complete.
Muskrat Falls and Gull Island – the second phase of the project – are considered the best unde- veloped hydroelectric sources in North America. Together, they have a combined capacity of more than 3,000 megawatts.
Nalcor Energy, Newfoundland public energy corporation, says Muskrat Falls will power homes and businesses across Newfoundland and Labrador with clean, renewable energy for generations.
Gilbert Bennett, Nalcor’s vice president for the Lower Churchill Project, says now that major construction activities are underway, the challenge will be to keep the massive project on track by monitoring the progress of the main contractors and carefully managing labour supply.
“There are several other big infrastructure projects underway in the province that are drawing from the labour pool,” he says. “On top of that, many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have left to work on major projects in other parts of the country, and we want them to come back home to work for us.”
The success of Muskrat Falls is an inspiration to proponents of other potential sustainable energy schemes such as the concept for a massive hydroelectric project that proposes harnessing the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories to produce 13,000 megawatts of power, with seven low dams to avoid land submersion.
The concept was developed by industrial engineer Pierre Gingras, an associate researcher with the Montreal Economic Institute and specialist in the construction of hydroelectric projects. His proposal, based on research completed last December and published this year by the Cana- dian Academy of Engineering in the book Canada: Winning as a Sustainable Energy Superpower, suggests a project that would include an upstream water control structure, six downstream powerhouses, and 10,000 kilometres of transmission lines to take the power to Edmonton. The complex could produce power equivalent to 525,000 barrels of fuel per day and help Alberta and Saskatchewan transition away from high-carbon-footprint thermal generating stations.
Mr. Gingras wonders if the electricity might also be used to replace steam with electric heating elements in oil sands operations, which would elimi- nate water use and reduce air emissions from fossil fuel used to generate steam.
“The priority is to build awareness of the Mackenzie River’s hydroelectric potential and attract the interest of policymakers,” says Mr. Gingras. “This is a project as big as the James Bay complex, and it could make a major contribution to Canada becoming a sustainable energy superpower.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Canada’s electricity supply comes from:
non-hydro renewable sources, such as wind and solar
fossil fuels, including coal, natural gas and petroleum
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