Public heads un­der­ground to tour Wreck Cove Hy­dro fa­cil­ity

‘Most peo­ple don’t re­al­ize how much of a se­cret weapon this is’

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY GREG MCNEIL

Chas­ing wind was iron­i­cally the or­der of the day as Wreck Cove Hy­dro opened its doors to public tours of its un­der­ground power pro­duc­ing fa­cil­ity.

Nova Sco­tia Power’s 202 megawatt power plant that’s carved out of the side of a moun­tain and looks like the lair of a James Bond vil­lain was in full op­er­a­tion dur­ing Tues­day’s tour, com­pen­sat­ing for a lack of wind to power pro­vin­cial tur­bines.

“Most peo­ple don’t re­al­ize how much of a se­cret weapon this is,” said Paul Breski, the su­per­in­ten­dent of Wreck Cove Hy­dro.

“It’s a fa­cil­ity we chase wind with so if the wind sud­denly drops off we are there.”

Breski said the hy­dro­elec­tric fa­cil­ity is the only one in the province that can go from zero to full out­put in un­der 10 min­utes. That’s handy on calm days.

“We can go from zero megawatts to 200 megawatts in un­der 10 min­utes, so if the wind sud­denly drops off some­where in the province we will get a call to bring one of our units on line. If the wind is drop­ping off, we will fill in that gap.

“We are pick­ing up the gap to­day. We have both units run­ning at this time.”

Hun­dreds lined up on Tues­day to tour the 35-year-old power plant as it showed off its ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Though tours have been given be­fore, they are rare oc­cur­rences and each be­gan with a mini­van full of six visi­tors at a time who ven­tured into a dark, 620-me­tre tun­nel, en route to the pow­er­house that’s 275 me­tres un­der a moun­tain of rock.

Nova Sco­tia Power em­ploy­ees were on hand to demon­strate things such as a scale model of hy­draulic tur­bine, safety fea­tures and pow­er­ful wa­ter dis­charge points for the tur­bines.

“I just heard so much about it and I just wanted to see it for my­self,” said Fran­cis MacKin­non of Boularderie.

“It’s hard to be­lieve there is so much go­ing on un­der­neath the moun­tain and the way it is or­ga­nized and run is very in­ter­est­ing.”

Wil­liam Roberts had taken the tour in the past and re­turned on Tues­day to see if the fa­cil­ity had un­der­gone any changes.

“I saw it when it was un­der con­struc­tion and just wanted to see it when it was fin­ished,” the Baddeck res­i­dent said about his first visit.

“It’s re­ally some­thing the way they can make this out of solid rock, make that big room and get all that equip­ment down there and have ve­hi­cles run­ning back and forth.”

Peggy Ross trav­elled from North Syd­ney to take the tour.

“I didn’t know what to ex­pect,” she said. “To me, I thought I’d see a min­ing kind of a cave but you didn’t feel claus­tro­pho­bic or any­thing like that and there’s nice fresh air down there.”

The rock for­ma­tions and clean­li­ness of the fa­cil­ity were also im­pres­sive, she said.

Breski said the tour is de- signed to give the cu­ri­ous a sense of the fa­cil­ity and its ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

“For a lot of peo­ple, it is a place to drive by on the way to In­go­nish,” he said. “It’s right next door to the Wreck Cove store so they just see it as a sign but it is quite an amaz­ing fa­cil­ity. It’s a phe­nom­e­nal piece of en­gi­neer­ing.”

He said the as­pect of the tour that im­presses most peo­ple is that the fa­cil­ity is carved out of a moun­tain. How wa­ter gets to the tur­bines is a close sec­ond, though.

“The big­gest ‘ wow’ fac­tor is re­ally when they walk into the power house for the first time,” he said. “We have a ce­ramic floor and 30- me­tre ceil­ing and a huge over­head crane. It lit­er­ally looks like a James Bond vil­lain’s lair.”

“It’s re­ally some­thing the way they can make this out of solid rock, make that big room and get all that equip­ment down there and have ve­hi­cles run­ning back and forth.”

Wil­liam Roberts

GREG MCNEIL/CAPE BRE­TON POST

Visi­tors ob­serve the wa­ter dis­charge for tur­bines Wreck Cove Hy­dro uses to gen­er­ate power. It was a pop­u­lar stop on a public tour of the Nova Sco­tia Power un­der­ground fa­cil­ity on Tues­day.

GREG MCNEIL/CAPE BRE­TON POST

Tours of Wreck Cove Hy­dro were a hot ticket on Tues­day. A large crowd is shown out­side the en­trance to the Nova Sco­tia Power fa­cil­ity, await­ing their turn to take the un­der­ground tour.

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