Pray for rain

The Beacon (Gander) - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky

De­spite the fact re­cent rain is bad news for peo­ple on the west coast, it’s good news for New­found­land and Labrador Hy­dro be­cause un­til now Hy­dro’s reser­voirs have been parched. Be­cause wa­ter is free; you have to pay for oil. In oil’s favour, you can at least or­der it. You can’t or­der rain. And Hy­dro’s been run­ning short for a while. Doc­u­ments filed with the prov­ince’s Pub­lic Util­i­ties Board have pointed out the “dry year” prob­lem: nine months of 2017 had lower-than-av­er­age rain­fall. The worst? Oc­to­ber: “Weather con­di­tions ex­pe­ri­enced in the fall of 2017 on the is­land have been dry, whereas typ­i­cally mul­ti­ple weather sys­tems dur­ing fall re­sult in heavy rain which adds sub­stan­tially to Hy­dro’s reser­voir stor­age. Oc­to­ber 2017 was the third low­est in­flow in Hy­dro’s record dat­ing back to 1950.” Fe­bru­ary and July had less than 50 per cent of nor­mal pre­cip­i­ta­tion. De­cem­ber was no help, ei­ther. It was 32 per cent be­low usual pre­cip­i­ta­tion num­bers. That means Hy­dro’s reser­voirs were, at the end of De­cem­ber, con­sid­er­ably lower than usual. To keep the prob­lem from wors­en­ing, Hy­dro’s been burn­ing oil in­stead — or, as it is de­scribed in doc­u­ments, “In or­der to be proac­tive, Hy­dro in­creased ther­mal gen­er­a­tion start­ing on Novem­ber 2, 2017. It is the in­tent to keep ther­mal gen­er­a­tion above min­i­mum un­til the de­cline in hy­draulic en­ergy stor­age slows or re­verses and anal­y­sis in­di­cates the re­quire­ment for less ther­mal gen­er­a­tion.” That con­tin­ued into De­cem­ber. “Ther­mal gen­er­a­tion at Holy­rood above min­i­mum unit pro­duc­tion dur­ing De­cem­ber off­set hy­draulic gen­er­a­tion and helped con­serve wa­ter stor­age in Hy­dro’s reser­voirs.” Asked Jan. 12 about the reser­voir lev­els, New­found­land and Labrador Hy­dro’s vice-pres­i­dent for pro­duc­tion, Jen­nifer Wil­liams, down­played the con­cerns, say­ing that, at this point, the util­ity hasn’t been forced to fire up its ad­di­tional standby gen­er­a­tion fa­cil­i­ties, like the Holy­rood gas tur­bine, to lower the bur­den on reser­voirs. “In ad­di­tion, as of now, we do not need any ad­di­tional en­ergy from gas tur­bine op­er­a­tion. We have a num­ber of weeks of more pre­cip­i­ta­tion po­ten­tial be­fore that de­ci­sion would be re­quired,” Wil­liams’ email state­ment said. “We ex­pect pre­cip­i­ta­tion and warm tem­per­a­tures this week­end over many of our reser­voirs. This rain will also likely melt snow in some reser­voirs, re­sult­ing in in­creased wa­ter in stor­age.” In filed doc­u­ments, Hy­dro has warned the PUB that use of that standby gen­er­a­tion was an op­tion: “Cur­rently, Hy­dro does not re­quire standby gen­er­a­tion to sup­port reser­voir lev­els. If con­di­tions sim­i­lar to the his­toric dry se­quence were to oc­cur in this com­ing win­ter, Hy­dro could re­quire standby gen­er­a­tion to be op­er­ated for en­ergy. Should this oc­cur, Hy­dro will in­form the Board in ad­vance of such con­di­tions.” It all means, of course, that a fully op­er­at­ing Holy­rood Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tion is still in­te­gral. Its track record has not been per­fect in re­cent years, and its — well — de­crepi­tude was one of the main ar­gu­ments for Muskrat Falls. Hy­dro thinks the plant will man­age: “Hy­dro does not an­tic­i­pate re­li­a­bil­ity is­sues re­lated to the cur­rent planned level of Holy­rood gen­er­a­tion as the plant’s main­te­nance is com­pleted with the ex­pec­ta­tion it could have to op­er­ate to the max­i­mum pos­si­ble ca­pa­bil­ity,” the util­ity told the PUB. It’s in­ter­est­ing, be­cause these units have been de­scribed as clapped-out and on their last legs; their legs had bet­ter be pretty good this win­ter. And there have al­ready been hic­cups; Holy­rood’s Unit 3 was wound back to sup­ply­ing 105 megawatts in­stead of its ex­pected 135 MW for more than two weeks in De­cem­ber be­cause of an air heater foul­ing prob­lem. Holy­rood Units 1 and 2, mean­while, have had lim­ited out­put be­cause of high fur­nace pres­sure prob­lems: “Hy­dro con­tin­ues to work to­wards restor­ing full load on Unit 1 and Unit 2. Fur­ther anal­y­sis and plan­ning is re­quired,” the util­ity told the PUB. An­other op­tion? Early con­nec­tion of the Mar­itime Link would at least let us buy power if we hit some kind of wall. But the rain may have been just in time.

Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 35 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetele­ — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

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