The miss­ing link

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - OPINION - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 36 Saltwire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@thetele­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

The Muskrat Falls project must have more feet than a mil­li­pede, be­cause ev­ery time you look, there’s an­other shoe drop­ping.

Last week in this space (“Set­ting the stage for #Darknl 2,” Oct. 6), I wrote about how New­found­land and Labrador Hy­dro was putting in place a con­tin­gency plan to guar­an­tee power for this win­ter. The plan was needed as a re­sult of lin­ger­ing soft­ware prob­lems with the new Labrador-is­land Link (LIL) that may mean that line can’t sup­ply the con­sis­tent win­ter power to the North­east Avalon that it was ex­pected to.

The con­tin­gency plan came af­ter the province’s Pub­lic Util­i­ties Board told Hy­dro to start re­port­ing on its win­ter readi­ness ev­ery two weeks.

Those plans in­clude ev­ery­thing from ex­pect­ing full sup­ply from the ag­ing Holy­rood plant to, if nec­es­sary, cut­ting volt­age dur­ing peak pe­ri­ods and caus­ing brownouts to con­serve power.

That plan has also led to an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion from the Pub­lic Util­i­ties Board, which asked why the power com­pany hadn’t in­cluded power pur­chases over the Mar­itime Link to bol­ster the is­land’s win­ter sup­ply.

Re­mem­ber, among all the other ver­biage tossed out about the le­gion of won­ders of the Muskrat Falls project, one piece of in­for­ma­tion was that be­ing con­nected to the North Amer­i­can grid would mean we’d have a much more con­sis­tent sup­ply of power than we do with an iso­lated power sys­tem.

Talk­ing to The Tele­gram af­ter a 2013 power fail­ure in­volv­ing the shut­down of Hy­dro gen­er­a­tion, Hy­dro vice-pres­i­dent Rob Henderson said, “Once we be­come in­ter­con­nected with the rest of the North Amer­i­can grid, these types of in­ci­dents may still oc­cur in terms of the gen­er­a­tors may come off, but the cus­tomers will not be aware that it hap­pened. … The sys­tem will re­spond and take power from the rest of the North Amer­i­can grid, which has a lot of gen­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity to bring things into bal­ance. So we don’t need to in­ter­rupt cus­tomers to do it. … The sys­tem will do it.”

That may still be the case for short-term out­ages.

But what about more con­sis­tent sup­ply?

Af­ter all, in Fe­bru­ary of this year, Nal­cor pointed out in a news re­lease that power had flowed both ways across the Mar­itime Link and that “brings op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­hance sys­tem re­li­a­bil­ity and re­al­ize cost sav­ings for elec­tric­ity cus­tomers.”

So why didn’t Hy­dro in­clude the Mar­itime Link in its power sup­ply cal­cu­la­tions for this win­ter?

Well, ouch. The an­swer ac­tu­ally stings.

Be­cause Hy­dro doesn’t con­sider the Mar­itime Link to be a re­li­able sup­ply of power af­ter all — at least, not for the up­com­ing win­ter.

Here’s Hy­dro’s ex­pla­na­tion in full: “As part of its win­ter readi­ness plan­ning, Hy­dro only in­cludes firm ca­pac­ity in its ad­e­quacy anal­y­sis (i.e., ca­pac­ity that is con­firmed to be avail­able to Hy­dro for the whole win­ter sea­son). Hy­dro has con­firmed, through Nal­cor En­ergy Mar­ket­ing, that sup­ply is not avail­able over the Mar­itime Link on a firm ba­sis for the 2018-2019 win­ter sea­son,” Hy­dro said in a let­ter to the PUB dated Oct. 10.

There may be some power; there may be power for a pe­riod of time. But, “While quan­ti­ties of en­ergy and ca­pac­ity are ex­pected to be avail­able over the Mar­itime Link and, de­pend­ing on the cir­cum­stances, may be avail­able for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time, the avail­abil­ity of this ca­pac­ity is not cer­tain. There­fore, Hy­dro is not in­clud­ing ca­pac­ity over the Mar­itime Link in its con­tin­gency plan­ning.”

Think care­fully about what that means: es­sen­tially, Hy­dro is say­ing that it has more con­fi­dence in the abil­ity of its three ag­ing tur­bines at Holy­rood to op­er­ate at full ca­pac­ity through­out the win­ter than it does in ob­tain­ing con­sis­tent power over the brand-new Mar­itime Link.

These are the same three tur­bines that have had per­sis­tent prob­lems thor­ough the last few win­ters. Their re­place­ment is also one of the main rea­sons why the Muskrat Falls project was re­quired in the first place.

But they are in­cluded — at their full power rat­ing — in Hy­dro’s win­ter con­tin­gency plan. The Mar­itime Link is not. The bot­tom line?

The Mar­itime Link was sup­posed to be some­thing of a saviour, de­liv­er­ing power when we needed it.

But when we do need it, its power sim­ply may not be avail­able.

How many more shoes are left to fall?

Think care­fully about what that means: es­sen­tially, Hy­dro is say­ing that it has more con­fi­dence in the abil­ity of its three ag­ing tur­bines at Holy­rood to op­er­ate at full ca­pac­ity through­out the win­ter than it does in ob­tain­ing con­sis­tent power over the brand-new Mar­itime Link.

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