We had op­tions other than Muskrat Falls

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky East­ern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 36 Saltwire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­[email protected]­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

When some­one writes me and says, “I’d like to hear your thoughts,” it’s like a red flag in front of a bull.

I got an email that said “So, if we could turn back the clock, what do you think would have been the best way for­ward for af­ford­able, se­cure is­land power?” and I leapt like a trout to the fly.

Here are some ideas I wish we’d looked more se­ri­ously at, with the ben­e­fit of hind­sight af­ter many of the as­sump­tions used to pick Muskrat Falls as the best choice turned out to be wrong.

First off, out of all of the bits and pieces of the Muskrat Falls project, I would have ar­gued for go­ing ahead with the Labrador trans­mis­sion as­sets and the Labrador Is­land Link.

Do­ing that would have al­lowed New­found­land and Labrador Hy­dro to bring a share of the 300 megawatts of avail­able re­call power to the is­land. Re­call power, at two cents a kilowatt hour, eas­ily out­strips the cost of pro­duc­ing power at Holy­rood.

The lines would pro­vide a cor­ri­dor both for power in 2041, when the Up­per Churchill con­tract ends, and for power that we could pur­chase in the mean­time from Hy­dro-québec.

Now, be­fore every­one gets their na­tion­al­ist trousers in a twist, there are some fine rea­sons for Que­bec to sell us power at a rea­son­able price, not the least be­cause it ben­e­fits them as well. (That op­tion was ap­par­ently not fully ex­am­ined be­fore Muskrat Falls was cho­sen, not be­cause elec­tri­cal power couldn’t be bought for a fair price, but for rea­sons of po­lit­i­cal op­tics.)

First of all, they have new gen­er­a­tion as­sets com­ing on­line and it’s good to have new cus­tomers.

Sec­ond, sell­ing power to New­found­land and Labrador at the bor­der re­lieves the Que­bec util­ity of two key ex­penses: they don’t have to pay trans­mis­sion fees to get the elec­tric­ity to mar­ket, and there are ef­fec­tively no trans­mis­sion losses, which oc­cur on the Up­per Churchill power’s long route south.

They could sell power to us for less than they sell it to their cur­rent cus­tomers, and still make more off that sale. There’s also a cru­cial role for de­mand-side man­age­ment — en­cour­ag­ing cus­tomers to buy at off-peak times and use our gen­er­a­tion sources to their fullest.

Then, be­lieve or not, there’s the Holy­rood gen­er­at­ing sta­tion. I think that there should have been more ex­am­i­na­tion over whether that fa­cil­ity could have a part to play, too.

If you look at all of Holy­rood’s myr­iad of prob­lems, al­most all of them — ex­cept for a gen­er­a­tor is­sue that de­vel­oped when an oil­ing sys­tem and its backup failed — have been in the gen­er­at­ing sta­tion’s boil­ers.

More than that: pri­mar­ily in the boil­ers on units 1 and 2.

The main is­sues have in­volved cor­ro­sion and ash from the sul­phur in the bunker C fuel. But the thing is, the boil­ers in units 1 and 2 weren’t orig­i­nally de­signed for bunker C. The wa­ter­wall com­bus­tion en­gi­neer­ing boil­ers were orig­i­nally de­signed for nat­u­ral gas or other gas fu­els; the heav­ier bunker C fuel re­quired dif­fer­ent burner boxes and noz­zles, which were put in place to ac­com­mo­date the avail­able fuel sup­ply of the day.

Chang­ing the burner boxes and burn­ing com­pressed liqui­fied nat­u­ral gas would re­duce cor­ro­sion, re­duce ash con­tam­i­na­tion and re­lease far fewer con­tam­i­nants out of the fa­cil­ity’s stacks, all of which might give the fa­cil­ity a longer lifes­pan. (Unit 3 at Holy­rood was de­signed for bunker C fuel, but if re­call power were be­ing brought from Labrador, Unit 3 could be used as a syn­chro­nous con­denser, ex­actly the role it’s ex­pected to have now for Muskrat Falls power.)

All of this is just spit-balling by an ad­mit­ted non-ex­pert well af­ter the fact; the point is, they are all op­tions that weren’t fully con­sid­ered.

They should have been. Here are some ideas I wish we’d looked more se­ri­ously at, with the ben­e­fit of hind­sight af­ter many of the as­sump­tions used to pick Muskrat Falls as the best choice turned out to be wrong.

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