Lower Churchill Project
|Muskrat Falls Generation Facility|
Newfoundland and Labrador
|Construction began||2013 |
|Opening date||September 23, 2020|
|Construction cost||$12.7 billion|
|Dam and spillways|
|Type of dam||Roller compacted concrete|
|Elevation at crest||39.5 m|
|Spillway type||1 overflow spillway and 1 spillway with submerged radial gates :87–88|
|Spillway capacity||5930 m3/s :21|
|Normal elevation||39 m :20|
|Turbines||4 x 206 MW Kaplan turbines :23|
|Installed capacity||824 MW :86|
|Annual generation||4.5 TWh/yr :86|
The Lower Churchill Project is an ongoing hydroelectric project in Labrador, Canada, to develop the remaining 35 per cent of the Churchill River that was not developed by the Churchill Falls Generating Station. The station at Muskrat Falls will have a capacity of over 824 MW and provide 4.9 TWh of electricity per year.
A $6.2 billion deal between Newfoundland and Labrador's Nalcor Energy and Halifax-based Emera to develop the project was announced in November 2010. On November 30, 2012, a federal loan guarantee deal for financing of the project was signed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter. On December 17, 2012, the provincial government announced project sanction. Emera received approval to proceed with the Maritime Link from the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board in 2013. Financial close for the loan guarantee occurred in late 2013. On September 23, 2020, the first unit at Muskrat Falls was synced to the electricity grid in Labrador. Power from the second unit is expected in late 2020, with the third and fourth units coming online in 2021.
Reservoir impoundment was completed in 2019 with the flooding of 41 km2 of land to create the 101 km2 reservoir. Containment is by a two-part concrete dam totalling 757 metres long. This will power an 834 MW generating station.
Power will be transmitted to the island of Newfoundland via a 2.1 billion dollar high-voltage direct current line. The total length is to be 1,100 km, of which 30 km are submarine power cables under the Strait of Belle Isle. Construction began in 2014 and ended in 2018.
Power will be further transmitted from Stephenville on the island of Newfoundland to Nova Scotia via a 180 km sub-sea line to Point Aconi on Cape Breton Island. Construction is a 1.2 billion dollar joint venture between Nalcor and Emera (the now-privatized Nova Scotia Power). The link came online in December 2017.
Once on the island of Newfoundland and the mainland of the Maritimes, power will be distributed via the existing grid. Emera hopes to sell surplus power via a proposed 563 km underwater transmission line from New Brunswick to Massachusetts.
In late 2006, Nalcor registered the generation components of the Lower Churchill Project, including both Gull Island and Muskrat Falls, for environmental assessment with the provincial and federal governments. The provincial and federal government agreed to a combined review process that would fulfill the requirements of both levels of government, resulting in the formation of a Joint Review Panel. In 2010, the focus shifted to Muskrat Falls only. The environmental assessment for the transmission lines was done separately and was conducted in 2013. Many Indigenous peoples had serious concerns about how the land and wildlife would be changed by the development. Negotiations between the Innu Nation and the provincial government began in 2006, resulting in the New Dawn (Tshash Petapen) Agreement, finalized in 2011. This agreement included an Impacts and Benefits Agreement (IBA), a Redress Agreement related to damage caused by the Churchill Falls development and an agreement in principle about the Innu Nation’s land claim. Upon the ratification of the New Dawn Agreement, the Innu Nation indicated that the project was acceptable to them.
In 2016, researchers from Harvard University found that methylmercury levels in fish would rise as a result of the project. After protests led by Indigenous groups in Central Labrador in 2016, an Agreement was reached by Labrador’s three Indigenous groups (Nunatsiavut Government, Innu Nation and the NunatuKavut Community Council) and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador outlining the establishment of an independent committee to make recommendations on mitigating potential impacts of methylmercury on human health from the Lower Churchill Project at Muskrat Falls, Labrador. In 2018, the committee recommended — among other things — wetland capping to stem the release of methylmercury.
During the Muskrat Falls inquiry in 2019, it was revealed the provincial government wouldn’t be completing wetland capping at the Muskrat Falls reservoir as previously planned. The $30 million designated for the capping was split up and offered to all three Indigenous governments with the Innu Nation and NunatuKavut accepting. Nalcor had applied for a permit in July 2018 to carry out the approximately 13 hectares of wetland capping — essentially pouring sand and stone over a small area of wetland near the reservoir — but the permit was never approved by the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment. Premier Dwight Ball later said wetland capping would have only decreased methylmercury levels by two per cent.
Cost overruns and public inquiry
The project is more than $6 billion over budget and two years late as of 2019. Projected cost overruns exceeding 70% from C$7.4B to C$12.7B due to poor planning, lack of engineering experience, and related assumptions that were invalid, misleading or later turned out to be incorrect have led Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall to declare the project a boondoggle.
In 2017, Premier Dwight Ball called a public inquiry into the project which took place between 2018 and 2020. In the inquiry report Commissioner Richard LeBlanc concluded the government failed its duty to residents by predetermining that the megaproject would proceed no matter what. In his report, LeBlanc concluded that the business case, which assumed the Muskrat Falls project was the lowest-cost power option, was “questionable.” LeBlanc stated that the project’s economics were not sufficiently tested and that Nalcor failed to consider all potentially viable power options. LeBlanc stated that Nalcor concealed information that could have undermined the business case for the project from the public and government.
- Churchill Falls Generating Station
- Hydro-Québec's electricity transmission system
- List of HVDC projects
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