Lower Churchill Project

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Muskrat Falls Generation Facility
Newfoundland and Labrador
Coordinates53°14′44″N 60°46′22″W / 53.24556°N 60.77278°W / 53.24556; -60.77278Coordinates: 53°14′44″N 60°46′22″W / 53.24556°N 60.77278°W / 53.24556; -60.77278
Construction began2013 [1]
Opening dateSeptember 23, 2020
Construction cost$12.7 billion
Owner(s)Nalcor Energy
Dam and spillways
Type of damRoller compacted concrete
ImpoundsChurchill River
Elevation at crest39.5 m[2]
Spillway type1 overflow spillway and 1 spillway with submerged radial gates [3]:87–88
Spillway capacity5930 m3/s [2]:21
Normal elevation39 m [2]:20
Power Station
Turbines4 x 206 MW Kaplan turbines [2]:23
Installed capacity824 MW [3]:86
Annual generation4.5 TWh/yr [3]: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.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6][7][8][9] On December 17, 2012, the provincial government announced project sanction.[10][11] Emera received approval to proceed with the Maritime Link from the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board in 2013.[12] Financial close for the loan guarantee occurred in late 2013.[13] 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.[14]

Technical plan[edit]


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.[15]


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.[15] Construction began in 2014 and ended in 2018.[16]

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).[15] The link came online in December 2017.[17]

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.[18]

Environmental impact[edit]

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.[19] 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.[20][21] 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.[22] In 2018, the committee recommended — among other things — wetland capping to stem the release of methylmercury.[23][24][25]

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.[26][27] The $30 million designated for the capping was split up and offered to all three Indigenous governments with the Innu Nation and NunatuKavut accepting.[28][29][30] 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.[31] Premier Dwight Ball later said wetland capping would have only decreased methylmercury levels by two per cent.[32][33]

Cost overruns and public inquiry[edit]

The project is more than $6 billion over budget[34] 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.[35][36]

In 2017, Premier Dwight Ball called a public inquiry into the project[37] which took place between 2018 and 2020.[38] 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.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Construction schedule to first power" (JPG). Nalcor Energy. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  2. ^ a b c d "Nalcor's submission to the Board of Commissioners" (PDF). Nalcor Energy. November 10, 2011. Retrieved December 27, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c Rae, P. (January 2012). "5". Report on Two Generation Expansion Alternatives for the Island Interconnected Electrical System (PDF) (Report). Vol. II. Winnipeg: Manitoba Hydro International. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  4. ^ "Lower Churchill Project". Nalcor Energy. Retrieved June 8, 2013.
  5. ^ McCarthy, Shawn (18 November 2010). "Churchill hydro deal signals era of Atlantic co-operation – The Globe and Mail". The Globe and Mail. Toronto.
  6. ^ Bailey, Sue (November 30, 2012). "Harper signs loan guarantee deal for Muskrat Falls despite Quebec's outcry". Global News. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  7. ^ "Terms of Muskrat Falls federal loan guarantee released". CBC News. Dec 4, 2012. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  8. ^ "Harper to announce Muskrat Falls deal in Labrador". CBC News. Nov 29, 2012. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  9. ^ "Harper 'reiterates support' for Muskrat Falls". CBC News. Sep 24, 2012. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  10. ^ "Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Announces Sanction of the Muskrat Falls Development". Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. December 17, 2012. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  11. ^ "$1.5B Maritime Link approved by Emera Inc". CBC News. Dec 18, 2012. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  12. ^ "Maritime Link energy project approved by Nova Scotia's UARB". CBC News. Nov 29, 2013. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  13. ^ "Speaking notes delivered December 10 by the Honourable Kathy Dunderdale". Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. December 17, 2012. Retrieved December 10, 2013.
  14. ^ "First power flows from Muskrat Falls, in major project milestone". CBC News. Sep 23, 2020. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  15. ^ a b c "Muskrat Falls Development Generation and Transmission". Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Archived from the original on 26 December 2018. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  16. ^ McKenzie-Sutter, Holly (June 27, 2018). "Transmission link between Labrador and Newfoundland energized as Muskrat Falls project nears completion". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  17. ^ "New power transmission towers connect Muskrat Falls, mainland Nova Scotia". Global News. August 2, 2018. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  18. ^ Withers, Paul (Jan 12, 2017). "Halifax-based Emera makes plans for $2B Atlantic Link". CBC. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  19. ^ "A New Dawn for the Labrador Innu". Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. November 18, 2011. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  20. ^ Flowers, Bill (December 13, 2016). "Inadequate consultation on the Muskrat Falls project". Policy Options. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  21. ^ Careen, Evan (November 20, 2016). "Methylmercury levels downstream from Muskrat Falls concern researcher". Saltwire Network. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  22. ^ "Timeline - Independent Expert Advisory Committee". Independent Expert Advisory Committee. Retrieved 2018-10-30.
  23. ^ "Nunatsiavut president pleads with premier to pump the brakes on Muskrat Falls flooding". CBC News. Jul 22, 2019. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  24. ^ Fitzpatrick, Ashley (April 8, 2019). "Advisory committee recommendations about Muskrat Falls deserve action: chair". The Telegram. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  25. ^ Maher, David (June 7, 2019). "United Nations calls for methyl mercury mitigation at Muskrat Falls". The Telegram. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  26. ^ Maher, David (July 4, 2019). "Newfoundland and Labrador government 'unintentionally' missed Muskrat Falls wetland capping deadline". The Telegram. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  27. ^ Fitzpatrick, Ashley (June 20, 2019). "No time left for reservoir work prior to flooding, deputy minister tells Muskrat Falls Inquiry". The Telegram. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  28. ^ "Methylmercury deal struck with 2 of 3 Labrador Indigenous groups". CBC News. Jul 23, 2019. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  29. ^ White, Bailery (Jul 24, 2019). "Nalcor's $10M deal with NunatuKavut hammered out in a page and a half". CBC News. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  30. ^ "Government skipped methylmercury deadline then offered 'hush money,' says Nunatsiavut president". CBC News. Aug 11, 2019. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  31. ^ "Liberal minister dismisses call for investigation into Muskrat Falls wetland capping failure". CBC News. Aug 23, 2019. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  32. ^ ""Last supper" held tonight by Muskrat Falls protestors". The Telegram. Aug 6, 2019. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  33. ^ Roberts, Terry (Jun 27, 2019). "Too late to mitigate: Inquiry hears how wetland capping no longer a Muskrat option". CBC News. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  34. ^ Cox, Sarah (May 16, 2019). "A reckoning for Muskrat Falls". The Narwhal. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  35. ^ Sue Bailey (June 24, 2016). "'Project was not the right choice': Muskrat Falls estimate surpasses $11-billion". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2016-06-24.
  36. ^ Roberts, Terry (Apr 19, 2019). "Muskrat Falls: A story of unchecked oilmen and their boondoggle hydro project". CBC News. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  37. ^ Vaughan, Andrew (September 29, 2017). "Newfoundland Premier announces inquiry into Muskrat Falls project". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  38. ^ "Premier Ball Announces Muskrat Falls Public Inquiry". Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. November 20, 2017. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.
  39. ^ McKenzie-Sutter, Holly (March 10, 2020). "Final report from Muskrat Falls inquiry released to the public". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved Nov 29, 2020.