Lower Churchill Project

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The Lower Churchill Project is a planned hydroelectric project in Labrador, Canada, to develop the remaining 35 per cent of the Churchill River that has not already been developed by the Churchill Falls Generating Station. The Lower Churchill's two installations at Gull Island and Muskrat Falls will have a combined capacity of over 3,074 MW and have the ability to provide 16.7 TWh of electricity per year.[1]

The Muskrat Falls Generation Facility has been fraught with controversy as the construction has gone over budget and concerns have been raised about the impact of flooding the reserve on methyl-mercury levels in the Churchill River. After several 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.  Among other things, the Agreement outlined 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.[2] In 2017, controversy about the Muskrat Falls Generation Facility was sparked again as cost overruns increased and new details about sketchy project management decisions emerged. This led Premier Dwight Ball to call for a public inquiry[3] into the project that started in September 2018.

Phase 1 of the project includes 5 submarine power cables, all due for completion in 2017.

Phase 1[edit]

Muskrat Falls Generation Facility[edit]

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 [4]
Opening dateExpected 2019 [5]
Construction costC$3.69 billion [6]
Owner(s)Nalcor Energy
Dam and spillways
Type of damRoller compacted concrete
ImpoundsChurchill River
Elevation at crest39.5 m [7]:21
Spillway type1 overflow spillway and 1 spillway with submerged radial gates [8]:87–88
Spillway capacity5930 m3/s [7]:21
Normal elevation39 m [7]:20
Power Station
Turbines4 x 206 MW Kaplan turbines [7]:23
Installed capacity824 MW [8]:86
Annual generation4.5 TWh/yr [8]:86

The Muskrat Falls Generation Facility will consist of a dam, a spillway, and a powerhouse with four Kaplan turbines and a total generating capacity of 824 MW. The concrete dam will be built in two sections (on the north and south abutments of the river): the north dam will be 32 m high and 432 m long, the south dam 29 m high and 325 m long. The reservoir will be 59 km long with an area of 101 km2. The area of inundated land will be 41 km2 at full supply level.[7] Four 315 kV AC transmission lines will connect the powerhouse to the Muskrat Falls switchyard.[citation needed]

Construction of the Muskrat Falls Generation Facility began in 2013 and was expected to take four to five years.[4] As of 2016 first power from the dam and hydro station is expected to be delayed until December, 2019.[5]

Labrador-Island Link[edit]

Emera and Nalcor will form a joint venture to construct transmission facilities from Labrador to Newfoundland at a cost of $2.1 billion.[citation needed]

The Labrador-Island Link will be a 900MW 1,100 km High-voltage direct current (HVdc) bipole from the Muskrat Falls switchyard in central Labrador to an area near Soldiers Pond on the Avalon Peninsula.[7] This work will result in at least one million person hours of engineering and project management employment and 2.5 million person hours of construction employment in the province.

Key components include the following:

Construction of the 35 km submarine crossing of the Strait of Belle Isle began in 2014, with cable installation expected in 2016.[13] The contractor for the overhead transmission lines, Quanta Services subsidiary Valard Construction, was announced on August 11, 2014 and expects to complete construction during the summer of 2017.[14] The completed line was formally energized in June 2018.[15]

Maritime Link[edit]

Emera will construct and own a 500 MW, $1.2-billion underwater power connection from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia, to be known as the Maritime Link. This will enable future electricity exports to the Maritime provinces and the United States.[16]

Key components include the following:[17]

Construction of the Labrador-Island Link began in 2014 and is expected to end in 2017.[18] The Maritime Link came online on December 11, 2017.[19]

AC Transmission Lines[edit]

Two 265 km, 315 kV transmission lines will connect the Muskrat Falls Transmission Station to the existing Churchill Falls Transmission Station, passing near the future site of the Gull Island Generating Station. The first transmission line is expected to enter service in 2014.[20]

Both transmission lines will be supported by lattice-type steel structures and located adjacent to an existing 138 kV transmission line north of the Churchill River. The new transmission lines require a cleared right-of-way approximately 100 m wide in addition to the existing, 20 m right-of-way.[20] The existing, 138 kV transmission line from Churchill Falls to Happy Valley-Goose Bay will be terminated at a new 315 kV to 138 kV transformer in a switchyard north of the Churchill River.

Changing economics[edit]

Projected cost overruns of 50% from C$7.4B to C$12.7B, delays completing the project by 2 years from 2017 to 2019, poor planning, lack of engineering experience, and related assumptions that were invalid, misleading or later turned out to be incorrect have led to some claiming the project is a political boondoggle.[5] Major new industrial power users have used less power than expected, and less favorable than expected economic conditions have had similar impacts on smaller scale consumption. Updated power consumption estimates project consumption not reaching original estimated levels for an additional 16 years. Liberal government supporters blame the previous Progressive Conservative government for going ahead with the project, which has passed the point at which it could reasonably be stopped. Exporting the excess capacity is not expected to significantly mitigate costs to consumers. As a result, provincial electricity rates are expected to jump 78% from C$0.12/kWh in 2015 to C$0.214/kWh in 2021, due largely in part to the Lower Churchill Project.

Phase 2[edit]

Gull Island[edit]

The proposed Gull Island facility on the Churchill River in Labrador would consist of a generation station with a capacity of 2,250 MW, and a powerhouse containing five Francis turbines. The dam would be a concrete-faced, rock-fill construction 99 m high and 1,315 m long establishing a 213 km2 reservoir with a full supply level of 125 m above sea level. The reservoir is planned to be 232 km long and the incremental area of inundated land would be 85 km2 at full supply level. The proposed development of Gull Island would follow no earlier than three years after the sanction of Muskrat Falls.[1] Gull island would generate three times the power of Muskrat Falls, but is not viable without access to a potential market in Ontario or the US.[21]

Nalcor-Emera term sheet[edit]

A $6.2 billion deal between Newfoundland and Labrador's Nalcor Energy and Halifax-based Emera to develop Phase 1 of the Lower Churchill Project was announced on November 18, 2010.[22] Under the terms of the agreement, Nalcor Energy will design and build a hydroelectric power station at Muskrat Falls and a HVdc transmission line called the Labrador-Island Link from Muskrat Falls to Soldiers Pond on the Avalon Peninsula. Emera will build an electrical interconnection called the Maritime Link between the islands of Newfoundland and Cape Breton, and invest in the Labrador-Island Link such that Emera's total investment in both the Maritime Link and Labrador-Island Link is less than 49% of the cost of the transmission infrastructure included in Phase 1 of the Lower Churchill Project. Nalcor Energy will provide approximately one terawatt-hour of electricity to Emera each year for 35 years in exchange for transmission rights on the Maritime Link and ownership of all of the Maritime Link at the end of the 35-year term.[23]

Brian Tobin points of view[edit]

Further development of the Churchill River in central Labrador was planned for after the Churchill Falls Generating Station opened in 1972. However, the government of Québec refused to allow exports of electricity through its territory. The Lower Churchill Project passed an environmental assessment in 1980, but the project was postponed indefinitely due to concerns over market access to Hydro-Québec's electricity transmission system and financing.

According to former Premier Brian Tobin, as Labrador borders Québec, when an agreement was being negotiated to sell the power generated at Churchill Falls, the power had to be sold to an entity within Québec or pass through Québec. The government of Québec refused to allow power to be transferred through Québec and would accept a contract only if the power was sold to Québec.[24] This vision is extremely controversial.[25]

Because of this monopsony situation, Hydro-Québec received very favourable terms on the power sale contract. The contract was negotiated to run for a 40-year timespan, running until the year 2016, and then automatically renewing for 25 more years at a discounted rate.[26] According to former Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams, Hydro-Québec reaps profits from the Upper Churchill contract of approximately $1.7 billion per year, while Newfoundland and Labrador receives $63 million a year.[27]

In reality the contract was " a gamble and it's gone against [Nalcor Energy]"[25]

According to long-time Hydro-Québec critic Claude Garcia, the former president of Standard Life (Canada) and author of a recent assessment of the utility commissioned by the Montreal Economic Institute, if Hydro-Québec had to pay market prices for the low-cost power it received from the Churchill Falls project in Labrador, the 2007 profit would be an estimated 75% lower. This assessment however did not consider that Hydro Quebec owns 34.2% of the Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation Limited and the opportunity costs and risks taken by Hydro Quebec and the government of Quebec by purchasing this large block of electrical energy during a period of surpluses and for guaranteeing the USD$500 bond issuance required to finance this project.[28][citation needed]

According to the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Hydro-Québec has reaped more than $19 billion in profits while Newfoundland has received only $1 billion in revenues from the Churchill Falls project. Québec refused to renegotiate the project, which expires only in 2041.[29] Due to the coercion involved in that deal, Newfoundland and Labrador has sought an alternate route for the Lower Churchill Project that bypasses Québec.[30]


Opposition and protests[edit]

Criticism from politicians and notable figures[edit]

Pre-2016 protests[edit]

Protests in 2016[edit]

Inuit and Southern Inuit/Metis were never consulted to give free, prior, and informed consent to this project. This projects affects the waterways and lands around Inuit Settlement Areas.[31] That we were not consulted directly violates the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Article 28).[32]

Agreement between province and indigenous leaders[edit]

Treatment of protesters[edit]

Effects on Lake Melville[edit]

Mud Lake[edit]

A small community called Mud Lake, located on the south side of the Churchill River a few kilometres downstream from Muskrat Falls, was affected by severe flooding in May 2017 that lead to the evacuation of its 50 residents.[33] Residents of the community have blamed the Lower Churchill Project for the flooding.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Lower Churchill Project". Nalcor Energy. Retrieved June 8, 2013.
  2. ^ "Timeline - Independent Expert Advisory Committee". Independent Expert Advisory Committee. Retrieved 2018-10-30.
  3. ^ "Premier Ball Announces Muskrat Falls Public Inquiry". www.releases.gov.nl.ca. Retrieved 2018-10-30.
  4. ^ a b "Construction schedule to first power" (JPG). Nalcor Energy. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  5. ^ a b c Sue Bailey. "'Project was not the right choice': Muskrat Falls estimate surpasses $11-billion". The Globe and Mail Inc. The Canadian Press. Retrieved 2016-06-24.
  6. ^ "Muskrat Falls Oversight Committee Report" (PDF). 2015. Retrieved 2016-06-24.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h "Nalcor's submission to the Board of Commissioners" (PDF). Nalcor Energy. November 10, 2011. Retrieved December 27, 2011.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ a b "Awarded Contracts: Muskrat Falls Generation and Labrador-Island Link". Nalcor Energy. Retrieved 2014-07-26. CD0501 Supply and Install Converter Stations and Transition Compounds
  10. ^ "CT0327 Construction of 350kV HVdc Transmission Line Section 1" (PDF). Muskrat Falls Generation and Labrador-Island Link. Nalcor Energy. June 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  11. ^ "CD0508 Supply and install of Electrode Sites" (PDF). Nalcor Energy. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  12. ^ ""'Embedded contractors' make up about 90 per cent of Muskrat Falls management team"". The Telegram. Retrieved 2017-09-13.
  13. ^ Roberts, Stephen (July 7, 2014). "Muskrat Falls work well underway in Forteau". Northern Pen. St. Anthony: Transcontinental Media G.P. Archived from the original on July 17, 2014. Retrieved 2014-08-11.
  14. ^ "Muskrat Falls transmission line contracted to Alta. company". CBC News. Canadian press. 2014-08-11. Retrieved 2014-08-11.
  15. ^ https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/article-transmission-link-between-labrador-and-newfoundland-energized-as/
  16. ^ "Lower Churchill Project". Government of Newfoundland & Labrador. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  17. ^ "Maritime Link Infrastructure". Emera Newfoundland and Labrador. 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  18. ^ "Jobs & Procurement". Emera Newfoundland and Labrador. 2014. Archived from the original on 2014-07-19. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  19. ^ https://ca.finance.yahoo.com/news/maritime-sends-first-electricity-between-143553316.html
  20. ^ a b "CT0319 AC Transmission Line Construction" (PDF). Nalcor Energy. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  21. ^ https://muskratfalls.nalcorenergy.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Report-Why-not-develop-Gull-Island-first.pdf pg6
  22. ^ McCarthy, Shawn (18 November 2010). "Churchill hydro deal signals era of Atlantic co-operation – The Globe and Mail". The Globe and Mail. Toronto.
  23. ^ "Backgrounder - Nalcor Energy and Emera Inc. Term Sheet" (Press release). Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. 2010-11-18. Retrieved 2014-08-11.
  24. ^ "Speaking notes from an address by Brian Tobin". Premier's Address on Churchill Falls to the Empire Club, Toronto. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. November 19, 1996. Retrieved June 9, 2010.
  25. ^ a b "It's official: Muskrat Falls a boondoggle, says Stan Marshall". cbc.ca.
  26. ^ "Power Contract Between Quebec Hydro-Electric Commission and Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation Limited May 12, 1969".
  27. ^ Moore, Lynn (November 30, 2009). "Newfoundland challenges Churchill Falls hydro deal with Quebec". Canwest News Service. Montreal Gazette. Retrieved 2009-12-01.[dead link]
  28. ^ Baril, Hélène (4 February 2009). "Privatisation d'Hydro-Québec: Claude Garcia s'explique". La Presse (in French). Montreal. Archived from the original on 17 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-14.
  29. ^ Bailey, Sue (18 November 2010). "$6.2B deal reached for Lower Churchill power project". The Star. Toronto.
  30. ^ Gazette, The (2005-12-20). "Churchill Falls deal probed". Canada.com. Archived from the original on 2012-11-09. Retrieved 2012-12-27.
  31. ^ "Map of Lake Melville Area".
  32. ^ "United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" (PDF). line feed character in |title= at position 27 (help)
  33. ^ "Mud Lake in dangerous flood situation as residents evacuated". thetelegram.com.
  34. ^ "Mud Lake flooding victims prepare to launch class action suit". cbc.ca.