Calabogie -- New Year's Eve in Calabogie will have no shortage of energy this year as Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) new station is scheduled to go live after more than two years of construction and a $100 million investment into a Green Energy project that more than doubles the old station’s output.
John Yakabuski, MPP for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke and Special Advisor to Premier Doug Ford, took a tour of the construction site last Friday and several times during the two-hour visit he would stop and look around in amazement at just how much progress has been made on the new two-unit hydroelectric station that will provide approximately 11 megawatts of power for the province.
“It is almost mind-boggling when you compare what was here previously compared to what is being built here and will be ready to come on line by the end of the year,” he said. “When the old plant was built in 1917, it had far less energy production, but then again, those were far different times. This station will be efficiently using the water currently available on the Madawaska River to generate enough electricity to power about 10,000 homes.”
Tony Palma, the OPG Project Manager overseeing the project, said a review of the operation by OPG officials began in 2015 when the unit was nearing its 100th year of operation. Staff began a review of the costs benefits and value on return and debated whether to refurbish the unit or replace it with a modern version. But events in September 2018 that were far beyond anyone’s control made their decision an easy choice.
“When a tornado struck the area on September 21, 2018, it caused a lot of damage not just to the homes and businesses in and around Calabogie, but it also tore the roof off of the old station and uprooted several trees in the immediate area and disrupted the production of energy,” he said. “It was a terrible tragedy and it resulted in a lot of people having to rebuild their homes. The only good thing to come out of that disaster is it really advanced our planning for the site and the only option was to build a brand new facility.”
Along with beginning construction on the actual plant, OPG crews and contractors began the cleanup of the shoreline along the Madawaska River where the new plant is located, approximately 50 metres from the original site. Uprooted trees and shrubs were removed and repairs were made to the base of the site to enable the return of a reliable source of water for the turbines. In addition to cleaning debris caused by the tornado, work crews also took the time to try and restore the natural beauty of the riverbed area.
Following the cleanup in June 2020, the old building was dismantled and construction on the new power house that includes two horizontal Kaplan turbines imported from the Czech Republic, started. The units will draw from the Madawaska River for the creation of renewable power for Ontario.
Through a Joint Venture, SNC Lavalin is responsible for the new station’s design while M. Sullivan & Son of Arnprior is leading construction. Several local skilled tradespeople are on site along with some OPG staff.
David Rupay of SNC-Lavalin, who is responsible for overseeing the installation and powering up of the station, said it is a long and complicated process to install the turbines in addition to having to deal with some of the fallout from COVID-19 such as delays in the delivery of some equipment and the rising cost of fuel.
“The turbines and accompanying equipment measure in excess of a six-storey building and each unit is delivered in four separate pieces,” he said. “Over the course of six weeks the crews are welding the units together. Each weld has to be precise. We have been fortunate not to have major setbacks due to the global supply chain issues caused by COVID. We have had some minor delays, but we have been able to schedule around that.”
The two new operating units are capable of handling much more water than the old units, with capacity increasing to 160 cubic meters per second (cms) from 66 cms. This means less water is spilled through the sluices and more water passes through the turbines.
In June 2020, the largest single concrete pour of approximately 760 cubic metres was completed during a non-stop 13-hour period to construct the lower half draft tube sections for both generating units. This was followed in July when an estimated 742 cubic metres of concrete was poured to complete the upper half of the draft tube sections.
Mr. Palma does not hold back when describing the many benefits that come along with the actual plant coming on line.
“OPG is investing more than $100 million to redevelop the Calabogie site, and about 175 person-years of work will be associated with the construction, boosting employment and economic benefits in the region,” he said. “Our overall workforce will have 110 people on worksite and that is made up of 14 percent women and eight percent are Indigenous workers. Both are very high numbers for a construction site since the average is five percent for female workers and we are very proud of that figure.”
Mr. Yakabuski said the efforts of OPG is in line with his government’s efforts to increase the amount of renewable green energy.
“This is absolutely remarkable and much more than I expected,” he said. “Walking through here today, there were times I had to get my bearings because it is vastly different than the previous plant. The doubling of energy output with less spillage is something that is very encouraging and it really shows the power of the Madawaska River to produce renewable green energy.”
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader