California shop's new generators for N.W.T. power plant 1 year behind schedule

NTPC now generating power for Norman Wells, taking over from Imperial Oil

More than a year since a contract was awarded, the Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC) is still awaiting full delivery of new generators for Yellowknife's Jackfish Lake power plant.

In mid-2015, NTPC hired a small California manufacturer to build and deliver four generators worth about $2.5 million. The U.S. builder said it could ship the equipment to Yellowknife within about six months — but it's well behind schedule, and the power corporation has only received some components.

CBC News has obtained documents that show the plant of Virdi Power Inc., located in Ventura, Calif., has been visited 25 times by people checking up on the project's process and reporting back to the power corporation.

After the most recent visit on Feb. 20, Ventura-based inspector Mike Wiltshire wrote that "no progress" had been made on "major components assembly."

He could attach only photos of enclosures in the plant's paint shop and completed door framings for the enclosures.

Wiltshire noted the Virdi shop was staffed only by company president Peter Virdi, "Peter's brother, and three fabricators."

In a section of the report subtitled "apparent issues/delays," he added the outfit was hampered by a Feb. 17 "record storm" that stopped work for several days and partially flooded the shop, though it was dry and operational by the time of Wiltshire's visit three days later.

Neither Peter Virdi ror Mike Wiltshire replied to requests for comment.

'Slower than expected'

"While delivery has been slower than expected, we've been working with them to move the delivery dates closer," said Pam Coulter, a spokesperson for the power corporation, on Wednesday.

The generators are meant to replace aging infrastructure at the Jackfish plant.

Virdi was the lowest bidder on the project, winning the contract over two larger, B.C.-based companies: Wajax Power Systems, which bid $3.5 million, and Finning Power systems, which offered two options averaging $3.45 million.

The companies were responding to a request from the power corporation for "a modular 4.5- to 5.5-megawatt power plant to provide reliable [supplemental] generation capacity" at the Jackfish plant, according to Virdi's own proposal.

6-month shipment touted 

Virdi had said it could ship the equipment to Yellowknife within about six months. It won the contract in mid-2015.

"Partial delivery has already been made and additional delivery is expected before the end of March," said Coulter, though she could not provide details about what components, and what percentage of them, have already been delivered.

Virdi in its proposal touted over 35 years of custom power plant manufacturing experience.

President Peter Virdi wrote he had "extensive sub-zero cold weather experience working for power plant utilities, Caterpillar, Cummins and the oil industry in the High Arctic including stationed at Inuvik and Tuktoyoktuk [sic].

"In fact I have been to most of the NTPC power plants in the Northwest Territories."

The company says it has installed modular power plants for the U.S. Air Force in Fairbanks, Alaska, and for ConocoPhillips in Prudhoe Bay, among other clients.

Coulter said "due to the slow delivery, we have worked out compensation from the supplier that is fair."

A list of capital projects recently shared by the power corporation includes an item called "modular gensets" and is estimated to cost just over $3 million.

Coulter could not confirm if that referred to the Virdi project.