Proposed $49.9M diesel plant in southern Labrador on hold for more consultations

·3 min read
The mayor of Mary's Harbour says he doesn't want a new diesel plant to power the town. Fifty kilometres away in Port Hope-Simpson, the feeling is very different.  (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)
The mayor of Mary's Harbour says he doesn't want a new diesel plant to power the town. Fifty kilometres away in Port Hope-Simpson, the feeling is very different. (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)

A proposed $49.9-million super diesel plant in Labrador is on hold after some community members raised concerns.

In a statement to CBC News on Wednesday, N.L. Hydro said that "in light of concerns raised by some parties," it asked the provincial Public Utilities Board on Nov. 10 to suspend the review schedule.

Among those raising concerns is Mary's Harbour Mayor Alton Rumbolt, who said the proposal doesn't make sense to him, as the federal government has pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

"This is not what we want anymore," he told told CBC's Labrador Morning earlier this month

The proposed plant in Port Hope-Simpson would power it, Charlottetown, Mary's Harbour and St. Lewis. In its July 16 application to the regulator, Hydro said the need has been expedited due to an October 2019 fire at the Charlottetown diesel plant that left it inoperable.

In its statement to N.L. Hydro said pausing the review schedule will allow it to continue discussions with groups that have concerns.

"Hydro hopes to have these discussions in the coming weeks," reads the statement.

Rumbolt said the town would prefer to use hydro power from Muskrat Falls. While it would cost more, he said, it's greener energy and more stable than diesel.

But Port Hope-Simpson Mayor Margaret Burden says she was surprised that the proposal is on hold.

"Right from the start, I thought it was the best of all the options," she said.

Meg Roberts/CBC
Meg Roberts/CBC

In its application, N.L. Hydro said it considered the potential role of renewable energy resources but renewable energy technologies present challenges that limit their viability as the primary sources of capacity in isolated systems.

Renewable sources can be used to help provide energy by reducing the amount of diesel consumed in the future, but for now the diesel plant is the lowest-cost option, says the application.

Connecting the southern Labrador communities to Happy Valley-Goose Bay would also be costly, Burden said, adding the proposed plant, even though it's a large one, would produce less emissions than the four current generating plants.

She hopes the new round of consultations will have open forums for people to ask questions before the review continues.

"Before that happens, I think people should really look through the report and look at other isolated diesel generation plants around the world and then come a little more educated," Burden said.

While the application says renewables may cut diesel use in the future, a company in Mary's Harbour is already working on implementing the idea.

Submitted by Allan Green
Submitted by Allan Green

St. Mary's River Energy has developed a mini hydro plant and solar battery storage that president Allan Green says is producing around 25 to 35 per cent of the town's power, reducing diesel consumption by around 400,000 litres. He said the technology could be added into the system with the larger diesel plant.

Submitted by Allan Green
Submitted by Allan Green

Green said the proposed connection the four communities would actually make it easier for renewable energies to be incorporated into the system.

"Sometimes occasionally we're constrained [in] the amount of power we can put into the system in order for Hydro to maintain the stability of their system," Green said. "With the larger grid, those curtailments would be eliminated or certainly made less frequent."

Overnight, when energy consumption is low, renewable projects need to take in less energy than the mini-hydro plant produces, Green said. The larger the grid, the less often power flow would be curtailed. In the future the grids could be completely renewable but it's expensive and not currently reliable, said Green.

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