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Full power from N.L.'s Muskrat Falls hydro project at least a year away, says report

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — With a new report saying full power from Newfoundland and Labrador's Muskrat Falls hydro project is at least a year away, the head of the province's Crown energy corporation says there's a backup plan in place.
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The construction site of the hydroelectric facility at Muskrat Falls, N.L., is seen on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. The head of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Crown energy corporation says her team is working hard to solve the software issues plaguing the province's Muskrat Falls hydro project. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — With a new report saying full power from Newfoundland and Labrador's Muskrat Falls hydro project is at least a year away, the head of the province's Crown energy corporation says there's a backup plan in place.

The report posted earlier this week said "new defects" were found in the software that operates the transmission line connecting the Muskrat Falls power station in Labrador to the island of Newfoundland. 

"We continue to believe it reasonable to project that completion may well come as far as and perhaps significantly longer than 12 months from now," the Liberty Consulting Group report said. 

Liberty was hired in 2018 by the province's Public Utilities Board to keep an eye on Muskrat Falls as construction ended and power generation from its massive dams began. That stage of the project's development has been plagued by software issues pertaining to the transmission line, called the Labrador-Island Link.

The ongoing issues mean Muskrat Falls isn't yet producing power at full capacity, and as a consequence, no money is coming in from ratepayers to cover its bills. The last deadline missed for the start of full commercial operations was Nov. 26, 2021.

Jennifer Williams, chief executive officer of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, would not say directly on Wednesday if she agreed with the timeline in the Liberty Consulting Group report.

"Utility people should be cautionary and cautious and prudent and not optimistic," Williams told reporters during a news conference in St. John's, adding that members of the Crown corporation are "doing our best to be responsive."

As a backup plan, she said, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is keeping its generating station just outside the community of Holyrood, N.L., near St. John's, operational until 2024, so ratepayers have a reliable source of power.

The oil-burning Holyrood facility burns about 18,000 barrels a day in peak winter months, according to previous government reports.

Muskrat Falls was approved with a $7.4-billion price tag by a Progressive Conservative government in 2012. It was championed as a way to power the province with hydroelectric energy and replace the Holyrood plant, which belches out an average of about 1.1 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

The Muskrat Falls project is years overdue and nearly double the cost — $13.1 billion as of September 2020.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2022.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press

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