QEC to do big expansion of Iqaluit power plant

“The existing plant has been in service for 50 years”


Iqaluit’s main diesel burning power plant is getting a makeover starting in September. This week’s series of rolling power outages illustrate the plant, which is nearly 50 years old, is starting to show its age. (FILE PHOTO)

Iqaluit’s main diesel burning power plant is getting a makeover starting in September. This week’s series of rolling power outages illustrate the plant, which is nearly 50 years old, is starting to show its age. (FILE PHOTO)

Even before the lights went out in Iqaluit Aug. 29, Qulliq Energy Corp. already saw that the capital’s diesel-fired power plant is aging rapidly.

But the problems with two generators at the plant, which forced the utility to implement rolling blackouts, which essentially brought business to a halt for most of the day, underscores Iqaluit’s need for a new source of electricity.

“The existing plant has been in service for approximately 50 years and is showing its age,” reads a permit application for a major expansion of the Iqaluit power plant, which QEC filed in November, 2010.

QEC president Peter Mackey said the corporation will begin in September to pour the foundation for an expansion of the Iqaluit plant.

By 2013, the plant will be expanded to include two new diesel generators capable of producing five megawatts of power each.

Mackey said the upgrade would also provide new workspace for QEC technicians and solve some of the myriad building code violations at the main power plant.

“In the past several years several ad hoc office upgrades, additions and building system modifications have been made to the building envelope, contrary to the system planning and common engineering practice,” the permit application states.

The total cost of the project, which also includes a major overhaul of the current power plant building, is nearly $30 million.

In an interview Aug. 30, Mackey said the plan dates back to before 1999, when what became Nunavut was still served by the Northwest Territories Power Corp.

“When Nunavut became a reality we couldn’t put capital dollars into this kind of upgrade for Iqaluit because we were seeing tremendous growth in all of the decentralized communities,” he said.

“We were forced to spend capital dollars in the last 10 years on new [power] generation.”

The expansion will also allow QEC to decommission the old Federal Road power plant, parts of which date back to the establishment of the U.S. airbase here in 1947, although the 2.3 megawatt generator itself was installed in 1974.

But that engine is still approaching the end of its design life.

Mackey said the Federal Road plant is typically used as a backup generator, as well as a storage and work space. Shutting down the old plant would eliminate the current need to truck diesel to the site.

Iqaluit’s peak power demand is forecast to grow from 9.7 megawatts this year to 11.2 by 2016.

While QEC is bound by the Government of Nunavut’s Ikummatiit energy strategy to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, the corporation has met with limited success.

QEC’s total consumption of diesel fuel inched down in 2010 to 44.5 million litres from 44.6 million the year before.

That’s in part due to the installation of new generators in eight Nunavut communities, as well as residual heat programs and the ongoing upgrade of Iqaluit’s transmission line system, much of which dates to the 1950s.

Qulliq spokeswoman Meghan McRae said the replacement of Iqaluit’s power lines is supposed to reduce what’s called line loss — the amount of electricity that turns into heat as it flows through the wires — and reduce diesel consumption by 550,000 litres per year.

But with Iqaluit growing by roughly 250 people per year, and with new public buildings under construction and new subdivisions planned for the coming years, the utility has little choice but to increase its generating capacity.

McRae said the past two winters have seen record electrical demand in Iqaluit, even though weather has been warmer than normal. And more demand means more diesel fuel burned.

“An increase in demand for electrical consumption will continue along with the growth of Nunavut’s communities, and until we can move towards more sustainable forms of generating electricity, our fuel consumption will continue to increase,” McRae said.

Mackey said QEC hasn’t given up on its proposed hydroelectric dam that would draw power from a river on the south shore of Frobisher Bay and is going ahead with a feasibility study for the project.

But with a projected cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars and no sign of where that money will come from, it seems likely that hydro power will stay on the drawing board for the foreseeable future.

Which leaves the utility little choice but to install new diesel generators if it wants to keep Iqaluit’s lights on.

“We have to do it now,” Mackey said.

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