02 June 2010

Lower Churchill costs: now up to $14 billion and counting

According to Premier Danny Williams, the Lower Churchill project – which he estimates at a cost of up to $12 billion -  is “ the lowest cost , the cheapest hydroelectric project in all of North America.”  Dead link to CBC story June 1, 2010 quoting Williams]

That’s more than a bit of a stretch, even for the Old Man and his legendary love of absurd comments bordering on the ridiculous.

A simple comparison of costs based on information in the public domain demonstrates that the Premier’s claims in this case are once again nothing short of ridiculous.

For example, a 1998 cost estimate of the project elements to develop both Lower Churchill dam sites and the transmission infeeds (one to Quebec and the other to Soldier’s Pond, just west of St. John’s) put the cost at $10.5 billion.

Now we can add to that the costs of getting the power across to Nova Scotia, for example and then down into the United States.

According to the Chronicle-Herald, a study done for the Nova Scotia government put the cost of connecting from Newfoundland to Cape Breton between $800 million and $1.2 billion.  Hooking to the US would add another $2.0 billion to $3.0 billion to that.

The only thing we’d be missing at that point is a connection from Deer Lake to Port aux Basques or where ever the line would go to connect with Nova Scotia.

Even at that, we’d be looking at between $2.8 billion to $4.2 billion on top of the $10.5 billion to use the so-called Atlantic route.

That puts the grand total at between $13.3 billion and $14.7 billion.

Not bad for a project that the current administration touted in 2005 as costing about $3.3 billion.
But since Danny Williams said it is the lowest cost hydro-project in North America we can be pretty much assured he was talking through his hat.

Maybe he was talking in relative terms, like say as a measure of how much it would cost to get the power up and out to market for every megawatt produced;  it’s called, not surprisingly, a cost per megawatt calculation.

Well, the Lower Churchill’s 2800 megawatt project would come out as follows.  For good measure, there’s a comparison with the La Romaine project in Quebec which is already under way.

Cost per megawatt

$10.5 billion

$3.75 million

1998 projected cost, includes connection Quebec and Newfoundland only (currently under enviro assessment)

$12.0 billion

$4.285 million
2010 Williams upper-end estimate of project costs, link to Newfoundland and Quebec only. [Update]

$13.3 billion

$4.75 million

Low-end estimate to connect to NS and US

$14.7 billion

$5.25 million

High-end estimate to connect to NS and US

$6.5 billion

$4.195348 million

Hydro-Quebec’s La Romaine, 1550 MW

British Columbia’s Site C dam will deliver 900 megawatts for an estimated $6.0 billion so that will more expensive on a cost per megawatt basis.  That’s over $6.6 million per megawatt.  Another power project in Ontario will add 440 megawatts of power to an existing hydro structure for a cost of $2.0 billion or $4.5 million per megawatt.

By comparison, wind power projects run about $3.5 million per installed megawatt, according to a wind industry website.