01 February 2012

Terawatts for Terra Nova and other fun #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Energy analyst Tom Adams points to some problems with the Muskrat Falls project and, in the process,  turns out one of the biggest bits of critical commentary on Muskrat Falls in a while.

You know because the good folks at Nalcor took the time to write a post for their corporate blog that responded to the Adams piece.  Nalcor CEO Ed Martin wrote at the beginning:

I'm compelled to correct the statements made by you, and request the prompt apology you said you would make if your arguments were wrong.

“Correct the statements.”

Remember that phrase.

Ed Martin made the rounds of the local call-in shows, especially the unquestioningly government-friendly afternoon one. No accident that. The Telly ran a story on Tuesday. NTV ran it on Monday night as a blog fight

The funny thing is that Ed Martin didn’t actually correct anything.  Sure he claimed that Tom Adams didn’t get his facts straight.  Sure Martin claimed Adams didn’t cover all the information.  After all, there are hundreds of thousands of pages. 

Persuasion by the ton

You can tell this point, the amount of information Nalcor has pumped is so important – and convincing – because Martin and natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy and just about anyone else backing the project will point you to the boxes of documents like they are auditioning for a shot to replace Vanna on Wheel. 

There is all this information, they will say.

Surely we must be absolutely correct in all our claims because there is this pile of  paper.

Try and lift it.

We dare you.


Then we must be right.

How much weight is it?

A shitload, for sure.  Some people don’t recognise that one shitload is  the average monthly output of “Minister paves road in district” or ”Premier hands out keys to new fire truck” new releases from a typical provincial government department.

One shitload. 

It’s the internal performance measurement for promotions and bonuses in the public service:  “Nelson produced 13 shitloads of happy-crappy releases this year instead of the quota of 12 usually produced by departments of this size.”

It could all be meaningless garbage that no one understands, but that isn’t important in government circles.

Government types measure persuasion, like work: by weight.

But all that is digression…

Your humble e-scribbler has already demolished Ed Martin’s suggestion that the Smallwood reservoir is really there to feed Muskrat Falls. The actual words on the water management agreement as well as 2007 amendments to the Electrical Power Control Act make that pretty clear.

So what about the other big issue, the question of energy from Muskrat Falls? 

How much will there be?

Terawatts for Terra Nova

According to Ed Martin:

Muskrat Falls will generate 4.9 terawatt hours of energy per year.

Adams comes at it another way in his first post.  He looks at a graph of water flows in Nalcor’s own environmental impact study and draws his conclusion:

My area under the curve estimate of the average production rate over the year is 577 MW (taking into account the nameplate capacity). Assuming a theoretically perfect 100% load factor, this corresponds to 5.05 TWh of production — i.e. pretty close to the project estimate of 4.9 TWh of production.

Adams actually gives Muskrat Falls with credit for slightly more energy (5.05 TWh) than Ed Martin does (4.9 TWh) if the water flows are right. No conflict or contradiction there. So let’s take that and work with it.

Terawatts and megawatts and martins:  oh my!

Some of you have no doubt noticed Tom Adams used a figure of 577 MW while the official rating for Muskrat Falls is 824 MW of installed generating capacity.  That comes from installing four generators each with a rated capacity of 206 MW.

Four times 206 is 824.

Simple math.

To figure out the terawatt hours per year involved, you need to multiply that 824 by the number of hours in a year (8760).  So theoretically, if you ran Muskrat Falls flat out all year, the plant should crank out 7.0 TWh.  That’s what you get when you multiple 8760 by 824.

But Muskrat Falls will produce 4.9 TWh according to Ed Martin.  We can also use another Nalcor figure of 4.5 TWh.  Divide that by 8760 and you get rough numbers to compare megawatts, in this case 570 or thereabouts

How does that compare to Holyrood?

According to Nalcor, Holyrood has generators that cumulatively produce 490 MW.  That gives us a theoretical maximum energy output of 4.3 TWh.  Nalcor’s numbers for Muskrat Falls - 4.5 and 4.9 TWh – are only  marginally above what Holyrood does.  To a layman, like your humble e-scribbler, that looks like Muskrat Falls doesn't push out much more than Holyrood, despite the difference in installed capacity.

Now check out the Nalcor’s own water flow chart.  It is based on average monthly flows. 


The period when Nalcor will need water the most to feed domestic demand and at the same time feed Nova Scotia just happens to be the same time when average monthly water flows on the river are lowest.

Now this is not a question of whether they need new water studies or not.  This is also not about the water management agreement. It’s about when the most water is available to make electricity compared to when Nalcor will need to make electricity the most.  They don’t match.

Could it be possible that Nalcor missed something that important?

- srbp -