Canada’s 824-MW Muskrat Falls gets official approval

Canada’s controversial 824-MW Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project received an official go-ahead from Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale yesterday.

The US$7.4 billion plant — introduced at the St. John’s legislature during a ceremony complete with choral fanfare — has been a topic of debate since the project was first proposed decades ago.

“Harnessing the vast hydroelectric power of the Lower Churchill is a promise that has been hovering on the horizon for 50 years but has remained just out of reach for successive governments of Newfoundland and Labrador,” Dunderdale said.

“The most important benefit of this development is that it allows us as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to stand tall and proud on the national stage, knowing that as our forebears persevered to etch an existence on the edge of the North Atlantic, so will we with unrelenting focus and steadfast determination overcome all obstacles and transform challenges into success.”

Approval of the Muskrat Falls hydropower plan seemed inevitable following the finalization of a series of formal agreements between private utility Emera Energy and Crown corporation Nalcor Energy in August.

Most recently, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a guaranteed federal loan of up to $6.3 billion in financing for the project.

Already, Nalcor said it has spent about $322 million on preliminary engineering and construction work at the site, which is set to increase immediately now that Muskrat Falls has been approved.

“This is a go,” said Nalcor President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Martin. “We’re ready to go and we’ll start moving our heavy equipment tomorrow. We’re moving ahead with the project.”

Arrangements of the joint venture have Nalcor constructing the dam and power station in Labrador, as well as transmission lines in Newfoundland.

Emera would then be responsible for building a 180-km subsea transmission link between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

The Muskrat Falls hydropower plant is part of the Lower Churchill project, which could also eventually include the 2,250-MW Gull Island hydroelectric plant. Both would be located on the Churchill River in Labrador.

Assuming everything progresses as planned, officials said the first of Muskrat Falls’ generating units could be producing power in 2017.

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