Power corp. says mechanical issues have delayed commissioning of N.W.T.’s Taltson dam

An aerial photo of the Taltson Hydro Facility site in the N.W.T. in 2022. (Northwest Territories Power Corporation)

By Carla Ulrich · CBC News

Planned power outages associated with commissioning process were scheduled for this week

Planned power outages in Hay River and Fort Smith, N.W.T., scheduled for May 1 to 3 have been cancelled indefinitely as mechanical issues delay the commissioning of the Taltson Hydro Facility.

The Northwest Territories Power Corp. (NTPC) was nearing the commissioning phase after an overhaul of the facility, with testing and scenario simulations to ensure optimal performance before full reactivation. This was to include actually switching over from diesel power in Fort Smith and Hay River to see whether the new hydro unit was able to operate as it should.

However, a setback emerged during testing when a mechanical alignment issue resurfaced, halting the process temporarily.

Doug Prendergast, communications manager with NTPC, said the timeline for resuming testing remains uncertain, pending a thorough evaluation.

“At this point, we are still assessing exactly what’s happening and trying to determine what the fix is,” he said.

“It’s obviously been a longer project than we had hoped. But at the end of the day, it’s still exciting to have this hydro dam that’s capable of powering the South Slave.”

Some of the inner workings at the Taltson hydro dam. (Northwest Territories Power Corporation)

The Taltson Hydro Facility is about 64 km north of Fort Smith and was built in 1965. In April 2023, NTPC embarked on an overhaul to replace the major components of the 59-year-old hydro dam, such as the generator and turbine.

“I guess you’d call it the guts of the hydro unit have been replaced as part of this overhaul,” Prendergast said.

Ongoing reliance on diesel

One impact of the delay in reactivating the hydro facility is an ongoing reliance on diesel generators to meet power needs. Prendergast said the cost to run generators for Fort Smith, Hay River, and Fort Resolution is approximately $400,000 per week, which is split between NTPC and Naka Power (formerly Northland Utilities).

However, Prendergast said that despite the operational challenges, user rates remain unaffected for now.

Originally planned for completion last November, the project faced a significant setback due to last summer’s wildfires in the region. A seven-week evacuation disrupted the project schedule and pushed the completion date into this year.

“It dragged into the winter months, which was never really part of the plan,” Prendergast said. “So work slowed. But progress continued to be made.”

Although user rates remain unaffected for now, potential adjustments are anticipated in the future after NTPC completes its general rate application, which is a part of the transfer from Naka Power to NTPC in Hay River.

External factors like the rising price of diesel and the hydro facility overhaul costs will potentially lead to adjustments in the coming years for power users in the South Slave Region.

For now, Prendergast said the company are working on getting the current mechanical issues sorted out so it can return to hydro power in the region. He says the process is moving slowly and carefully to ensure that the system is stable and functioning properly.

“One of the reasons is that we need to be cautious,” he said. “This quite expensive project will provide clean and reliable power in the South Slave for the next 50 to 60 years.

“So we’re taking whatever time is necessary to ensure that once we start the unit up, the unit is able to run consistently. That’s absolutely critical.”

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: 11 power outages and counting in Whatì, N.W.T., since start of 2024, CBC News

Finland: Lapland gets pumped-storage hydropower in drive towards green transition, The Independent Barents Observer

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