NextBridge project manager Oliver Romaniuk
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Initial design plans for the expansion of the East-West Tie transmission line has the co-chair of the regional energy task force worried.
The transmission line, when complete, will link Northeastern and Northwestern Ontario and is considered one of the top transmission projects in the province’s long-term energy plan.
As that project moves forward, Iain Angus said he’s growing concerned that the criteria being proposed by NextBridge Infrastructure, the consortium contracted for the transmission line, is not suitable for the harsh conditions of the terrain and climate.
He pointed to last winter’s ice storm that resulted in power outages along the north shore of Lake Superior as an example, and said there needs to be a greater focus on durability.
“The design criteria they’re following, Ontario’s minimum, indicates that there is five miles between system stability in terms of cascading,” Angus said on Monday following a luncheon hosted by the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce to allow local business leaders to meet with executives from NextBridge.
“Five miles up in this country is a horrendous length when it comes to replacing towers. In the northwest we’d be in jeopardy because we’d be losing 650 megawatts of power coming into the region.”
One of the major selling points for NextBridge earning the project was their use of a guyed-y tower that has a single base pedestal to the ground.
This approach results in less steel being used than the conventional transmission towers, and thus cheaper.
Angus is concerned these new towers would not be strong enough, and if one goes down others will cascade along the line.
The alternative towers have smaller foundations, a feature that NextBridge project manager Oliver Romaniuk sees as an advantage.
He said early consultations have resulted in questions about the stability of the structures, and the process will involve an examination as to whether increased standards will be needed.
“Northern Ontario does have unique weather conditions, and all the structures we will be using will meet the Ontario Energy Board’s minimum requirements for strength and stability,” Romaniuk said. “We are investigating how some of these unique factors will affect this line.”
Ice storms, electrical storms, forest fires and regular interruptions are all things that Angus views as posing threats to the reliability of the line. He also does not want the region to be impacted by any blackouts in other areas of the province.
“There are all sorts of variables that impact our ability to bring power into the region,” Angus said.
“If we’re producing our own we’re back to being a self-sufficient island since we were when electricity was first brought into the northwest. We don’t want to be tied to southern Ontario.”
He added that the task force supports the expansion project of the transmission line.
However, he said it should be regarded as a piece of the region’s energy puzzle, not the lynchpin.
There is a discrepancy between what the task force and the Ontario Power Authority sees as the power load for the future with proposed mining projects.
“There’s more to be found,” Angus said. “They have gone from a projection of 800 megawatts needed to 1400, we’re still saying it’s going to be over 1600.”
OPA senior planner Nicole Hopper said they have been consulting with various interests to consolidate their projections.
“We do put a lot of weight into (local projections),” she said. “We did meet with local stakeholders in developing our forecasts. I think it’s important to bear in mind that a forecast is a prediction, and you have to be comfortable with what you’re predicting.”
Open houses will be held in Thunder Bay later Monday, and then in Nipigon, Marathon and Wawa later this week, as well as White River and Terrace Bay next week.
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