The Electrical Worker online
October 2015

Canadian Members Help Build Historic Dam,
Transmission Project
index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to

A legacy project. Historic. Huge. All have described the endeavor to harness the vast natural resources of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada's easternmost province. And for good reason. Approximately 1,900 kilometers of transmission line — over land and undersea — will be built and laid to interconnect the province of Nova Scotia to Newfoundland and Labrador for the first time and supply them with hydroelectric clean energy. And IBEW members are making it happen.

"There's enough guy wire on this project to wrap around the world twice," said St. John's Newfoundland and Labrador Local 1620 Business Manager Terry Rose.

More than 1,400 members are currently working on the CA$8.5 billion dollar project, with more to come on as it continues through 2017. In addition to Local 1620, one other St. John's local is working on site, St. John's Newfoundland and Labrador Local 2330. Contractors of Nalcor Energy — the provincial crown corporation involved — also employ over 200 Innu, one of Canada's First Nations tribes, 31 of whom are IBEW members. (Nalcor also employs 250 members of Churchill Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador, Local 2351 at the hydro generating facility, and approximately 600 members of St. John's Local 1615 hydro operations throughout the province.)

Dubbed "Lower Churchill" after the river on which it relies, the project will be carried out in two phases, the first of which is currently underway at Muskrat Falls in Labrador. Tapping into the vast hydroelectric power of the area, it will make the province almost entirely greenhouse gas-free once complete.

The first phase involves two parts: building the dam and generating facility at Muskrat Falls and constructing the transmission lines that will carry the electricity out. These lines will travel through Labrador on to Newfoundland and into Nova Scotia, crossing two straits along the way. The entire project encompasses approximately 1,400 kilometers and has 20 work sites. It will eventually power not just the provinces involved, but much of Maritime Canada and the northeastern United States.

One of the rarities of this multi-year deal is that Nalcor wanted there to be only one union involved: the IBEW. The local unions in Newfoundland and Labrador already represent 250 members currently at the hydro generating station at Churchill Falls and more at Newfoundland Hydro.

"It's a different approach," said First District International Vice President Bill Daniels, of the project agreement that includes the transmission, switchyard, converter station and substation work. "Doing all that work under one banner, one union, means there are no jurisdictional demarcation lines. The owner, contractors and union all work together as a team."

Ed Martin, president and CEO of Nalcor, said, "Every time there's a difference we sit at the table with respect."

With the entire operation being done by the IBEW, this means in addition to the high-voltage work, there are members doing everything from clearing brush and building the power station to cooking the meals, as well as building the converter and grounding stations and entrances to the underwater transmission portion. Throughout the vast, rural terrain that encompasses the project, IBEW members are powering it all.

Phase One: Muskrat Falls

Four transmission lines will run from Muskrat Falls, two 315-kilovolt alternating current lines heading west and further inland to Churchill Falls where another generating station resides. The other two 500-kilovolt direct current lines will travel east to Newfoundland. The lines going east, called the Labrador-Island Link, will be a high voltage direct current transmission system, 60 meters wide and 1,100 kilometers long.

After leaving Muskrat Falls, the Labrador-Island Link will travel across the Strait of Belle Isle, going undersea and resurfacing on land in Newfoundland. Nalcor says it will take about three years to complete this portion. The subsea transmission work will be performed by a specialty contractor.

From there the project will head southeast across the province to St. John's, including 700 kilometers of new high-voltage direct current transmission and a converter station at Soldiers Pond, near St. John's.

Another transmission line, called the Maritime Link, will go from the converter station at Granite Canal on the west coast of Newfoundland, south to Nova Scotia. That line, a 480-kilometer high-voltage direct current transmission link, will also have an undersea component as it crosses Cabot Strait.

Among the challenges of building these underwater lines are pack ice and the icebergs floating down from Greenland. To deal with these frozen obstacles, there will be cables with a horizontal directionally drilled conduit to protect them from the ice. These conduits will be able to take the cables approximately 70 meters below the surface, said Nalcor.

Energy for Future Generations

Beyond the massive size and scope of the project is the amount of clean energy it will bring to these provinces and beyond. The Newfoundland and Labrador government estimates that the Muskrat Falls Generating Station will have a capacity of 824 megawatts and an annual energy production of 4.9 terawatt hours. That translates to approximately 275,000-300,000 homes powered, said Gilbert Bennett, vice president of Nalcor. Or enough energy to supply power to 500,000 people according to First District International Representative Mike Power.

"It will supply an awful lot of clean power, and green energy to places that haven't had it before now," said Local 1620 Assistant Business Manager Don Murphy.

In addition to job creation, the massive project is harnessing a renewable resource that will be there for generations to come. "We're going to pay big time for it up front, but in the long run it will save taxpayers money," Rose said. "It's a renewable resource and it will be there for 100 years or more to come, for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and continuing generations."

With a goal of creating a greener and more environmentally responsible energy source, Nalcor Energy and Emera, Inc., the company handling the project in Nova Scotia and the west coast of Newfoundland, have taken steps to ensure they make as small a footprint as possible. When raptors and other birds — many of which are protected species — are nesting, they are not to disturb them. They are not allowed to cut and leave woodchips in the water. Workers are also trained to deal with spills and leaks. Murphy said that there has been almost zero pollution thus far.

"You are definitely impacting the land, but we are trying to limit the impact as much as possible," Murphy said. "There is a lot of concern about the environment."

Martin noted that this is the first time the island of Newfoundland has been connected electrically both ways to North America. He also noted that, in addition to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians becoming 98 percent carbon-free, they are partnering with Nova Scotia to help them close some of their heavy fuel-burning plants. Excess energy will be sold to Ontario and other Atlantic provinces as well as to the United States.

"In 35 years there will essentially be free power," Martin said of how the project will eventually pay for itself. "We're thrilled to be able to point the way for the rest of the country."

The project has been a long time in the making, beginning with meetings in 2010. In February 2012 Nalcor offered its unique partnership with the IBEW. Having been sold on the Code of Excellence — a promise to perform the job to the highest safety standards, skill and commitment to the project — the corporation wanted to make it an integral part of their new venture.

"Our philosophy was something they liked. The proof is there that it's working well, keeping issues to a minimum and ensuring safety is at the top of the list. Everybody's happy," Power said.

Nalcor also spoke of the relationship and benefits of the code, viewing it as a win-win that plays to the strengths of both organizations.

"It's good employment for good IBEW members. We're looking forward to doing this on-time and on-budget," Rose said.

Once this phase is complete in 2017, phase two begins at Gull Island, three years after the completion of Muskrat Falls, said Nalcor. It will involve the construction of 2,200-megawatt hydro generating facility and related transmission lines. The combined capacity will be more than 3,000 megawatts.

Newfoundland and Labrador is home to extraordinary natural beauty with no shortage of breathtaking scenery. Nicknamed the Big Land, Labrador boasts 293,000 square kilometers sprawling toward the Arctic Circle. Lonely Planet describes it as, "Undulating, rocky, puddled expanses form the sparse, primeval landscape. If you ever wanted to see what the world looked like before humans stepped on it, this is the place to head."


The Muskrat Falls hydroelectric facility in Labrador will be one of the largest in North America, part of a multi-year project to tap into eastern Canada's vast water resources.


Map: Nalcor Energy






The first of two phases, the Muskrat Falls project entails the construction of a dam and generating facility, and over 1,000 kilometers of transmission line. It is scheduled for completion in 2017.