Mactaquac — NB Power officials are eagerly awaiting the chance to begin their next high-risk project — the Mactaquac Dam. After just recently finishing the risky and problematic refurbishment of the Point Lepreau nuclear power station, the staff of the Crown corporation desperately wants its next rush of adrenaline that only can come from a very uncertain, tremendously complex, and predictably over-budget project with inevitably subpar outcomes.
“Honestly, since we brought Lepreau back online at reduced capacity, we’ve been a bit down in the dumps,” confessed NB Power President Gaëtan Thomas. “Back then, coming to work every day and dealing with an overdue, over-budget, extremely complex experimental rebuild of Point Lepreau was a non-stop thrill ride! It was like being trapped on a roller coaster for years. Now that the wild ride is over, everyone sort of misses all of the drama and intensity. We need to inject a bit of danger and chaos back into our workday to be at our best!”
Mactaquac, the largest hydroelectric dam in the Maritimes, provides 10 to 15 percent of the province’s electrical generation needs. It is the province’s only “black start” facility, which can provide power to start all other generation in the event of a large-scale outage. It was originally finished in 1968, and at the time of construction it was planned to have a 100-year life span. However, recently that estimate has been reduced by 40 years due to alkali–aggregate reaction (AAR). AAR happens when the calcium in cement reacts with surrounding crushed rock causing the concrete spillways to swell and crack over time. Many hydro stations around the world are affected by AAR, including Mactaquac.
Three options, or “Mactaquactions,” are being proposed to deal with Mactaquac:
- Option 1: Refurbishing the dam, estimated to cost between $3 and $5 billion;
- Option 2: Replacing the spillways and retaining the headpond but removing the power-generation capability, estimated at around $2 billion plus the cost of a replacement power source;
- Option 3: Restoring the river and removing the dam infrastructure, also estimated to be at least $2 billion plus the cost of a replacement power source.
“Woo hoo, let’s get this party started!” yelled a wide-eyed Thomas, slapping his desk with both hands. “I can already feel the rush! Ever since Lepreau came back online, our employees have been getting their cheap thrills with extreme sports, reckless driving and high-stakes gambling. Now, they can finally get that feeling of being on the razor’s edge of an epic disaster during the workday again!”
NB Power says for Mactaquac options 2 and 3, an “alternative source of renewable power would be required,” which puts the cost of each more on par with option 1. Each of these options would likely be the most expensive project ever undertaken by NB Power. The Point Lepreau refurbishment would be in second place, which was originally estimated at $1.4 billion but finished 3 years late and $1 billion over budget. NB Power’s debt is presently around $5 billion.
“We can’t wait to start spending on a big project again,” beamed Thomas. “We’ve been under a lot of financial scrutiny lately, and frankly it’s a huge bummer. There’s nothing like that feeling you get from spending a mountain of cheddar. The province will be our sugar daddy and co-sign that — they really don’t have a choice. Boo ya!”
NB Power will consult in the upcoming months, and then announce the final decision on the project in 2016. In the meantime, company engineers will continue to assess the dam structure from overhead by bungee-jumping from helicopters.