Canada has stepped up its clean power offerings
by complete a significant
expansion [press release] of its Niagara River hydroelectric
power capacity. Stretching 6.3 miles (10.2 km), the tunnel bumps
Canada's already substantial 4.4 GW generating capacity upwards by 182.65 MW
(~4.2%). And all of that wouldn't have been possible without "Big
I. Big Becky
Big Becky is a massive tunnel-boring machine
(TBM). She gets her name from Sir Adam Beck, a prominent Canadian politician
who served in Ontario's Legislative Assembly. Sir Beck was an outspoken
advocate of power grids and hydroelectric power and helped oversee the creation
of the Queenston Chippawa power station, which was later renamed the Sir Adam
Beck Station in his honor. The first station went online in 1922, three
years before Sir Beck's death from Anemia (at age 68); a second station, named
Sir Adam Beck Station II, went live in 1954.
The Sir Beck plants carried water in a tunnel a
mere 1.24 miles (2 km), before depositing it in an open cut, above ground.
The new tunnel aimed to be over five times as long. To accomplish
that, state of the art excavation techniques would be needed.
The critical component was Big Becky.
Weighing 4,000 tons, Becky was the largest hard rock TBM the world had
There are several types of TBMs, but hard rock
TBMs operate by using rolling discs to create stress fractures in the rock.
Loose rock, known as "muck", is then sucked up through the
holes in the boring plate.
The result of a hard-rock TBM is a smooth tunnel
that is typically coated with concrete as a final step, to ensure integrity of
II. The Dig
The unprecedented hydroelectric project didn't come
cheaply. The initial budget was set at $985M USD.
But complications arose. Becky unexpectedly
hit a patch of soft loose crumbling rock along the planned route. To save
the tunnel, the team had to divert Becky along an expensive detour.
The approach worked, at the massive TBM soldiered
along, re-routed, towards its destination. As Becky was driven forward by
hydraulics, tunnel workers lined the walls of the tunnel with concrete.
Becky finally emerged last Friday, breaking out into the air.
By the end of the journey she had chewed through
1.6 million tons of rock -- enough rock to fill even the largest sports
stadiums up to the top stands. And she also racked up a $1.6B USD bill --
significantly more than the project planners had hoped for.
III. The Future
The tunnel will go live in 2013.
Already, between 50 and 75 percent of the Niagara
River's flow is diverted to hydroelectric projects, so the available flow is
limited. The new tunnel will take advantage of the fact that the water
will be faster moving than in previous tunnels. It delivers water
at 500 cubic metres (17,660 cubic feet) per second, fast enough to fill an
Olympic-size swimming pool in seconds.
The finished tunnel measures 47.3 feet (14.4 m)
wide -- the equivalent of a four story building, laid on its side. That's big enough to
drive large semi trucks or doubly stacked freight trains through.
The new tunnel will send additional flow to the
Sir Adam Beck Power Stations. It is expected to produce 1.6 billion
kilowatt-hours a year, enough electricity to power approximately 160,000
The tunnel is expected to operate for over 100
years (the original tunnel and cut for the first plant is going strong at 90+
years old). Thus the net cost from the construction will be about $0.01
USD per kilowatt-hour. Operations increases may drive up that cost
slightly, but considering the Sir Adam Beck Generating Systems are already
fully staffed, it seems unlikely it will rise by much.
Despite the seemingly competitive costs, Liberal
party Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty (a premier is similar to a U.S. governor)
has been attacked by Conservative leader Tim Hudak about the project. Mr.
Hudak has been critical of the Premier's green projects in general, but was
particularly scathing about the budget overruns with the tunnel.
But Premier McGuinty urges the public to consider
the bigger picture and the cheap power the tunnel will provide. He states,
"Yes, some of it has come at a price that hasn’t been easy. But neither
was it easy for our parents and grandparents to build our original electricity
system, to build our schools, to build our roads. But they did it anyway,
because they were builders. And so are we."
"When you spread that cost over the 100-year
duration of the project, it just doesn’t get any better in terms of the kind of
power we’ve got our hands on here. When you compare the options available to
us, nothing is easy, nothing is free. It’s well worth the investment."
The project created tens of thousands of
According to The
Star, a Toronto newspaper, the workers planned to tune out the political
bickering and showmanship by celebrating with their own party, which occurred
last Friday at the Niagara Falls hall.