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NTPC asks YK to conserve power after oil spill shuts hydro plant

Last modified: May 5, 2020 at 7:59pm


An oil spill at Snare Falls led the Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC) to shut down the hydro plant on Monday while an investigation takes place.

While the Snare Falls plant is offline, the Jackfish diesel plant in Yellowknife will supply backup power alongside other hydro plants in the system that remain working.

The power corporation suggested electricity customers in Yellowknife reduce their energy consumption so “the cost of this unplanned shutdown can be minimized.”

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Spokesperson Doug Prendergast said the extra cost of using diesel could, eventually, end up meaning a rate increase for customers.

“Rates are set based on the cost to generate electricity. When there are periods of diesel as opposed to hydro, that can eventually be reflected in rates,” Prendergast told Cabin Radio.

“We’re just indicating that’s one thing people could do to help.”

In a news release on Tuesday evening, NTPC said staff at Snare Falls first noticed an oil sheen on the water on April 25. That was duly reported to the NWT’s spill line.

The power corporation stretched a boom across the water to contain the suspected spill. When an inspection did not find any evidence of a leak, the hydro unit resumed service.

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However, a second inspection on May 4 revealed some oil was missing.

“The cause of the spill is still under investigation and the unit will remain offline until the cause is identified and repaired,” NTPC said in a statement.

The cost of fixing the unit and the timeline for completing the work are not known.

The power corporation said any staff or contractors working to fix the hydro unit will obey public health orders related to Covid-19.

‘We have ageing infrastructure’

A request to conserve power may come at a tough time for many residents, who find themselves trapped at home by public health orders and recommendations during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many had already complained about their increased power bills as a result.

Nor has it been an easy time for the power corporation.

On May 1, NTPC confirmed it had been targeted in a ransomware attack. There is still no timeline for the restoration of NTPC’s online services as it works on a recovery plan. (Tuesday’s announcement regarding the oil spill appears to be unconnected.)

Earlier on Tuesday morning, a power outage affected most of Yellowknife for about 15 minutes. At 11am, NTPC said the cause of the short outage was under investigation.  

Old infrastructure is a big worry for the power corporation, and the minister responsible.

Minister Shane Thompson last month said a strategic plan to finally replace ageing equipment was being drawn up.

The plan will span 20 years and its price tag is not yet clear, Thompson said.

“When I first became the minister, I thought, ‘Oh, we can make some huge changes.’ Unfortunately, right now, we have ageing infrastructure which … needs to be replaced sooner than later,” said Thompson.

“They don’t run as efficiently as a brand-new system. So we’re looking at new systems that are coming in place, trying to use them. But we can’t change everything overnight. And so we’re looking at every avenue that’s possible.”

Ollie Williams contributed reporting.

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