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Turbines sit idle while Ramea power bills increase

Lester Gould said three of the nine wind turbines located in Ramea, the three owned by Nalcor, have hardly moved since the fall.

The other six turbines, owned by Frontier Power Systems – an energy company based in PEI, “are going frequently whenever there is wind but the other ones, very infrequently do I see them move,” the Deputy Mayor of Ramea said.

The two companies installed the turbines for different purposes.

Frontier’s turbines sell the wind energy to Nalcor for use in the grid. Nalcor’s three turbines are an experimental project designed to reduce the community’s reliance on diesel generators.

The Federal Government describes the project in the energy section of its website:

“A wind- hydrogen- diesel energy system is being developed and installed in the off-grid community of Ramea Island, Newfoundland. When completed, it is expected that this state-of-the-art project, which is unique to Canada, will allow the shutting down of all diesel generators on Ramea Island during periods of low energy demand. This will allow the power utility (Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro) to provide its customers with clean wind power, either directly via wind turbines, or from stored hydrogen, created by using excess wind-generated electricity.” http://www.nrcan. gc. ca/ energy/ renewable- electricity/wind/7319

The experimental system is modeled to incorporate a hydrogen storage and generator system, producing hydrogen from the wind to store for use as a fuel later. The project isn’t going as planned according to Gould.

“That’s become a bit of a problem,” he said. “They had a lot of leaks in the beginning. The generators that they were using I understand were not the best, were not very efficient. And they were supposed to be by now, somewhere along the way to using fuel cells.”

Diesel generators

Gould’s understanding was that the Nalcor project would offset the island’s reliance on diesel generators.

Ramea has one of 21 isolated electrical systems in the province – not connected to the main power grid. These isolated systems, managed by NL Hydro, rely on diesel generators for their initial power surges to start them up.

Until the hydrogen fuel cells are operational, the wind turbines also rely on diesel generators to start operating.

When Gould asked Hydro NL when Ramea’s residents can expect their power bills to decrease, the company pointed to the generators as the issue.

“They say they have to keep a generator running because when a surge is needed those windmills can’t provide the energy on short notice,” Gould stated. “So therefore we’re still burning diesel fuel, so the charges will remain as they are.”

This is not what Gould hoped to hear.

“I’m not pleased with it,” he said. “If what they say is right, it’s something you’ve got to live with until they are able to produce sufficient so that they won’t need the generators. If that’s not right, that’s a different story.”

Rate concerns

Gould says power rates in Ramea are almost double what residents on Newfoundland and Labrador’s mainland grid are paying.

“What they have is the standard rate on the island, for example 10 cents a kilowatt hour,” Gould explained. “Our first 700 kilowatts are at that rate. If we go over that then it doubles that rate.

“We’re fine and dandy in the summer but in the winter, when we are using more energy, our rates go way to heck.

“The guy I spoke to at Hydro said your bill is no different than anyone else in N.L. He said you are paying the same rates that everyone else is. I know we’re not because I have a bill that I am paying on the mainland grid too. On the grid I am paying the 10 cent rate and here (in Ramea) I am paying double that or pretty close to it.”

Gould suspects that the Ramea wind farm project is on hold while Nalcor deals with its massive budget overruns with Muskrat Falls.

“That’s probably come to a standstill and in my mind that’s probably because of the project in Labrador,” he said. “I really think they lost a huge amount of money there and they are trying to get funds together wherever they can.”

The Gulf News reached out to NL Hydro for comment but did not receive a response as of press time.