Power Plant of the Week - Sir Adam Beck Generating Station

Sir Adam Beck Generating Station, photo obtained from Ontario Power Generation website at www.opg.com. Sir Adam Beck 1 is on the right, 2 on the left.

Sir Adam Beck Generating Station, photo obtained from Ontario Power Generation website at www.opg.com. Sir Adam Beck 1 is on the right, 2 on the left.

What better way to celebrate Canada Day 2014 than by taking a close look at one of Canada's most impressive energy infrastructure projects. This post focuses on the Sir Adam Beck Generation Station at Niagara Falls. Sir Adam Beck was a politician and businessman from London Ontario who was a strong proponent of publicly owned power systems. He persuaded Ontario Premier James Whitney to create and appoint him head of the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario (predecessor of the late Ontario Hydro). In 1917, the Commission commenced the construction of the Queenston-Chippawa Hydroelectric Plant which included a canal beginning at the confluence of the Welland and Niagara Rivers, traversing through the City of Niagara Falls, and ending at the hydro station known today as Sir Adam Beck 1 (facility was renamed in 1950). The first turbine went operational in 1922 and by 1925 the project was complete with a combined generating capacity of nearly 500 MW. This was the world's first Mega-hydro project and resulted in several technology innovations in dam construction.

This project was influential in shaping American energy policy of the 1920s and 30s as Sen. George Norris, the patron of American Public Power, repeatedly used the price discrepancy between power prices in upstate NY and the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario to demonstrate the benefits of public ownership. At the time, Ontario enjoyed much lower electricity prices than areas of New York served by Investor Owned Utilities. 

After World War II, the facility was significantly expanded with two diversion tunnels constructed under the City of Niagara Falls and a second generating station added. The facility expansion was dubbed Sir Adam Beck II and represented almost 1,500 MW of new capacity, coming online in 1954. You can find some really cool photos of construction at this link. A few years later, a 174 MW pumped storage facility was added so that the plant could more flexibly respond to the daily load peaks.

Big Becky tunnel boring machine breakthrough photo obtained from OPG website. 

Big Becky tunnel boring machine breakthrough photo obtained from OPG website. 

In 2005, Sir Adam Beck II was upgraded by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) adding 194 MW and creating an opportunity to increase generation and more fully utilize Canada's water allotment from the Niagara River. In the mid 2000s, OPG commenced boring a third tunnel under Niagara Falls to bring more water to Sir Adam Beck II. Big Becky, the largest tunnel boring machine in the world, worked 20 hour days for six years boring a tunnel ~ 45 ft in diameter. Breakthrough occurred in May 2011, concrete pouring finished in Nov. 2012, and commercial operations commenced in March 2013. Although the project did go a couple hundred million loonies over budget (total cost ~ $1.5B CAD), the rock was much harder than expected and this was a pretty challenging endeavor. Given other recent fiascos in the Ontario energy sector, ETE considers this project a resounding success.

Each phase of the The Sir Adam Beck complex is noteworthy for a variety of reasons, but one standout aspect of this project is the international cooperation around water allotments. The Niagara Treaty of 1950 specifies minimum flow levels over Niagara Falls that must be maintained and there is a Joint Commission that governs the management of the water resource along the Niagara River. It's a great model for international cooperation around natural resources and a symbol of the friendship between the US and Canada.