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Baseload plant construction powers up

Officials from Northland Power were welcomed with open arms into the Battlefords community as the sod was turned on their $700 million baseload power plant construction.
Construction of the new Northland Power baseload power plant is now officially under way to the southeast of North Battleford, with civic officials and corporate representatives turning the sod Monday. From left to right: Tom Shelby (Keywit), North Battleford mayor Ian Hamilton, Lloydminster MLA Tim McMillan, Northland Power president and CEO John Brace and chairman James Temerty, reeve Lorne Kemp of the RM of North Battleford and Garner Mitchell of SaskPower.

Officials from Northland Power were welcomed with open arms into the Battlefords community as the sod was turned on their $700 million baseload power plant construction.

The official ceremonies took place Monday with officials from Northland Power and SaskPower, as well as dignitaries from throughout the region participating. Attending were mayors Ian Hamilton of North Battleford and Chris Odishaw of Battleford, reeve Lorne Kemp of the RM of North Battleford, and Lloydminster MLA Tim McMillan representing the government of Saskatchewan, along with several First Nations leaders and others.

Northland Power chairman James Temerty was there for the ceremonies, along with SaskPower acting president Garner Mitchell and other corporate officials.

John Brace, president and CEO of Northland Power, said he was delighted with the warm reception his company has received from the Battlefords community.

"Everybody's been great. It's a breath of fresh air to work in Saskatchewan," said Brace, noting the receptive atmosphere the Ontario-based company has received from the community and the province in getting permits in place and in dealing with the various regulations and requirements, including the environmental assessment.

Brace said SaskPower was looking for a reliable, cost-efficient source of power that would run all the time. SaskPower awarded Northland Power the contract in a competitive bidding process that included several bidders, and now the work begins on building the project and getting it up and running.

The North Battleford Energy Centre, as the project is dubbed, will be a 260-megawatt baseload facility that will supply power to the equivalent of 260,000 homes in Saskatchewan under a 20-year supply contract with SaskPower. It is one of two Northland Power plants being built in Saskatchewan; the other is a peak power plant located at Spy Hill in the province's southeast.

The North Battleford Energy Centre is being built in the Brada subdivision a few miles to the southeast of the city near the North Saskatchewan River.

The Kiewit Corporation of Omaha, Neb. has been awarded the construction contract. They are a large North America-wide contractor that has been involved in several projects in Canada and the United States, including construction of a similar power plant in Thorold, Ont.

Tom Shelby, president of Kiewit, pledged his company's co-operation and willingness to reach out to the community and be open to any concerns as the construction takes place over the next three years.

There will be a significant amount of subcontract work happening as well over the three years, he said.

While the official sod turning happened Monday, Shelby said work commenced last month on the site in terms of preparing the ground for the construction ahead. He said that even with rain in past weeks, work is still on schedule.

He expects for the remainder of this year a lot of concrete will be placed on the site. Work will be a little slower during the winter but it will continue, he said.

Next spring, things "will really take off," he said. The gas turbines to be used will be brought in and above ground work will go full-force.

By the end of next year Shelby expects the building that will house the turbine will be up and ready, and he expects heavy work during the winter next year inside that building. The project is scheduled to be completed in the second half of 2013.

Shelby expects "we could have upwards of 400 craftspeople at one time on the job at one time," he said, with another 100 staff people on site.

"All told we could have anywhere from 500 to 600 people," he said.

Finding accommodation for all those workers has been a challenge but there are initiatives in place to locate housing in the community, he added.

Northland Power officials say they are grateful for the co-operation from the surrounding community. They reached a deal with the city of North Battleford to use water from the Waste Water Treatment Plant for the power plant's cooling needs.

The supply contract with SaskPower proved controversial among opposition members in the provincial legislature who claimed SaskPower should have built and operated the plant itself without doing a deal with Northland Power.

Brace said the debate was a "philosophical issue" over whether private power companies have a role in the generation sector.

"I obviously believe we do," he said. "It goes back to the fundamentally important question: if SaskPower were building this facility, if it was behind schedule, if it cost more to build than it was supposed to build, if it was less efficient than it was supposed to be, if it has any operational problems or costs more to operate - all those costs and all those issues would pass through to the ratepayers, the users of electricity in Saskatchewan."

Brace noted that in the case of the private power business, "we take all that risk ourselves, and if things don't work out it's our problem, not the ratepayers'," he said. Cost overruns would not be passed on to ratepayers but borne solely by Northland Power, Brace said.

Moreover, he noted Northland Power is taking on the risk of raising money for the $700 million project themselves. If SaskPower and the government were doing it on their own, the taxpayers and ratepayers would be bearing that risk, he said.

The supply contract with SaskPower lasts for 20 years, but Brace anticipates the plant will continue to be in service long after that. Brace says the power plant should still be in good shape and operational at the end of the contract and anticipates continuing to supply power to SaskPower well after that date as well.

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