Mactaquac Dam laying the groundwork for decade-long refurbishment

by | Apr 26, 2024

NB Power holds public meetings in Upper Valley communities as part of its environmental impact assessment

NB Power hopes to begin its long-awaited refurbishment of the Mactaquac Dam next year. The project to upgrade and extend the life of the utility’s most crucial hydro-generating plant is expected to take between 12 and 15 years. 

To secure environmental approval, NB Power is conducting an environmental impact assessment (EIA), including recently completed public consultations. 

“This project represents our most significant investment in clean energy in more than 50 years,” said NB Power President and CEO Lori Clark. “Maintaining this important generation asset will help enable New Brunswick to achieve a net-zero electricity system and support global efforts to tackle climate change.”

As part of the EIA process, NB Power hosted open houses in Fredericton on April 10, Keswick Ridge on April 11 and Woodstock on April 14. 

During the four-hour open house at the Woodstock Best Western, project manager Charlie Ryan said they designed the meetings to explain details about the massive project and its impact on surrounding communities. 

He explained the most noticeable impact would involve road closures, heavier traffic and noise levels. 

Ryan added that the project would create significant job opportunities, estimating between 250 and 300 positions throughout the refurbishment, which is expected to begin in 2025 and continue until 2039. 

He explained those living closest to the Mactaquac Dam would experience the most significant impact. 

Ryan said that explains why the Keswick Ridge open house saw the highest attendance, with approximately 80 people dropping by. He estimated about 30 people attended the Fredericton event, with less than that in Woodstock. 

Ryan explained that the dam would continue operating during the refurbishment, with little impact on the levels of the Mactaquac headpond in communities north of it, including Woodstock. 

He said they don’t anticipate changes to the headpond levels beyond the standard fluctuations that already occur during dam operations. 

Ryan said the refurbishment is primarily to “fix and repair” the facility, including replacement of the turbines. He added that engineers expect the increased efficiency of the new turbines to generate five per cent more power. 

Ryan said Mactaquac delivers about 20 per cent of New Brunswick’s power needs and will play a central role as the province meets its commitment to generate 40 per cent of its power through renewable sources. 

He explained that hydroelectric dams can work with wind and solar energy sources to improve efficiency. For example, Ryan said the dam could build up the headpond when the wind is blowing to create more power when the wind is not blowing. 

“It acts like a huge battery for us,” he said. 

Ryan said engineers are still laying out the complete scope of the project, noting it represents the first significant upgrade since the dam’s construction in 1968. 

For the past two decades, the Mactaquac Hydro Generating Station has been managing issues related to expanding concrete and aging infrastructure. 

While engineers map out the project, Ryan stressed the importance of involving construction companies. 

“They’ll get engaged in the next year or so, and that will lay out how we’re going to do it,” he said. 

Ryan said estimators are still trying to determine the project’s cost. 

The project requires financial approvals from the NB Power Board of Directors and the Government of New Brunswick before it can begin. 

The Department of Natural Resources and Energy stated in a release announcing the environmental process that NB Power values input from New Brunswick First Nations. 

“NB Power values and is committed to fostering positive and productive relationships with New Brunswick First Nations and has been engaging with the Wolastoqey Nation about the future of the Mactaquac Generating Station since 2013,” the department explained in the statement. “This engagement and consultation will continue through the EIA process. 

The Mactaquac Life Achievement Project will include major repairs to concrete and equipment replacement. The project will also enhance upstream and downstream fish passage for species native to the St. John River. When complete, the station is expected to operate until at least 2068, its intended lifespan.

“We believe this project brings key economic and environmental benefits to New Brunswick,” added Clark. “We will engage with stakeholders and the public to make sure we understand all potential concerns from an environment, community and Indigenous perspective and consider them as we move forward.”

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