A new “Major Incident Announcement”, reported internally at Nalcor and, otherwise to the PUB,
reports additional damages to the Labrador Island Link transmission line (TL).
It stated that “While conducting repairs to the electrode on conductor 1…the
electrode conductor 2 broke and fell to the ground.” The Report is dated
02/07/2021. It also states that during the operation, pieces of ice fell to the
ground “in the vicinity of employees” causing work to be stopped pending an “evaluation”
and preparation of a “safe return to work plan.” (Nalcor should clarify if this was the incident that occurred on February 3, 2021 so that the public can see how many of those incidents have occurred and when.)

Nalcor’s reported an earlier January 11, 2021 incident, made to a select mailing list, about damages on 8 towers (the electrode cross arm circled in red in the picture below is reported by Nalcor as the location of the damage on the towers . We now learn from the Liberty Report for the PUB that “16 areas have been identified as experiencing electrode line conductor damage…”

Multiple engineers have confirmed for the Uncle
Gnarley Blog that the damages from icing on the LIL are far more serious than Nalcor

Reports also confirm that Nalcor has asked Valard, the original LIL contractor, to
organize a crew of more than 50 workers, based in Goose Bay. Another crew is situated in Forteau, to begin the repairs. Valard
has a contingent located in Churchill Falls where they are completing an
insulator replacement contract. 

The latest towers requiring repair are located about 70-80kms
along St Paul’s River Road in the Crooks Lake area which is about 25 kl west of
DC2 on the map shown (below); that is about 150 kl. southeast of Goose Bay.

Upon reviewing the brief incident alert, one engineer
consulted indicated this raises major concern for tower structural
  “Presumably Valard, a
leading transmission line builder, sent a very experienced crew and should have
been able to do this work without incident.
The loss of Electrode Line 2 with workers on and around the towers is
something of a stunner.
  Cold weather
repairs with higher line tension should have been included in the design.
  The loss of one wire this early in the life
of the system is bad enough but to have another fall off during a repair,
really seems to point to unforeseen critical weakness in the tower design.
  An independent design review appears warranted”,
the engineer advised.

Limiting massive structural damage, advises another Engineer, are
‘anti-cascade’ towers situated every 2 km from a given section.  ‘Anti-cascade’ towers are used because other
towers can’t be relied upon to resist damage from sudden unloading of the cable
tension, in the case of a dropped line.

Damaged cross arms (show in the red circle)

The second engineer advises that, considering the same
difficult weather conditions that affected a very large area, we should expect
to hear of even more damages when a full inspection is completed.

Local reports suggest that icing as thick as 10 inches had
built up on the transmission towers.

The engineer notes that the problem of the latest tower
failures is magnified, because they are located in an area very difficult to reach,
except from the air.

Damaged towers within 140 kl or so of Goose Bay are an ‘easy’
fix “for a good contractor”, he suggests. But that is only because, in that area, the line runs along the Trans
Labrador Highway (TLH). Away from the TLH, farther southwest – after the
“first 140” – access and off-road conditions are a “logistical nightmare”, especially if big crews and heavy
equipment are required to make the repairs. In the St. Paul’s River/Crooks
River area bridges were pulled back after construction of the line was
completed. The Liberty Report notes that some repair sites require “snow clearing of approximately 65 km. (For reference purposes, this is equal to 3 times the length of the Witless Bay Line.) 

Ground access is a
massive problem when snow volumes are large. Labrador has gotten a lot of snow this winter (except Labrador is always
the recipient of those superlatives). 
Access during the spring thaw is almost impossible.

Snow Conditions TLH (feb 2021)
(Photo Credit: Dennis Burden)

The engineer states that a “fix” required midway between DC2
and DC3 (denoted on the map above) could require a repair time of 4-6 months. He adds:
“any access to these towers will require ‘A LOT’ of clearing if heavy equipment
is necessary.”

Nalcor’s problems on the LIL are of their own design and are
likely only beginning. 
The “return period” is a metric that indicates the capacity of the system to withstand loading pressure from icing or other forces. Newfoundland Power’s Consultant confirmed for the PUB that the LIL
has only a 50-year return period. 

The Commission of Inquiry advises that they found
“no evidence that a decision to increase the return period of the line was ever
made…”  The Commission stated that “A 1:500-year
return period is suggested for high-voltage lines that “constitute the
principal or perhaps the only source of supply to a particular electric load.””
(Vol 1, p. 40) This standard was sacrificed by Nalcor in pursuit of project sanction based upon the anticipated savings from closing the Holyrood Thermal Generating
Station (HTGS).

The Commissioner stated that Nalcor’s refusal to account for a
higher return period is “consistent with Nalcor’s pattern of underestimating
the likely costs prior to Project sanction.”

The current situation on the LIL offers many lessons; some of
them we have heard before.

Perhaps, the most important is this reminder: If Nalcor had
been permitted to shutter the HTGS, the Avalon Peninsula would likely now be in
the midst of #DARKNL.2 – just 6 years after the first debacle, in January 2014. If
the public is still oblivious to the inadequate AC power transmission capacity
to the Avalon, they need to know that the problem is still not remedied. Only a functioning HTGS can compensate for a failed DC
Link from Muskrat Falls.

In addition, while the commissioning of Turbine #2 is a shambles, only a trickle of power from Turbine #1 is being transmitted over the LIL as a result of these ice related damages. This should serve as a reminder of the economic
and life safety risks that accompanied Muskrat “madness”.

Two additional comments are necessary:

The PUB’s decision to reduce the frequency of the Reports on
the LIL provided by the Liberty Consulting Group, from monthly
to quarterly, is both unwise and untimely. It is also a decision that threatens
transparent oversight. After the abuse of process that occurred prior, during the DG2
Reference, and after project Sanction, who should know better than to let their guard down?

The public has never received meaningful disclosure from
Nalcor or GNL. They have not received it in the present situation either – not
from Nalcor, not from the Minister of Industry, Energy and Technology or his predecessors. Still, for Andrew Parsons to not be out front on this issue – showing Nalcor some leadership in matters of transparency and truthfulness – does not augur well.

For the public, it is too late to look for disclosure when the lights go
out. But, if there is a silver lining to be found in this new and emerging issue, it is that Holyrood can never be shuttered, NEVER, without an alternative back-up Plan. Sensible people should flog Nalcor’s “international experts” – or a GNL politician – if the idea is raised ever again.        

Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.


Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

If CFLCo is required to maximize its profit, then CFLCo should sell its electricity to the highest bidder(s) on the most advantageous terms available.


This is the most important set of negotiations we have engaged in since the Atlantic Accord and Hibernia. Despite being a small jurisdiction we proved to be smart and nimble enough to negotiate good deals on both. They have stood the test of time and have resulted in billions of dollars in royalties and created an industry which represents over a quarter of our economy. Will we prove to be smart and nimble enough to do the same with the Upper Churchill?