Guest Post by PlanetNL
PlanetNL42: Electrification at MUN + Broken
A Formula For Political and Academic
Government announcements issued on Friday afternoons
are almost certainly bad news disguised as good. Government will try to spin only the positives
while the media and public must figure out the negatives.
So it was this past Friday when much enthusiasm was
fawned over the planned conversion of Memorial University’s central heating plant
from oil to electricity. Provincial, Federal,
and Memorial representatives lauded the emissions reduction that would result from
10.5 million liters less fuel consumption at Memorial. The $10.5M project will
be funded 50/50 by Federal and Provincial programs specific to reduction of greenhouse
gas emissions. All that sounds great – there
couldn’t possibly be any downside, could there?
Well, what if reducing 10.5 million liters of
diesel consumption at Memorial requires the Holyrood Thermal Generating Station
to burn 30 million more liters of heavy fuel oil, resulting in far worse provincial
emissions and increased cost to ratepayers?
That’s the kind of info that does not get mentioned at these
When Will Muskrat Power Truly and Fully Arrive?
To succeed, electrification initiatives to reduce
emissions need green energy to replace fossil fuels. The new source of green energy in this
province is supposed to be Muskrat Falls hydropower delivered to the Island by
the Labrador Island Link (LIL).
That would be the same LIL whose construction was essentially
complete back in 2017 and has since been plagued by alleged software design
problems. It has operated at an average of
about 10% of it’s rated design capacity and is normally either out of service
altogether or whatever is available is shipped off to meet contractual
commitments to Nova Scotia. The share of
energy used on the Island has been miniscule. After five years of endless failure, utility
and government officials refuse to admit this is a lemon of their own
The only serious appraisal of the situation has
come from the Public Utilities Board US-based consultant, Liberty Consulting
Group. Liberty’s latest quarterly report, issued on March 11, stated they have
no idea when, if ever, the LIL will operate as intended. They stopped just shy of saying what has
become obvious: that if the project is left in the hands of the same set of
managers who have repeatedly failed to date, we should expect it will never
The evidence regarding the dismal prospects for
the LIL are quite plain to see. It is
simply not reasonable to expect that green energy from Muskrat will be
available to supply the new Memorial electric boilers in the foreseeable future. Extra winter season electrical power will
instead have to come from the same place is has for decades: Holyrood.
Irrespective of the source, it may remain true in
the narrowest sense that Memorial will not burn oil on their own property and may
therefore lay claim to becoming a greener campus, keeping up with their
mainland and global competition in being able to boast they are greening up
their operations. The claim is however a
total farce if the utility is forced to burn fuel to meet this new electricity
demand – in fact, far more fuel than Memorial expects to save.
|Memorial University Heating Plant|
Major GHG Reduction Backfire
A few more facts expose the magnitude of the risk
that the politicians and Memorial executives fail to recognize.
First is that Holyrood is a rather inefficient
generating station that converts only 30-35% of fuel energy into electricity. Contrast this to a heating plant boiler system
such as Memorial’s that typically turns 75% or more of the fuel energy into
You don’t need to be an Engineering Professor to do
the math on this one. It’s clear that Holyrood
must burn about 2.5 times as much fuel to supply Memorial’s new electricity
requirements than if the University stayed with its current fuel-fired boiler. Provincial GHG output will not be going down
but will instead rise dramatically higher!
To add further injury to insult, Holyrood burns unrefined
#6 fuel oil, compared to much cleaner refined #2 diesel presently used at Memorial. This results in enormously higher production
of black soot particulates and other toxins more immediately dangerous to
people and the environment.
The Premier spoke at the press event of how the boiler
conversion project would be the equivalent of taking over 6000 cars off the road. If Holyrood generates the power as we should
expect, the result is very much the opposite: adding 15,000 cars!
These wouldn’t be relatively clean modern diesel
cars either. This virtual fleet of 15,000
extra cars would be noxious stinkers powered by dirty unrefined bunker fuel, with
no anti-pollution equipment, driving back and forth on the roads of Conception
Bay South, all day, and all night. Think
about the most choking and polluting diesel vehicles you have ever encountered
and imagine these 15,000 cars all being worse.
Transfer of Cost from MUN/GNL to Ratepayers
Another key issue conveniently ignored at the
announcement event involves who would pay the excess energy cost imposed by
increasing Holyrood fuel consumption.
The answer is: not Memorial.
Instead, the cost will be absorbed by all electric utility ratepayers.
The cost of the 30 million liters of extra fuel consumed
at Holyrood, attributable to Memorial’s heating system electrification, will be
about $35 million at current oil costs.
The extra electricity revenue coming back from
Memorial likely covers just 20% of the fuel cost. Ratepayers should expect a burden of about
$28 Million to provide Memorial with their delusion of emissions
reduction. The resulting rate increase
to be applied to ALL electricity customers will be 0.4 c/KWh.
Extracting that $28 Million annually from
ratepayers also negatively affects the local economy as disposable consumer
capital and corporate investment capital are reduced.
The extra cost to ratepayers is not a one-time event
either. It’s annual until such time as
the LIL works as intended or other new green energy sources are developed in
response to the failure of the LIL. At
the snail’s pace NL Hydro and Government are moving, this is likely many years
into the future. It’s easy to see
unnecessary costs to ratepayers growing to $100 Million or more.
Also, not to be forgotten is that the extra oil expenditure
flows out of the province supporting indirectly if not directly all the
terrible geopolitical problems that accompany oil dependency. This new oil demand will support regimes such
as Russia and Saudi Arabia whether the oil comes from there or not.
Why Does Absurdity Reign Supreme in This
To recap, we are witnessing a plan that appears to
be set for dismal economic and environmental failure.
If the LIL continues to be the flop that it has
been, and it appears illogical to think otherwise, then there is no reliable
green energy to count upon for true fuel abatement and emissions
reduction. The more likely result is increased
fuel consumption and emissions. The
emissions will also be qualitatively much more harmful. On top of that, higher electricity rates will
negatively impact the local economy and instead support foreign oil interests, supporting
autocratic and despotic regimes.
To be sure, this plan is just insane and is not
what any reasonable citizen of this province should want.
Of course, we know that wherever Muskrat is
involved, Government should be expected to double down on their stupidity.
Observing our University participating in this
high-risk charade, however, is a new low for our province’s self-respect. That the University has proven itself incapable
of seeing the big picture here is a matter of dire concern.
Surely there must be some willing protagonists at
Memorial, among students, faculty and staff, who can deliver similar analysis to
challenge their executives to defer on this plan until such time as green
electricity is proven to be available and reliable. Some from Engineering and Economics are top
of mind, but those in many other programs should see an opportunity to expose
the high risks inherent in this undertaking.
But will they?
For the proposed project to have made it this far
is frankly an outsize embarrassment for the University. A project with far greater chance of having
costly risks materialize than potential benefits should never have been
In an era of high claim to environmental awareness
and climate science, the University’s commitment to such damaging risk is
unforgivable and a terrible indication of subjugation to a misguided Government
That a blogsite has to provide this preliminary
analysis and construct the argument against the project because the University appears
incapable or unwilling to properly attend to its own business, speaks ever more
poorly for the future of the institution and for the province.
Sources and Related Reading:
Memorial University news release on boiler
conversion, March 25, 2022 Emissions
CBC.ca report, March 26, 2022 MUN
boiler to go electric with $10.5M from federal, provincial governments | CBC
Liberty Consulting Quarterly Monitoring Report to
PUB, March 11, 2022 The
Liberty Consulting Group Fourteenth Quarterly Monitoring Report –
PlanetNL28 – Electrification: Good Business or
Sleight of Hand? UNCLE
GNARLEY: ELECTRIFICATION: GOOD BUSINESS OR POLITICAL SLEIGHT-OF-HAND?
CBC.ca report, January 28, 2020 From
fossil fuels to Muskrat: How MUN could lead the charge to electrify public
buildings |CBC News