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Lower Churchill Project

The Churchill River in Labrador is a significant source of renewable, clean electrical energy; however, the potential of this river has yet to be fully developed. The existing 5,428 megawatt (MW) Churchill Falls Generating Station, which began producing power in 1971, harnesses about 65 per cent of the potential generating capacity of the river. The remaining 35 per cent is located at two sites on the lower Churchill River, known as the Lower Churchill Project.

The Lower Churchill Project consists of two of the best undeveloped hydroelectric sites in North America: Gull Island, located 225 kilometers downstream from the existing Churchill Falls Generating Station; and Muskrat Falls, located 60 kilometers downstream from Gull Island. 

Combined, the projects can produce energy to supply up to 1.5 million households annually and contribute significantly to the reduction of air emissions from thermal, coal and fossil fuel power generation. In particular the projects would displace an estimated 16 megatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually from comparable production from coal thermal generation.

The nine-year construction period is scheduled to begin at Gull Island in 2009, with first commerical power scheduled for 2015. Construction of Muskrat Falls will be initiated approximately three years following the start of the Gull Island construction.

Project Description

The project consists of hydroelectric generating facilities at Gull Island and Muskrat Falls, and interconnecting transmission lines to the existing Labrador grid. The Lower Churchill Project will include engineering design and marketing studies conducted along with the environmental assessment. As part of the environmental assessment, alternative means of carrying out the project will be evaluated including capacity, design, layout, and technology. The project, as currently planned, will require optimization to reflect current market and business opportunities.

Optimization will determine details such as the size and number of turbines within each powerhouse, and construction sequencing. Such changes and refinements will not be significant, and will be consistent with the normal process leading to final project sanction.

Gull Island

The Gull Island facility will consist of a generating station with a capacity of approximately 2,000 MW and will include:

·        a dam 99 m high and 1,315 m long; and

·        a reservoir 200 km² at an assumed full supply level of 125 m above sea level.

The dam will be a central till-cored, rock-fill, zone embankment. The reservoir will be 225 km long, and the area of flooded land will be 85 km² at full supply level. The powerhouse will contain four to six Francis turbines.

Muskrat Falls

The Muskrat Falls facility will consist of a generating station approximately 800 MW in capacity and will include:

·        a concrete dam with two sections on the north and south abutments of the river; and

·        a 107 km² reservoir at an assumed full supply level of 39 m above sea level.

The north section dam will be 32 m high and 180 m long, while the south section will be 29 m high and 370 m long. The north section will serve as a spillway in extreme precipitation events. The reservoir will be 60 km long and the area of flooded land will be 41.2 km² at full supply level. The powerhouse will contain four to five Propeller or Kaplan turbines, or a combination of both.


The interconnecting transmission lines will consist of:

·        a 735 kV transmission line between Gull Island and Churchill Falls; and

·        two 230 kV transmission lines between Muskrat Falls and Gull Island.

The location of the transmission lines will be north of the Churchill River; the final route is the subject of a route selection study included in the environmental assessment. The lines between Muskrat Falls and Gull Island may be on separate towers, or combined on double-circuit structures.

Rationale and Need

Development of the untapped hydroelectric potential of the Churchill River will contribute benefits to the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador as a long-term renewable energy supply and source of revenue.

During construction, the project will make a strong contribution to the local and provincial economy through associated employment and business opportunities. Hydro also intends to implement employment and contracting measures to optimize economic benefits for the residents of the province.

The project will be developed to meet future provincial domestic and industrial needs and excess power will likely be exported, given the magnitude of the generating capacity relative to forecasted provincial load growth.


Aside from the financial and economic rewards, the project also has the potential of being a made-in-Canada solution to the growing demand for energy and increased concern regarding greenhouse gas emissions.


Environmental Commitment

Hydro is committed to maintaining a sustainable and healthy environment for future generations. The Company consistently reviews its business and operational practices to ensure it’s meeting its mandate to deliver safe, reliable least-cost power balanced with its environmental commitments. Hydro has professional staff trained in environmental sciences, ecology and engineering, who are responsible for staying current with environmental management processes, issues, techniques, and ensuring Hydro is meeting its regulatory and environmental responsibilities.

As the primary generator of electricity in the province and a member of the community, Hydro has a commitment and responsibility to protect the environment. The Company’s commitment to environmental leadership can be seen across its business activities through the ISO 14001 certified Environmental Management System (EMS). Hydro has chosen the internationally recognized ISO 14001 EMS standard for environmental protection, to drive continual improvement of environmental performance across the company and this includes the Lower Churchill Project.


Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is committed to a comprehensive, consultative and inclusive environmental assessment process to determine the environmental effects of developing the lower Churchill resource and will take a balanced approach to this development and address stakeholder concerns during the process.

For more information on Hydro’s environmental commitment visit, www.nlh.nl.ca/enviro2005/policy/policy.htm


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