Canadian Consulting Engineer

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Award of Excellence Developing Hydroelectric Potential in Northern Ontario

Hatch was retained by the Ontario Waterpower Association and the Province to identify the most cost-effective hydropower sites in six major watersheds in Northern Ontario. The development of such sites will benefit off-grid First Nation...


Hatch was retained by the Ontario Waterpower Association and the Province to identify the most cost-effective hydropower sites in six major watersheds in Northern Ontario. The development of such sites will benefit off-grid First Nation communities and the Ring of Fire mining region through the supply of clean, reliable energy.

The assessment identified promising water power opportunities for most of the 20 remote off-grid First Nation Communities in the Far North of Ontario. The development of these sites will reduce the communities’ reliance on increasingly expensive diesel generation and reduce emissions in an environmentally-sensitive region. Hydroelectric power development will also benefit the Ring of Fire mining region.

The landmark study identified more than the province’s stated goal of 9,000 MW of renewable power that can be developed at a reasonable life-cycle cost. Furthermore, the screening tool identified opportunities of a size that a community could afford.

The communities can take a significant role in developing the projects in conjunction with a third party development partner. A more reliable and accessible power supply will enhance the communities’ quality of life and provide them a share in the economic benefits for the next century. Employment opportunities will be created during construction and afterwards.

Potential projects identified in the vicinity of the Ring of Fire mining area, of a size suited to industrial demands, were found to be very attractive, with an all-in supply cost under $0.07 per kWh. This potential will encourage the development of this resource, enhancing economic development throughout the North.

Finally, some sites were identified that could help the province with its need for large-capacity waterpower to offset issues created by other renewable energy resources.

Evaluation of environmental and fixed costs

To establish the life cycle costs, Hatch evaluated data from more than 50 constructed or planned waterpower facilities located in Canada’s North. The assessment established cost functions for the environmental assessment costs, “fixed” costs of generating equipment and concrete structures, and site specific costs.

The energy potential at specific sites was based on an assessment of Water Survey of Canada records at 40 locations. This data was used to develop relationships between a watershed area and mean annual runoff, and the proportion of the annual flow volume that could be captured for power supply. The assessment was for a range of installed plant capacities.

A customized GIS model was used to process all the available information efficiently and accurately. A variety of built-in ArcGIS processes and custom Python scripts, using more than 1,000 individual processes, determined the watershed area, access distance, sub-transmission distance, dam volume and reservoir volume for a range of feasible dam heights for each of the potential sites. The model then computed the mean annual flow, installed capacity, average annual energy and project life cycle cost. Finally it computed the Levelized Unit Energy Cost (LUEC). The LUEC was used to guide the determination of the optimum development plan for the river.

A post-process evaluation then assessed the thousands of potential projects to determine the optimum development scheme along any given watercourse. The assessment accounted for the fact that the characteristics of a development for a small First Nations community would be very different from the needs of the Ring of Fire.

A hopeful future

Ontario’s Far North is already being stressed by the effects of climate change, which is recognized as one of the greatest threats to this ecosystem. In addition, as communities grow and economic development moves forward in this region, the impacts of relying on diesel generation will become significant. Such issues as degradation of local and regional air quality, the need to fly fuel supplies into the remote communities, and the increasing costs associated with the reliance on fossil fuels can impact both social and environmental health.

If developed, the power would help to overcome these difficulties. It would displace over 20,000,000 tones of greenhouse gas emissions annually, assuming it displaces generation from natural gas. cce

Project name: Developing Hydroelectric Potential in Northern Ontario

Award-winning firm (prime consultant): Hatch, Niagara Falls, Ont. (Stuart Bridgeman, P.Eng., Richard Donnelly, P.Eng., Andrew Mellick, Michelle Miller, CET, Dequan Zhou, P.Eng.)

Clients: Ontario Waterpower Association and Ontario Government (Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Natural Resources, Ontario Power Authority)