An alternate suggestion for the Enerdu Design Advisory Committee


From what has been reported in the Millstone News it appears that the Enerdu Design Advisory Committee is off to a good start in the effort to ensure that the massive new powerhouse proposed for the Enerdu upgrade is not a blight on our downtown waterfront. I wish you well in your deliberations. If this thing happens, it certainly should be made as attractive and unobtrusive as possible.

Unfortunately, I still have misgivings about putting this massive pile of masonry in the middle of the river, and feel that there has to be a better way to exploit the power potential of the upper falls. To that end I would like to suggest to the committee that a completely different approach might provide a much more attractive solution.

Instead of building a new powerhouse in the river, simply convert the existing generator station to a water intake only. This can be done within the footprint of the existing plant and presents no problem of how to hide an overbearing new plant. The upgraded water intake can then be connected by penstocks buried in the riverbed to the current intake of the MRPC plant above the middle falls. The water would then flow down through existing buried penstocks to the MRPC generator station at the bottom of the lower falls, and all power would be generated at the existing MRPC plant. In this way, the extra head from the upper falls can be transferred to the MRPC plant and provide an increase in its output.

There are a number of advantages to this approach:

  • The downtown riverscape would remain essentially as it is today.
  • The cost saving from eliminating the proposed powerhouse, turbines, generators and connection to the hydro grid would be offset by the new cost of the buried penstocks, but there would probably be a net cost saving.
  • There would be an operational cost savings with only one intake instead of two; less trash rack cleaning, and less frazil ice problems with only one intake.
  • The problem of noise and vibration from the rotating machinery in the basement of the present Enerdu building would be eliminated, making it easier to rent the apartments in the building.
  • The flooding problem caused by building the proposed powerhouse in the river would be eliminated, and the addition of the buried penstocks would increase the discharge capacity of this section of the river, further reducing any flood threat.
  • All power generation would be confined to the existing MRPC powerhouse. Although not exactly a thing of beauty, it does exist, and it is relatively hidden in its location. This approach is preferable to building a new powerhouse in a sensitive and highly visible location.
  • It is likely that any modifications to the MRPC powerhouse and equipment to accommodate the increased head would be minimal and would contribute towards keeping total costs of this option to less than the proposed Enerdu upgrade.
  • The operational and maintenance costs of the proposed new powerhouse would be eliminated.
  • With the elimination of a major aesthetic impediment, this option would likely gain popular support, and allow progress on a project that has up to now divided the community.

Although this new approach would have a number of clear advantages over the current Enerdu upgrade plan, there are a number of technical issues that need to be studied. These include:

  • Can the existing MRPC penstocks accommodate the added pressure from the additional upper falls head?
  • Will the existing MRPC turbines accommodate the additional head, or will modifications be needed, and at what cost?
  • Will the existing MRPC generators and associated electrical equipment be able to handle the additional power output, or will modifications be needed, and at what cost?

It is worthwhile to conduct a proper study of the technical issues, and the financial consequences of solving them, so that a rational choice can be made as to the optimum manner of exploiting the power potential of the upper falls. The costs of the upgrade can be shared in some mutually agreed fashion with the resulting increase in revenue shared appropriately.

In principle, this approach has merit and is feasible. It has already been used in the upgrade to the MRPC facility some years ago when the original powerhouse was converted to an intake only and a new power house was built at the bottom of the falls to utilize the combined heads of the middle and lower falls. Although there are technical issues involved that need to be investigated, I do believe that they are minimal and that the overall costs of this approach will be less than that of the current Enerdu plan.

The biggest potential problem is convincing all parties concerned (Enerdu, MRPC, Mississippi Mills Council, MNRF, MVCA, riparian owners, and residents of Almonte) to work together cooperatively to secure an outcome that is in the best interests of all. I hope that the Enerdu Design Advisory Committee will expand its horizons to have a serious look at this alternate approach and persuade the other players to participate.

 Al Seaman
February 13, 2015