Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad

 NNSL Photo

Plant operator/mechanic Steve Higgs wipes his hands after checking one of Jackfish power plant's Cat diesel engines. The plant had to increase diesel consumption the last two years to make up for low water levels on the Snare River. - Mike W. Bryant/NNSL photo

Low water, more diesel at Yk power plant

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 01/04) - Despite the GNWT's aim to service Yellowknife's energy needs almost exclusively with hydro power, low water levels have forced the NWT Power Corporation to burn diesel at a rate not seen since 1998.

For three straight years -- 1999 to 2002 -- the Power Corp. managed to bring the amount of diesel used at the Jackfish Power Plant down to five to seven per cent of Yellowknife's power needs.

The Power Corp. estimates that this year, 20 per cent of the city's electricity will be generated by diesel -- about 10,700,000 litres worth.

The city's power supply was running on 54 per cent diesel as late as 1995.

"In a regular water year the (Jackfish power) plant would be virtually closed," said Randy Patrick, the Power Corp.'s North Slave director.

"We run more (diesel) in a low water year because we're trying to save water for winter."

The low water levels meant between two and three diesel generators had to be kept running all day and night during the summer.

Patrick said the plant has since been able to cut back on its night-time use.

"This past week I checked and there was eight, 10 hours a night where nothing was running," Patrick said last week.

He expects the plant will be running diesel for about 10 hours a day in November.

Denis Labelle, a disgruntled worker at the Jackfish power plant, said the fact that the Power Corp. needed to have generators running at night is proof enough that plant operators should have been there to monitor the evening shift this summer.

He slammed his employers last month for failing to report a 13,000 litre diesel spill that occurred overnight Sept. 22. In a cost cutting move, the Power Corp. cut plant operators from the night shift in June.

"Within three months, to have a spill of this magnitude or even worse, doesn't make up for anything," said Labelle, who phoned NWT News/North while vacationing in Montreal.

He was also angered by the Power Corp.'s claim in the Oct. 22 edition of Yellowknifer that plant operators make $100,000 to $120,000 a year.

Director of corporate services, Brian Willows, offered the number in an attempt to justify its decision to cut shifts. Even with a clean-up bill that could cost as much as $150,000, Willows said Power Corp. is still saving up to $350,000 by cutting the plant operators' shifts.

Labelle said in 15 years at the plant the most he ever made was $89,000 last year, including overtime.

"I've never made triple-digit numbers," said Labelle, adding he has the T-4 slips to prove it."My usual salary is about $65,000."

Willows stood by the earlier claims, saying he's tired of negotiating with Labelle "through the media."

"I looked at the T-4 slips last week and I can tell you that it is possible to make over $100,000 in that position," said Willows.