February 10, 2011

Niagara Tunnel an innovation worth paying for

CANADA/ENVIRONMENT - Deep underneath Niagara Falls a 4,000 tonne drill named "Big Becky" is drilling a 10.2 kilometre long tunnel, 14 meters wide, that is soon due to near its goal above the Niagara Falls. Once the pipe is completed it will channel 500 cubic meters of water / second through turbines and produce 1.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

And better yet, it preserves the natural beauty of the Niagara Falls.

The $1 billion project has gone over budget and eventually came in at $1.6 billion, but that is normal for all large scale projects.

For example the refit of Bruce Nuclear is $2 billion over the original estimate and has cost $3.8 billion as of November 2010. Its also overdue for completion. New estimates say it will be $5 billion by the time its completely done.

And there is other examples too, too many to mention. But basically its the problem of labour management. When you hire people to build a bridge or construct a road, they give you an estimate. Its usually a "base estimate", but what they don't include is all the time workers stand around drinking coffee waiting for the cement trucks to arrive. And its not just waiting for trucks to arrive. There are often unforeseen delays. Its the delays that adds the extra costs.

See the following videos to see how a British team tried to fix a road in 1 day, a project that normally takes at least a week.

But back to the Niagara Tunnel...

The 10.2 kilometre tunnel will carry water from above Niagara Falls to the Sir Adam Beck generating station in Queenston at a rate of 500 cubic metres a second.

Right now there is 9.5 km done, there is less than 0.7 km left. Work started in 2005 when the 4,000-tonne drilling behemoth Big Becky was first built and 'she' started eating through the rock in 2006.

If everything stays on schedule she will be done in April.

The 14 meter wide tunnel will then be smoothed down to make the water flow through it faster. The more perfectly round and smooth the pipe is the more energy that the turbines can generate because the water will go through much faster.

The final completion date is in 2013.

The entire enterprise has meant moving 1.7 million cubic metres of solid rock, and there was an unforeseen obstacle. Underneath the Niagara Falls there is a subterranean gorge at the base of waterfalls which had be drilled around because the nearby rock was unsuitable for tunneling.

Engineering projects like this are WORTH DOING. They foresee our needs in the future and get them done today so we can avert higher electricity rates in the future.

Conservative leader Tim Hudak meanwhile thinks projects like the Niagara Tunnel should be scrapped because they are too expensive and always go over budget. He is correct about the over budget part, but he hasn't realized that they're still worth it because otherwise we will end up paying for our lack of foresight in the future. Apparently he thinks it would be cheaper to buy our electricity from the USA, a country where electricity rates are also skyrocketing and will certainly be more expensive.

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