The impending $10-million renovation project at Wilson’s Falls will see the reconstruction of the existing generating station.
Photo by Matt Driscoll)
BRACEBRIDGE - A $21-million overhaul of Bracebridge’s powerhouses is now underway.
The hydro plants at Bracebridge Bay and Wilson’s Falls are currently being decommissioned, with reconstruction set to take place this week or next.
The plants will be shut down until the expected completion date of the project in the first quarter of 2012.
Chris Litschko, CEO of Bracebridge Generation, reiterated last week that customers shouldn’t see any change on their hydro bills while the local powerhouses are out of commission.
“Lakeland Power’s rates will not be affected by these projects. Bracebridge Generation has signed a 20-year guaranteed pricing contract with the Ontario Power Authority under the Green Energy Act for both projects,” he said. “These plants are currently our two smallest. They’re embedded in Lakeland Power and feed directly onto its distribution system.”
Litschko said the next rate application to the Ontario Energy Board is not due until 2013. At that point, customers should actually see their rates drop.
“We are still projecting a rate decrease on the transmission charges by our next rate application,” he said. “Once the new upgrades are online transmission will definitely be decreased.”
Litschko also attempted to allay ongoing concerns about a decrease in the level of water coming over Bracebridge Falls.
Both Wilson’s Falls and Bracebridge Falls currently utilize 10,000 litres per second of water when operating at full capacity. After the upgrades, the plants will utilize 27,000 litres per second, something some fear will affect the esthetics of the falls.
Litschko said attention is being paid to the flows.
“Even before starting this process, we understood the value of these scenic locations on tourism and the local economy,” he said. “We took a balanced approach to generate more green electricity and improve the public’s experience at these locations.”
Litschko said Bracebridge Generation will institute a Flow Distribution Plan to ensure that the scenic beauty of the falls is given priority over the production of energy.
Litschko also pointed out that the project will create two new viewing platforms at Bracebridge Falls and another at Wilson’s Falls.
“These important initiatives reflect the company’s commitment to supporting tourism development and the local Bracebridge economy,” he said.
The design of the new facilities hit a roadblock with town council earlier this year when council vetoed the original plans for the powerhouse at Wilson’s Falls. A second plan was greeted far more favourably by council.
The Town of Bracebridge, along with several other Muskoka municipalities, owns Bracebridge Generation’s parent company, Lakeland Holdings.
“The Town of Bracebridge was the first municipality in Ontario, and one of the earliest in Canada, to produce hydroelectric power,” said Mayor Don Coates. “We are very pleased that Bracebridge Generation is building on this legacy through this exciting new investment in green energy production.”
Litschko said planning for the project started in early 2008, and the company has invested roughly $600,000 on environmental assessments.
Norcan Hydraulic Turbines Inc. of Carleton Place was selected to supply the turbine and generator for the project, said Litschko, and North American Construction of Morriston was awarded the civil construction contract for both plants. Litschko said no local companies bid on the contract.
Constructed in 1901, the Bracebridge Falls plant currently generates 600 kilowatts of electricity with older inefficient equipment, said Litschko. This plant’s unique “‘historical” look will be maintained and capacity increased to 2,600 kilowatts, he added, utilizing more efficient equipment that includes an expansion to the back of the building.
Constructed in 1910, the Wilson’s Falls plant currently generates 600 kilowatts of electricity. Due to degradation, this building will be replaced with a modern “Muskoka style” facility and capacity will increase to 2,900 kilowatts, utilizing more efficient equipment, said Litschko.
Litschko said it has been determined that some of the bricks from the existing Wilson’s Falls powerhouse were likely produced locally. Bracebridge Generation plans to use them as part of an interpretive display at the site.