Image from Turning Point Generation website
Work for the proposed pumped hydro energy project outside of Obed is underway this year, but construction likely won’t begin until the spring, according to Turning Point Generation (TPG) president, Kipp Horton.
TPG develops renewable energy storage projects and is developing the pumped hydro energy storage project located 13 kilometres east of Hinton called The Canyon Creek Project.
“I think the biggest milestone recently was the fact that TC energy has come in as a partner on the project with us,” Horton said of the equity investment made earlier this year that will help advance the project.
Since TC Energy joined the project, there has been a lot of work behind the scenes on how to move forward together.
Horton explained they’ve spent a lot of time this summer getting on the same page regarding the configuration and the construction schedule.
“We did some site work, field investigative work, this summer at the site to gain more information for the finalized engineering design. Things like subsurface, geotechnical investigations field work. All of that is very important to inform the final design from an engineering perspective,” Horton added.
Horton hopes to continue with the current momentum throughout the fall with the near term goal of creating a final investment decision (FID) jointly with their partner, TC Energy.
An FID is the point in an energy project when the companies owning or operating the project approve the project’s future development and are able to move ahead with the project.
“Both parties are highly motivated to do that as soon as possible,” Horton added.
Horton noted that TC Energy has been a great corporate citizen and well respected in the Hinton area. TPG is happy to have a chance to move this project forward with them.
“We’re not there yet, the project is not 100 per cent a go at this point as I said, but we’re optimistic and we’re looking to be a good partner and part of the community for a long long time,” he said.
Construction won’t start until that final investment decision is made but things are moving nicely in that direction, Horton added. Realistically, construction wouldn’t begin until after spring break up.
While there are several hydro projects in Alberta, this particular hydro energy storage project is very unique and the first of its kind in Western Canada.
A similar project to this one was built in the 1950s in Ontario at Niagara Falls, but otherwise this is a fairly new concept in Canada.
“We own and operate various hydro projects throughout BC, we as a team and TC energy are quite familiar with hydro plants. It’s just this specific storage application is very unique,” Horton said.
Horton described the hydro energy storage project as a water battery.
There will be one upper freshwater reservoir and one lower reservoir, which will be connected in a closed loop system by an underground pipe. The system will not be connected to any existing water sources.
At night, when the power demand in the province is very low and therefore power prices are very low, the hydro plant will use that power to pump water from the lower pond to the upper pond. During the day, water will flow back down to the lower reservoir creating energy when demand is at its peak.
Horton explained that a lot of wind farms in southern Alberta produce more power at night due to strong winds, and the hydro energy storage project can act as a sponge to absorb all that excess unused power while everyone is asleep.
“Everybody wakes up, switches on the lights, industry ramps up during the day and the demand for electricity goes up in the province, therefore prices go up and we can produce power for the grid and for Alberta consumers when it’s most needed during the day time,” Horton said.
The reservoirs require one initial fill and may need to be topped up from time to time due to evaporation.
The upper reservoir is planned to be located in the southeast corner of the old Obed Mountain Coal Mine surface lease, while the lower one will be up from the Athabasca River. Both will use existing topography and have a berm to impound the water.
The Canyon Creek Project will have an initial generating capacity of 75 megawatts that has the potential to expand to up to 400 MW with future development.
As coal fired power plants in the province are continuing to be decommissioned, there seems to be a continued push on growing renewable rates as well, Horton said. While there are many benefits to renewable energy, Horton said one downside is that it’s variable and intermittent.
“You can’t rely on it and so we act as a sort of nice counter to that and a partner to that respect,” Horton added.
Horton pointed out that this project can ensure there is always power coming onto the grid even when a lot of other power plants are challenged due to the weather, like no wind or sun.
The construction phase will bring on several hundred jobs at various times throughout the project construction schedule, which will take roughly two years once ground is broken and has an estimated cost of around $200M.
Once the construction is done, the project will create five to ten permanent jobs.
“What’s great about this type of project, if you look at the history of them, they stay around for a long time in the community. TransAlta owns projects in Alberta that are 100 years old and they never run out of fuel,” Horton said.
Hydro plants don’t need any major repowering, while solar power wears out after 20 years and wind turbines need to be replaced after 25 years, said Horton.
Hydro plants are run simply by a turbine, which is nothing more than a bucket wheel, he added.
There is some preventative maintenance that is required along the way but it will be in the community for a long time.
The AESO (Alberta electric system operator) and the power market in Alberta both allow and enable merchant generation as well as energy storage projects.
The Alberta Utilities Commission has a well defined process for the approval of power plants, including hydro.
The Canyon Creek Project has received the approval of the Alberta Utilities Commission and the required approval of the Alberta Government for hydro projects under the Canyon Creek Hydro Development Act, passed with bi-partisan support by the Alberta Legislature.