HazMat Management

Decommissioning Quebec’s last oil-fired power plant

By the end of 2013, the skyline near Montreal will be a little barer, and a lot cleaner, as the decommissioning of the “dinosaur” thermal generating facility in Sorel-Tracy — with its four colossal chimneys like...

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January 23, 2013 by Hazmat Management

By the end of 2013, the skyline near Montreal will be a little barer, and a lot cleaner, as the decommissioning of the “dinosaur” thermal generating facility in Sorel-Tracy — with its four colossal chimneys like industrial-sized candy canes — is finally realized.     

News of the decommissioning, which began the week of January 14, 2013, came as somewhat of a relief to environmentalists who’ve long scratched their heads over the seemingly anachronistic facility that sits on the bank of the St. Lawrence River. As the only oil-fired power generating plant left in Quebec, it’s a structure that has shown remarkable, perhaps even stubborn endurance, ever since the 660-megawatt plant was built in 1962, half-a-century ago.

“The dinosaur is finally buried! All of Quebec must rejoice,” the Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique (AQLPA) proclaimed in a January 2013 statement to media.  

The Quebec environmental group has reason to celebrate. It previously protested the Sorel-Tracy facility, arguing it contributed significantly to the problems of air quality and even acid rain through sulfur dioxide (SO2) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to its dependence on heavy fuel oil.

In 2003 alone, the Sorel-Tracy facility may have pumped upwards of 12,000 tonnes of SO2 into the atmosphere, AQLPA says.

The downsides of keeping the facility running have not been lost on Sorel-Tracy’s owners, Hydro-Quebec, who told EcoLog News they’ve been waiting for just the right time to decommission the facility that spans more than 11,000 square metres.

Ever since the 1970s, Sorel-Tracy functioned as a “back-up” for peak energy times, especially during winter, explains Hydro-Quebec Spokesperson Jonathan Petit.

“When energy would spike we needed it,” Petit says. “That’s why we waited. Now there are 60 other plants, many of them hydroelectric. From an environmental aspect, it was not as green as other plants. This was the only plant using oil in Quebec, so we chose to close it.”

During the 1970s, Sorel-Tracy would often be used for just 100 hours per year. In 2002, thermal plants used only three per cent of Quebec’s total energy use. By the time 2010 rolled along, the facility’s hours per year hit single digits. 

Hydro-Quebec speculated that it could have cost upwards of $25 million per year (after the necessary renovations were made) to keep the facility and its four main generating units up and running.

A tender for Sorel-Tracy’s decommissioning was issued in June 2012 when the plant closed its doors. Later, in November, the contract was awarded to Silverdell PLC, the Specialist Environmental Support Services group.

“In one year there will not be anything on the site,” assures Petit.

Silverdell, in conjunction with EDS Decommissioning, says it’s aiming for approximately 37,000 tonnes of reusable plant equipment and metals for industrial sale. The company estimates the resale value could approach $19 million. 

When Sorel-Tracy closed its doors, the 80 or so employees could choose to retire or be transferred to another hydro facility, Petit says.

Silverdell will undertake the decommissioning of the power plant, including asbestos removal, dismantling and the sale of the reusable assets.

“Maybe the land will be sold, but it’s too early to say,” Petit says.

Though it dominated the landscape some 60 kilometres from Montreal, Sorel-Tracy was only the 15th largest hydro plant in Quebec.

Petit says additional tenders may be needed to conduct soil remediation once the Sorel-Tracy facility is fully decommissioned.

  This news item first appeared in EcoLog News. To learn how to subscribe, visit www.ecolog.com