Questions Mount About $1.6 Billion Niagara Tunnel Project

New questions about the prudence of OPG’s Niagara Tunnel project have recently been presented in this article by Maryellen Tighe in the Buffalo News. In the article, John Kangas, chairman of the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides information indicating that the new tunnel will not increase the total amount of power generated at Niagara.

The article states that “the U.S. has been drawing off whatever amount of water Canada could not handle, up to the treaty limit. The U.S. used the water to generate power, and then sent half of it back to Canada, Kangas said. The rest of that power was taken by the U.S. as a rental fee. ‘The U.S. has had more capability to produce energy, but now with the new tunnel they (Ontario Power Generation) have the capacity to process that water,’ Kangas said.”

The question of how much net new generation from the Niagara River that the new tunnel will create adds to a long list of questions about the prudence of the project and its management. For example, why did OPG’s contractor Stabag use a tunnel boring machine not set up to do rock bolting immediately behind the cutter head? Was it because Strabag used a tunnel boring machine originally designed for hard rock conditions at Manapuri in New Zealand? How could OPG have been caught by surprise about the rock conditions at Niagara having completed two tunnels through the same rock in the 1950s and having commenced geotechnical and engineering studies on the new project in 1982?

The Ontario Energy Board will have an opportunity to review aspects of the prudence of the project in 2012 at the earliest.

Update as of June 28 4pm: OPG has offered to reply to questions on the tunnel project. More information will be posted here next week.