Hydro Ottawa, Councillor Jan Harder, Ottawa City
I had the opportunity to visit the Chaudiere Falls Hydro plant last month and was truly amazed at the scope of what Hydro Ottawa has accomplished. Situated in one of the most spectacular natural landscapes Ottawa has to offer, it provides the energy required for our city while minimising the environmental impact of such a facility.
The hydro plant was expanded and renovated recently to be able to meet the growing hydro needs of our city. Hydro Ottawa bought the plant from Hydro Quebec – the first time Hydro Quebec ever sold one of its plants. The Ottawa plant is 29 watts and produces enough power to supply 20 000 homes, about 1/3 of Ottawa. It took 40 years of funding, raising over 200 million dollars, to complete this project.
The plant has been situated at Chaudiere Falls since the turn of the twentieth century and despite all the latest technological advances, some things remain the same. The area of the dam is largely unchanged. In fact, it has been staffed continuously 24 hours, 365 days a year since 1908! Last year due to the severe flooding, all the bays had to be open to allow the waters to flow through – the first time this ever took place. According to staff at hydro, no one had ever experienced this and there were a lot of sleepless nights. Another symbol from the plant’s original days is the big plank of wood that is still used as a measuring tool for water levels.
An interesting feature of the plant is that it all below grade. It is 5 stories high, but you won’t see that as it was constructed below grade so as not to obstruct the beautiful views of the site. There are control rooms with monitors that display all the views from the underwater cameras which indicate if there are any issues with the generator. Furthermore, there is an automatic shut down in case there is a trip so that the grid is protected in case of a major outage.
The plant also achieves the latest certifications available to protect the environment. There is zero waste produced and the hydro is a fully renewable resource. Additionally, Hydro has put in a place clear water tubes where staff can see any wildlife that gets trapped. The Ottawa River Keeper and wildlife conservatives are involved to make sure that the fish and especially the American eel, which are in in the endangered species list, are protected. There is a fine mesh that protects them and a separate tube that allows them to swim up shore. The American eel is born in Bermuda and swims all the way to the Ottawa River. With the latest conservation efforts and technology, eel survival has gone from 79 to 99 per cent.
The site outside is fully accessible and there are pathways and benches for visitors to enjoy the views of the river and powerful waters flowing through the dams. Chaudiere is now the oldest hydroelectric plant still in operation and it is the first time the area is accessible to the public. I highly recommend taking some time this summer to visit the site and appreciate what we have right in our backyard.