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Rankin power outage due to mechanical failure

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, April 30, 2008

RANKIN INLET - Neither human error nor improper operation-and-maintenance procedures were to blame for the power outage that caused the hamlet of Rankin Inlet to declare a state of emergency this past February.

The hamlet's power woes began on Feb. 14 when the first of three of the community's four power generators failed.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Qulliq Energy Corp. President Anne Crawford and board of directors vicechair Ron Roach announce plans for a study on hydroelectric power in the Kivalliq in Rankin Inlet this past week. - Darrell Greer/NNSL photo

Two more went down during the next four days and the hamlet was in a state of emergency until Feb. 28.

Qulliq Energy Corp. (QEC) President and chief executive officer Anne Crawford and director of operations and maintenance Peter Mackay appeared before Rankin hamlet council this past week to discuss the findings of an independent review on the power failures.

The review was obtained through the Canadian Off-Grid Utilities Association and showed mechanical failure was behind all three engines going off-line.

The first was caused by a coolant leak, the second a premature deterioration of cooling seals, and the third by a very unusual and destructive loss of camshaft drive that resulted in damaged pistons and valve gear.

Crawford thanked council for the community's response and co-operation during the emergency.

She said the review showed there was little, if anything, plant workers could have done to prevent the crisis.

"The review clearly shows the occurrence should not be interpreted as reflecting poorly on the operating or maintenance practices at the QEC's Rankin Inlet generating plant," said Crawford.

"The nature and causes of the failures were not typical and the coincidence was unusual and unfortunate.

"The review further shows QEC's emergency response was exceptional, as was the understanding and co-operation of the community."

The review contained a number of recommendations for the Rankin plant, including an update of load settings for the G5 and G6 engines to improve efficiency.

It also recommended for QEC to consider replacing its aging Caterpillar engines, increase on-site monitoring and the number of monitors and alarms on auxiliary equipment, and improve training and operator confidence with the new residual-heating system.

Mackay said QEC will have a stand-by generator brought to Rankin, where it will remain.

He said while the outages were extremely rare, there's no guarantee they will never happen again.

"The QEC's reliability, in terms of in-plant outages, is above the industry standard across Canada," said Mackay.

"Our outages are almost always caused in distribution outside of the plant such as high wind and storms.

"We're above 99 per cent efficiency, in terms of outages inside the plant where engines are down.

"I'm not going to say we never have an engine fail at a plant, but never before did we have two or three fail in a four-day period."

Crawford said QEC is also looking at hydroelectric potential in the Kivalliq in an effort to get away from the consistent use of diesel.

"Diesel prices are going up around the world and we don't expect that's going to change," said Crawford.

"All our communities are diesel-dependent for their heat and electricity and we're working to address that.

"The QEC has initiated work in the Kivalliq to look at the potential for hydroelectricity in the region."

Crawford said the move is primarily for communities, but could also benefit the region's exploration companies.

"We've contracted a desktop study that will be done by a medium-sized engineering operation out of Vancouver, B.C., with a report-back date of November or December 2008.

"People won't actually be going out in the field but, rather, contacting communities and various exploration companies around the Kivalliq, including Coral Harbour.

"They will identify locations where there is a match between hydroelectric capacity, community need, and the potential to combine with mineral exploration companies to build infrastructure for communities.

"This study isn't likely to narrow it down to a single project, but it will complete the baseline work to show us where we should be investing our time and energy and, as a corporation, where we'll get our best return."