FREDERICTON (GNB) – NB Power has awarded a contract to the Swedish firm ABB Inc. to begin investing $30 million in an upgrade to the Eel River high-voltage direct current converter station, located near Dalhousie.

The bidirectional station transfers up to 350 megawatts (MW) and is one of the two facilities that allows for power exchange between New Brunswick and Quebec, providing access to Maritime and New England markets.

"This is another investment in ensuring we keep New Brunswick power rates the lowest in Atlantic Canada for the foreseeable future," said Gaëtan Thomas, president and chief executive officer, NB Power. "Maximizing our geographic advantage as we both buy and sell power is absolutely key to staying profitable and starting to pay down $1 billion in debt during the next decade."

The $30-million investment will replace original equipment that is now at the end of its useful life. The main driver for construction of the station in the early 1970s was the development of the Churchill Falls hydro project, which provided a large block of inexpensive surplus energy to eastern Canada.

The 350-MW transfer capability between Quebec and New Brunswick through Eel River enabled NB Power to participate in the movement of energy from Quebec and Labrador to New Brunswick and other neighbouring markets.

In addition to the import/export functions, the Eel River station is capable of providing various ancillary services that are important for stabilizing the New Brunswick grid with the current amount of wind generation.

"New Brunswick benefits in many ways from this facility,” said Thomas. “When energy in Quebec or Labrador is relatively inexpensive, we can buy that energy through the station. When we have excess energy, we sell it at a profit and transfer it through the station. When Nova Scotia or Maine buys energy from Quebec, they pay us a fee for transmitting the power through the station and over our transmission lines. Upgrading the station will allow our customers to continue realizing all these benefits while helping us keep our rates stable over time."

The Eel River station was recognized as a technology milestone by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 2011 for being the world's first commercial high-voltage direct current converter station to be equipped with solid state high-voltage, high-current-silicon thyristors (solid-state semiconductors) based on fibre optics, an emerging technology at the time, replacing the previously used mercury-arc valve-based systems.

ABB Inc. pioneered high-voltage direct current converter technology almost 60 years ago, and it remains the world leader in this highly-efficient technology with more than 70 such projects around the world, providing a transmission capacity of more than 60,000 MW. Many of the early high-voltage direct current links are now reaching an age where availability, reliability and efficiency can be improved through system upgrades.

ABB Inc. was chosen for a variety of factors but most notably for having taken responsibility for the engineering studies, installation, testing and commissioning of some 17 similar upgrade projects around the world since 1990.

The station will be worked on during an outage extending from spring to fall 2014 and is expected to be fully operational in the late fall of 2014. During this time, NB Power will also be replacing other end-of-life plant equipment that will interface with the new ABB-supplied equipment.