Kapuskasing’s Lower Mattagami project is not only the largest hydroelectric development project in the province, but one of the most expensive at $2.5 billion.
Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is almost entirely reconstructing one existing dam at Smoky Falls and is upgrading three others in the surrounding area.
Currently in the first year of a five-year work schedule, the entire project is going to add another 440 megawatts to the grid.
The four stations – which includes the Harmon, Kipling and Little Long – are located 70 kilometres north of Kapuskasing.
“It’s a substantial project, and we’re seeing very positive economic spinoffs from it,” said Al Spacek, mayor of Kapuskasing. “We have focused on that from the outset that we will maximize the value of that project to this community and be aggressive in our discussions with both the OPG and the general contractors to make sure that they’re aware of what we have to offer them in terms of goods and services.”
The strong relationship between the community and the OPG has been very beneficial, not only for Kapuskasing, but for the entire region.
Spacek has seen heavy equipment being employed from Hearst and Timmins as well.
It was initially estimated that the project would employ 800 people, but now it is said to be as high as 1,200.
“It's pretty crazy when you look up the road to a place like Smooth Rock Falls, which is probably equivalent in population in what we have at the camp in Smoky Falls,” said Marcel Pelchat, a spokesperson for Ontario Power Generation.
He said workers have recently completed the major excavation at Smoky Falls, and have now started placing the concrete.
“We recently passed the first-year anniversary of the project, and now we're going into the phase of the project that's probably going to be the most labour intensive,” he said. “The form work and the concrete is going to require your biggest workload. The manpower is essential.”
The combined capacity of all four hydroelectric projects is 486 megawatts. Once the project is complete, they will have 924 megawatts.
Smoky Falls has a current capacity of 52 megawatts, and will be quadrupling to 267 megawatts.
“One megawatt generates enough electricity for up to 1,000 homes,” said Pelchat.
Simultaneous to the Lower Mattagami project are also the Hydromega projects on the south side of the Kapuskasing river.
Quebec-based Hydromega Energy Group began construction of four hydroelectric stations on the Kapuskasing River in 2010.
The company was awarded power purchase contracts under Ontario's Feed-in Tariff program.
The $100-million project has four new 5.5-megawatt dams that will employ 70 workers over the next two years.
What's unique about the project is the town of Kapuskasing has partnered with one of those dams, said Spacek.
Kapuskasing is an equity partner in the Old Woman Falls dam.
“For the Hydromega project, it has been a focus of mine since I came into office to partner up with one of those dams,” said Spacek. “I think it’s visionary for us as a community to enjoy the benefits of the revenue that will flow from the site.”
Spacek said he also is in negotiations with Tembec to purchase its power plant on the river, and has invited Hydromega to join him in that project, making Kapuskasing the hub of hydro development in the area.
“So they’re partnering up with us on that with the existing site,” he said. “It’s part of what’s next for us, as we formed an energy company as a community.
“This will be the vehicle for it.”