Canadian utility NB Power has sought the services of a group of internationally recognized scientists in determining future options for its 672-MW Mactaquac hydropower project.
The study is being coordinated by the Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI) and will evaluate "key environmental challenges" related to the plant's future, NB Power said, including river health, fish passage and flow management.
The company is investing US$2.3 million into the three-year study.
"We are proud to work with some of the best aquatic research scientists in the world to ensure sound science is at the heart of our choice," NB Power president and CEO Gaetan Thomas said. "This is just the start of a public conversation about the future of this generating station.
"We have some of the answers, but not all of them. We need everyone's help to make the best decision for all New Brunswickers."
NB Power said Mactaquac Generating Station will reach the end of its lifespan by 2030, at which point the company will have three options: rebuilding the station with a new powerhouse and spillway; maintaining the earthen dam and spillway only; or restoring the river to its natural state.
The utility said that the time required for approvals, design and site work mean it needs to determine a preferred option by 2016. This decision would then be subject to approval from the provincial and federal government, as well as New Brunswick's Energy and Utilities Board.
The decision will be based economic, environmental and social considerations made after evaluating information and advice from experts, First Nations, persons living in the vicinity of the project, and other stakeholders, NB Power said.
"Our goal is to provide objective and transparent science that is accessible and defensible," CRI project director Dr. Allen Curry said. "We are excited that NB Power is sponsoring important research that will greatly contribute to the current body of science on the potential and known impacts of dam construction and removal."
CRI is a collaborative research network based at the University of New Brunswick.
Mactaquac was completed in 1968 with an expected 100-year lifespan. Its long-term viability has been brought into question, however, due in large part to alkali-aggregate reactions, which are causing the structure's concrete to expand.
HydroWorld.com reported in April that a complete rehabilitation of the dam could cost as much as $3 billion, though the structure poses no immediate threat.
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