BY KEITH LACEY
It takes a lot of energy - and money - to produce the vast amounts of energy used by Inco Ltd. over the past 100 years.
But all those efforts have paid off for decades as the nickel giant has saved significant dollars by being able to generate huge amounts of hydroelectricity from its five power generation plants.
On Friday, Inco Ltd. marked 100 years of providing itself with clean, efficient and reliable hydroelectric power generation at its operations in Sudbury.
Ontario Energy Minister Dwight Duncan, Sudbury MPP and Minister of Northern Development and Mines and Inco brass were joined by members of the local media on a tour of the company's hydroelectric generating stations at Inco's High Falls plant in Nairn Centre.
The company's five generation stations provide a combined 55 megawatts of electricity, enough to fuel 20 percent of the company's operating needs in Ontario. Inco's oldest generating station, High Falls #1, first began operating in 1906.
The company currently realizes approximately $20 million in savings on its electricity bill, which is expected to equal more than $106 million in 2006."Inco has for decades been a great corporate citizen when it comes to energy conservation and renewable power," said Duncan. "I'm proud to celebrate this company's achievements and its continued efforts to reduce demand on Ontario's electricity system."
The 55 megawatts produced at the five plants is enough to power a small city of approximately 55,000 homes, said Claude Mailloux, Inco's manager of power plants, who proudly led the High Falls tour.
In 1902, Inco created a subsidiary called the Huronia Power Company, whose sole function was to generate and supply power for Inco's operations. Inco acquired water rights on the Spanish River in 1904 and opened High Falls #1, in 1906.
Inco's generating stations are amongst the oldest in Canada, said Mailloux.
The Big Eddy dam controls water flow from Agnew Lake, which accepts water from the Spanish River system, and can still turn water back upstream for as much as 25 miles, he said.
Big Eddy was the largest dam of its kind when built in 1929.
Big Eddy currently produces 28,600 megawatts of power annually, followed by 10,000 kilowatts from High Falls # 1 and 7,900 kilowatts at High Falls # 2.
Up until 20 years ago, power generated by Inco also provided electricity to residents in close proximity to Inco operations in the Sudbury area, including parts of Levack, Lively and Copper Cliff, said Mailloux.
In August 2003, during the blackout that crippled large parts of Canada and the United States, Inco continued generating its own power and was not only to continue production at most operations, but agreed to lend the province significant amounts of power, Mailloux told Duncan.
Inco has launched an aggressive conservation program to use energy more efficiently and recently saved $9.7 million in energy costs in a single year based on employee suggestions to reduce energy consumption at its smelter operations, said Mailloux.
He's proud to work with a group of people so committed to producing energy and saving the company money, said Mailloux.
"We've produced power for 100 years and 100 years from now we'll still be here," he said.
At one time, all 14 employees running the two power plants at High Falls and Big Eddy dam all lived on-site, said Mailloux.
A total of seven employees now run the site and there are at least two employees working every day of the year, he said.
For decades, employees added and removed logs to control water flow, but modern technology eliminated this need and a new system where large rubber bladders are moved up and down will control water flow from the Big Eddy dam to the power plants for decades to come, said Mailloux.
Upgrades have been performed to improve technology at High Falls # 1 and #2 over the years and further upgrades are planned in 2007, he said.