NYPA launches $1.1 bil in upgrades to its hydro plant

The New York Power Authority (NYPA) has launched a $1.1 billion program to modernize the Niagara hydroelectric project, the public power utility’s largest generating asset.

The 15-year Life Extension and Modernization (LEM) program is centered on the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant, the main generating station of the Niagara Power Project which together with the Lewiston Pump Generating Plant has a generating capacity of 2,675 MW.

The Niagara Power Project also includes the 240-MW Lewiston Pump Generating Plant, which controls the flow of water for the Moses plant and is able to pump water in a reservoir and generate power from that water when needed.

The LEM project is being done in four phases. Those phases include a comprehensive inspection of the penstocks that direct the flow of water from the reservoir to the turbines in the Moses plant; refurbishing the 630-ton crane that enables mechanical work at the Moses plant; upgrading and digitizing the control systems and building a secondary control room that will be able to serve a backup control room, and replacing mechanical parts such as stators and bushings that reached the end of the useful operating life.

NYPA says the planned work advances its goal of becoming “the nation's first end-to-end digital utility” and will significantly extend the life of the Niagara Power Project.

The Niagara Power Project began generating electricity in 1961. In 2007, it obtained a new 50-year federal operating license. The work on the LEM project is slated to begin later this year.

“The Niagara Power Project is New York's largest source of clean electricity and this modernization project will allow it to continue operating for another 50 years,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “This extraordinary investment is a crucial part of our nation-leading plan to decarbonize New York's electric power system by 2040 and will continue supplying job-producing companies across the state with clean, low-cost energy.”

Upgrade work on controls at the Moses plant is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2020 and be completed early in 2021. The first mechanical and electric upgrade work is scheduled to begin in 2023 and progress with about one overhaul every eight or nine months.

Refurbishing the crane will be one of the first tasks undertaken as the crane will be needed to lift and replace each of the units as required. The work on the 13 generating units of the Moses plant will be done one at a time at roughly nine-month intervals, so that the plant can continue to operate throughout the 15-year term of project. By way of analogy, “it is like fixing an airplane while it’s flying,” NYPA spokeswoman Maura Balaban, said.

The $1.1 billion investment is the largest capital project in NYPA's history. NYPA’s board of trustees approved the investment for the Next Generation Niagara project at its July 30 meeting. The funds for the project are slated to come from a combination of cash reserves and tax-exempt bonds.