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The new and improved Wabagishik Generating Station Spillway

December 1, 2021
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Four years. 156,000 work hours. Twenty thousand cubic meters of rock and granular. Six thousand cubic meters of concrete (equivalent to a 54 km sidewalk or 1,250 concrete trucks). Buckets of sweat. Perhaps some tears. 

This is just some of what it has taken to build a new, remotely operated spillway at Wabagishik Generating Station, located 45 km east of Sudbury, ON, in order to replace the pre-existing structure, originally built in 1909. With our company’s obsession for safety, the decision to replace the structure, rather than repair, was at the core. 

A project of this scale and complexity involves geotechnical, mechanical, electrical, civil and structural expertise, and that’s where the teams of Vale’s Andy Brouillard, lead, Projects & Shutdown, Power & Transportation, and Richard Mullaly, superintendent, Maintenance Execution, come in. 

Andy, a 27-year Vale employee, along with Martin Makela, construction supervisor, will be handing the spillway over to Richard and his team in December. At that point Richard, along with fellow engineer Tahir Jeddy, Control and Reliability engineer and Eric Labelle, supervisor Operations will be overseeing the maintenance and operation of the spillway with six System operators who are doing the remote operation, and seven Utility technicians who are the boots-on-the-ground when maintenance is needed. 

Vale News caught up with Andy and Richard to ask some questions about the new Wabagishik  Spillway, and why it’s important to Vale. 

Let’s take a few steps back: What exactly is a spillway? 

Wabagishik is the power generating plant, and the spillway is the part of the dam that controls the flow of water. The new spillway is fully automated. The sluiceway gates, which increase or decrease water flow, are being controlled remotely at our Copper Cliff Complex by Richard’s team at Number 1 Sub. According to Andy, automating the gates is the biggest change from the original design. He said traditionally, in older dams, logs would be added or removed by a mechanical lifter to raise or lower the water level. With the innovative design, a press of the button is all it takes. 

What does this spillway have to do with Vale? 

Vale owns and operates five hydroelectric power generating stations, of which the Wabagishik  Generating Station and Spillway is one. The spillway manages the Vermillion watershed, which is part of the Vermillion River, a 250-km body of water that snakes through the city of Sudbury. 

How do the upgrades improve the safety of the spillway? 

In many ways. In addition to being more structurally sound, the new system is fully operational offsite, with cameras installed onsite, which means there is no need for operators to be in or near the generating station. The only personnel onsite will be the Utility technicians for maintenance purposes. According to Richard, the system being used to monitor the spillway is called SCADA, which stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. SCADA is a computer-based system that gathers and analyzes data in real time, and monitors and controls the equipment. SCADA, he said, will ensure our people and the public are safe. 

Does the Wabagishik Generating Station help power our Operations? 

Richard explained that when there’s enough water flow to utilize all of our generators, our Operations can offset 18 percent of our power consumption. He said this is good because we don’t have to purchase that power off the grid, and that, in turn, reduces demand on the grid.

What’s next? 

Until the handover in December is complete, Richard and the team are onsite with Andy’s team testing the systems and reviewing commissioning reports. The System operators, meanwhile, are training on the automated sluiceway gates, and gearing up to take the controls from Copper Cliff. Richard said, the goal is to have a seamless handover where everything is fully functional, reliable and safe for Vale and the public who enjoy the Vermillion River.

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