The Churchill Falls hydroelectric plant is a technological marvel, one built on natural power meeting modern innovation. Its world-renowned success, however, owes just as much to the people who live and work there as to the power of the Falls themselves.
The Churchill River was recognized as a potential source of hydroelectric power in 1894. However, there were obstacles to overcome before development could occur – harsh terrain, severe climatic conditions, geographic remoteness, long distance transmission requirements and lack of markets.
By the 1950s, however, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador was eager to see this largely untapped water and mineral resources developed. A group of banking and industrial firms established the British Newfoundland Corporation Limited (Brinco) in 1953. Brinco was granted exclusive mineral and water rights over more than 129,450 square kilometres in both Newfoundland and Labrador for a 20-year period.
Brinco established the Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation Limited in 1961 and was granted a 99-year lease authorizing development of the Upper Churchill River watershed. The river had a natural drop of over 300 meters in less than 32 kilometres. Precipitation and run-off patterns were forecast to be dependable. Extensive storage of water on the elevated plateau was readily achievable.
Development of the Churchill Falls hydro plant began in 1963 and a letter of intent with Hydro-Québec was signed in 1966. After three years of negotiations, financial agreements were finally set in 1969.
The first two generating units began delivering power to Hydro-Québec at 5:17 p.m., December 6, 1971. Construction of Churchill Falls involved approximately 6,300 workers and cost $946 million. Their efforts resulted the project’s completion five months and three weeks ahead of schedule.
Of course, Churchill Falls is not merely the site of one of the great modern marvels of engineering and power production. It’s also home to a vibrant community. The men and women operating the generating station, as well as their families, live in the town, located approximately 240 kilometres east of Labrador City and 285 kilometres west of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The population is about 650.
The community revolves around the Donald Gordon Center, a unique town centre that features a school, hotel, restaurant, theatre, library, bank, grocery store and post office. Residents enjoy the modern living accommodations and recreational facilities on hand at the Center: an indoor swimming pool, arena, gymnasium, curling rink, ski-hill, cross-country ski trails, playground, baseball diamond, youth centre and community center are all available.
Other amenities include an inter-denominational church, a privately run school system, hospital, small private businesses, a police detachment and a wildlife division department.
The community is linked to the continental telephone system, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) provides television and radio programming in both English and French. Additional programming is provided by private sources and a community owned cable system.
The local airport is eight kilometres from the community and is capable of handling jet aircraft service. Nalcor Energy Churchill Falls owns the airport and maintains its own aircraft and air services building for business purposes and Provincial Airlines provides regularly scheduled passenger service.
Thanks to its people, Churchill Falls has become a true home. Now entering its second generation of workers and family, it continues to thrive.
Churchill Falls has approximately 250 employees who are trained to operate and maintain the power plant, including the reservoir dykes and spillways, the switchyard, the transmission lines, plus the town’s network of roads, housing and service facilities.
Operating staff is comprised of station operators, engineers, supervisors, technicians and technologists, electricians, mechanics, welders, linespersons, heavy equipment operators, helicopter pilots, carpenters, fire and security officers, painters, utility workers and janitors. The operation also requires accountants, clerical staff, warehouse workers, retail clerks, human resources personnel and industrial relations staff, teachers and a nurse.
While outside contractors and specialists are used to support operations, the security of the operation and the welfare of the community demand that adequate staff are available to trouble shoot and repair every aspect of the operation.
The majority of staff is hired within the province and there is close cooperation between Nalcor Energy Churchill Falls and Newfoundland and Labrador’s post-secondary school system. An active apprenticeship and training program enables staff to achieve the skill levels required to maintain and operate the sophisticated plant equipment and other facilities.
Loss control is part of the philosophy that guides Nalcor Energy Churchill Falls and contributes significantly to the stability and well-being of the company and its employees. The prevention and control of occupational injury and illness, property damage, security breaches and pollution are integrated into every facet of management and operations. Specific committees and training programs have been established for every major area of concern.
Nalcor is proud to acknowledge the fine work and high standards achieved daily by its Churchill Falls employees.