$600M overhaul for R.H. Saunders Power Dam in Cornwall

Ontario Minister of Energy Todd Smith announced over $600 million to refurbish the R.H. Saunders Generating Station in Cornwall. The dam is the second largest hydro-electric dam in the province, supplying five per cent of the electricity needed in Ontario. It was built as a major component of the St. Lawrence Seaway Project in the mid-to-late 1950s. (Supplied/Province of Ontario photo)

CORNWALL – The provincial government announced a $600 million, 16-year overhaul and refurbishment project for the R. H Saunders Power Dam in Cornwall May 10.

“This refurbishment program will create jobs and ensure we have the power we need for the next major international investment, the new homes we are building and industries as they grow and electrify,” said Minister of Energy Todd Smith at the Friday morning announcement. “With today’s investment, we’re extending the life of the station for decades more to help Ontario meet its growing electricity needs.”

Constructed in the mid-to-late 1950s as a major component of the St. Lawrence Seaway project, the dam was already slated to have upgrades beginning in 2019. In 2002, generating capacity at the power station was increased to 1,045 megawatts. Friday’s announcement does not increase the generating capacity, but lowers the amount of water required to generate the same amount of power.

The station, which provides enough electricity to power up to one million homes, accounts for up to five per cent of the total generating capacity of the province, and is the second largest hydro electric dam in Ontario.

“From powering a growing economy to managing flows in the St. Lawrence Seaway for shipping, this hydro stalwart has been invaluable to our province,” said Paul Seguin, senior vice president of Renewable Generation at Ontario Power Generation – the station’s owner. “Once refurbished, it will electrify the lives of Ontarians for years to come.”

The announcement did not directly involve the Iroquois Control Dam, which controls water flow entering Lake St. Lawrence from the St. Lawrence River. The lake is the man-made power pool created with the Seaway project to store water for Cornwall dam. The Iroquois Dam is already undergoing a multi-year refurbishment project of its gates and associated equipment which began in late 2022.

At any given time, up to four of the 16 generating units at Saunders are not used. The province did not answer why the project will take 16 years and not be accelerated with the $600M announcement. The province also did not say if work to the Iroquois dam will proceed at the same pace or be accelerated.

The province said in its announcement that up to 200 jobs will be created during the 16-year rehabilitation project in the area.

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