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Tom Careen wants to shine some light on these blackout questions

Justice Benjamin Nathan Cardozo of the United States Supreme Court once wrote, "There is no rule of human jettison. There is no right to save the lives of some by killing others."

We are all in this together, during our Julys and Januarys, during the warmth of summer and the long cold nights of winter. We are a North Atlantic Ocean country, our neighbours are Baffin Island and Greenland. Polar bears have often been sighted along our coasts. St. John's, at 47° 34'N latitude, is closer to the Arctic Circle (66° 30'N lat.) than it is to the northern limit of the Tropic of Cancer (23° 30'N lat.).

Our winters can be so nasty, brutish and long that one of them, the winter of 1817, has ever since been called the "Winter of the Rals." Indeed, soon in Elliston, a statue will be unveiled honouring men who perished unnecessarily (and those are the correct words) during an early spring sleet and snow storm in 1914.

The first week of this new year was not meek and mild to politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats and ordinary folk trying to keep body and soul together — and pipes from freezing. I am not inclined to be glum or overly fond of doom and gloom in my life, but I will take this opportunity to remind ye (that, too, is the correct word) we are about three months away from the 24th of May long weekend. Semper paratus?

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro/Nalcor has three gas turbines more than 30 years old. One is located at Stephenville, one at Holyrood and the other at Hardwoods. Question: should the gas turbine at Hardwoods be allowed to remain in service at that site? St. John's, Paradise and Mount Pearl have grown a lot in those 30-plus years. The west end of the busy Outer Ring Road passes nearly under the eaves of the building housing the turbine unit.

Dire warning

The Telegram editorial of Jan. 9 informed readers that power consultant Brush GMS had told Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro that, in the event that Hydro is required to run the Hardwoods unit, it was recommended the gas turbine should only operate on an emergency basis and the operation should be remote and unmanned given the safety risks associated with respect to potential retaining ring failures.

Questions: can the building envelope at Hardwoods contain such a potential failure and its possibly attendant blast and fire? The site may be unmanned, but would there be people on the nearby highways, at the two industrial parks in the area, and in housing at Karwood Estates?

Earlier this month, CEO Ed Martin of Nalcor mentioned Hydro will be purchasing a new gas turbine. Another more correct name for such a device is combustion turbine — the gas produced and used is hot, compressed, high-speed air.

Such a unit is inefficient and is sometimes called a "simple-cycle" unit. When linked with a steam turbine in a "combined-cycle" or "cogeneration" plant, a gas turbine becomes very efficient because the extremely hot exhaust from the combustion turbine can be used as a "fuel" to heat water to produce steam to drive a steam turbine. Questions: will the new gas/ combustion turbine be simple- or combined-cycle? Nalcor, rolling in petro-dollars, might be able to afford the inefficiencies, but can the rest of us?

Preferred customers

The three sisters in propane production and distribution — Superior, North Atlantic and Irving — have nothing to be proud of and should not be looking for either a humanitarian or savvy businessman award.

Imagine any businessman telling a customer he/she is not as important as the next customer. Think it if you want, but you should never say it aloud.

What is the difference between what the propane companies did the first and second weeks of this new year and your grocer telling you he wouldn't have any turkeys for sale until the day after Boxing Day or that you couldn't buy a loaf of bread because another customer buys more foodstuffs than you and thus he gets the whole loaf? Isn't there still such a civilized notion as "necessaries of life?"

Now, it seems to me North America is bloated with natural gas, and whatever supply is off Canada's East Coast (except Nova Scotia) is earmarked for export only later. Placing all our eggs in the Muskrat Falls basket saw to that.

A small digression, if you will — does an 1,100-kilometre transmission line over terrain, and a maritime climate that would cause the remaining members of the Donner Party to miss lunch, give you solace about a new, happy day dawning when rolling blackouts and power outages shall be never happening again? Technicolor, wide-screen, panoramic dreams must occur only to a chosen few.

When most people speak of natural gas as a home-heating fuel, they are usually speaking of methane, which is the main constituent of natural gas. Natural gas may also contain other paraffin series hydrocarbons including ethane, butane, pentane, octane, heptane and propane. The noble gases helium and argon may also be present.

Most of these, when extracted from the natural gas, are more valuable commodities than the methane itself. There are also noisome gases and solids like hydrogen sulphide and sulphur, which must be removed before the methane conforms to an acceptable standard for use.

Question: as a business idea, is there any businessman or businesswoman in this province interested in importing methane here from Halifax, Moncton, Montreal, Toronto, Boston, Calgary, Edmonton or wherever, bottling the methane such as is done with propane in 500 lb., 200 lb. or 100 lb. cylinders/tanks, and willing to compete against other vendors of sources of heat — mainly Newfoundland Power's electricity distribution and the chummy best pals in the propane companies?

Perhaps Emera of Nova Scotia might be interested in starting a bottled methane gas business in Newfoundland and Labrador. After all, when you are given unfettered access to a colony (thanks to Peter MacKay and Danny Williams) you should exploit the people and resources of that colony to the max.

The classical model is cheap resources taken out of the colony and costly consumer goods and necessaries shipped in.

— Tom Careen writes from Placentia.

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