December 23 2019, 10:06 AM
It’s not every day you find yourself hovering hundreds of feet in the air, strapped to the side of a helicopter.
But for a group of NB Power powerline technicians, this has been part of their job for the past two weeks.
The task? Installing two types of bird diverters on 25 km of transmission lines stretching from Memramcook to Sackville, New Brunswick. The first diverter is yellow and coiled, and the technicians twist it onto 138 kV lines. The second type looks more like a small black and yellow tent, and it gets snapped onto the highest point on the larger 345 kV lines.
When migratory birds, like ospreys are flying near powerlines, these diverters help keep them safe by helping them see the powerlines easier. By installing these at the highest point, we can divert the birds higher up so they fly over these much taller lines.
It’s not an easy job. But the team are highly skilled and hyper focused on the task at hand. They’re harnessed in to keep them safe while attaching the diverters to the lines.
“It takes a bit of getting used to – especially the first five or 10 minutes … but after that you just go about your business,” says transmission powerline technician, Shawn MacKinnon.
The pilot uses a steady hand to keep the helicopter as still as possible for both the pilot and the powerline technician’s safety. The talent and precision of the pilot makes a big difference in how well the work goes, and in this case, the NB Power crew gave two thumbs up for Mike Maurice of Vortex Helicopters who was at the stick.
“One of the biggest surprises was the size of the skid we stand on. It is not much bigger than the sideboard you would find on a pick-up truck,” MacKinnon said. “But you get use to it. We were lucky in that it’s usually very windy on the Tantramar marshes, but not when we were there. And the downdraft from the rotors wasn’t bad at all. It couldn’t have gone much better.”
Want to see what this work looks like from the sky? Check out the video below.
Last week the team wrapped up installing 3,200 of these diverters in addition to inspecting and maintaining 28 transmission towers. Doing this work by air instead of land minimizes the impact to these wetland areas, while allowing the team to work quickly along the lines to install the diverters.
Other line technicians who worked on the project were Hunter Smith, Grant Donnelly and Jason McKellar. Supervisor Pat Daigle was pleased with the work and noted the crews saw bald eagles, golden eagles and osprey when they were on the job.
December 14 2018, 10:00 AM
When the air outside has cooled, and the rest of us begin to bundle up for the winter months ahead, the team at the Mactaquac Biodiversity Facility begin their prep for the next summer. Every November, the team begins the months’ long process of spawning and rearing eggs and juvenile Atlantic salmon for release into the wild.
This process starts by catching healthy wild adult Atlantic Salmon juveniles, in waters above the head pond in the Saint John River (Wolastoq.) The fish are brought to the facility and reared to sexually mature adults over a period of 2 to 4 years. The majority of these mature fish are released back into the river to spawn naturally, but a small percentage are retained for captive breeding where eggs are extracted and fertilized on site. After being incubated for the next two months at the main facility, the eggs are moved across the river to the incubation building next to the Mactaquac Generating Station. The eggs are kept in large incubation tanks where they will grow through the coldest months of the year until they hatch.
It’s this step in their journey, when the team at the Mactaquac Generating Station steps in to help. The incubation building is fed with warm water that comes out of the pump house at the Station. Because the temperatures can be unpredictable at times, the operators keep a close eye on the temperatures and adjust as needed so the temperatures inside the building stay at a safe level for the fish.
“There’s daily communication between our team and the team here at Mactaquac,” says John Whitelaw, a Biologist with the Biodiversity Facility. “This facility allows us to get an early start on hatching and feeding the fish. It’s incredibly important that the water temperatures and oxygen levels stay within a defined range, as it could stunt their growth or completely wipe out the eggs if we lose that.”
The young fish continue to benefit from this partnership once they’ve fully outgrown the tanks at the incubation building and get transported to the Aquadomes a short walk uphill. These domes are where they’ll spend the next few months growing until they reach their juvenile state and make their way back to the biodiversity facility across the river.
They’re transported in large tanks by truck across the dam where they are released into rock pools that mimic natural riverbeds. They’ll stay here until they’re big enough to be released back to the river to start their journey to the marine environment.
“This partnership began when the dam was built to mitigate loss with the operation of the dam,” says Whitelaw. “Since then, there has been a shift in thinking to conservation and preservation of the species. So in 1984, this early rearing facility was built as an add-on to what we were already doing to help us learn new things on how we use our facilities and how we can incorporate new science to help put more salmon back in the river.”
The Mactaquac Biodiversity Facility also collects migrating salmon and gaspereau at a specially designed fish lift at the Mactaquac Hydroelectric Dam and trucks and releases them upriver of the Dam.
September 18 2018, 11:03 AM
Every summer, Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station welcomes some unique visitors. It’s an ideal stop for Monarch Butterflies as they re-fuel for their 3,500 km journey to Mexico for the winter. The butterflies will feast on the fields of Goldenrod, Aster and Thistle, along with Milkweed planted by Station staff.
These plants are both a home and food source for Monarch butterfly eggs, and then the caterpillars which they become. This summer, these caterpillars ate through most of the planted milkweed at Lepreau, helping them grow quickly into their pupal (chrysalis) stage. But, while observing their progress, Point Lepreau Environmental Specialist, Carolyn Campbell noticed that a number of the caterpillars might struggle to find sufficient foliage and secure place to survive their pupal stage and devised a plan.
“After meeting the naturalist folks last year I took a huge interest in monarchs,” said Carolyn. “When I saw the 50+ caterpillars on the small patch of bare milkweed I knew we had to help. As a result of that so many other people are developing the passion that I now have to learn more and help out. It has been amazing to watch.”
In nature, only 10% to 15% of all these caterpillars survive long enough to reach their chrysalis stage. The caterpillars typically attach themselves to the underside of a leaf, and then shed their striped caterpillar skin, revealing a turquoise-green coloured camouflage which helps protect them against predators while they gradually change into their adult state inside this new cocoon-like state. To help these caterpillars beat the odds, Carolyn and a group of her peers at the Station worked quickly to build a special incubator for the caterpillars. By setting up this habitat for the caterpillars, Carolyn and team expect the likelihood of survival to be closer to 75% for these caterpillars.
Inside their new habitat, the caterpillars are set up on Milkweed clippings. Grated netting seals the top of the aquarium, providing a place for the larvae to weave a tiny silk pad that they’ll anchor the bottom of their abdomen to. They’ll hang here in this upside down position for 12 to 48 hours before extracting itself from its caterpillar skeleton and enter their pupal stage.
The caterpillars will remain in their cocoons for 8 to 15 days before they emerge as adult butterflies.
At first, the butterflies may be a bit weak. To help them get used to their new wings, Carolyn and team set up a special netting structure to place them to keep them safe while they get comfortable.
When they’re ready to take off, these butterflies will be tagged, with the help of the Jim Wilson of the Saint John Naturalists’ Club at their observatory on the Point, who has spent the last 12 years tagging these endangered butterflies. Once tagged, they will begin their journey to Mexico. Tagging helps provides data that is used to learn more about the migratory cycle and to protect it.
Point Lepreau is so important to the Monarch migration,” says Jim. “It has been a wonderful work with NB Power. We are very appreciative for this great relationship.”
The observatory at Point Lepreau is one of only two tagging stations in New Brunswick.
In 2017, Point Lepreau was designated an official Monarch Watch stop for these butterflies, due to all the undisturbed fields of pollinating species and the planted milkweed that the Monarchs need. Monarch Watch is a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas that focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its spectacular fall migration.
June 14 2017, 13:33 PM
NB Power line technicians and other crews work alongside different types of nature within their day-to-day jobs. Trees, shrubs and even squirrels can interfere with power lines and other electrical structures. One of the main threats to energized equipment are birds, particularly ospreys, or larger birds of prey.
In order to ensure safe, reliable energy to our customers while also keeping osprey populations safe, NB Power follows an Avian Protection Plan (APP). The APP is designed to protect migratory birds by reducing the number of interactions birds make with electrical equipment. This is accomplished by identifying high-traffic osprey areas and modifying our structures with safer parts. The APP also directs maintenance crews on how to avoid and, when necessary, handle active bird nests.
Ospreys are attracted to utility poles because they serve as vantage points for hunting, roosting sites, eating platforms, a place to nest, territorial boundary markers and shelter from the elements. Usually birds can interact with utility poles without any harm coming to them, but there is always a risk of the birds coming in contact with the energized equipment- this can be dangerous for both the birds and our equipment, as it can cause harm to the birds and cause power outages for our customers.
Baby birds are at even greater risk, as they awkwardly move around equipment while learning to fly. Sticks or other nesting material that fall from the nest can also cause short circuits.
We take several measures to prevent harm from coming to birds and potential outages from their activity. This includes developing a special training program for employees who are directly involved with the design, construction, operation and maintenance of electrical facilities and equipment.
We also have plans in place to avoid building transmission lines in the following areas whenever possible:
- known bird concentration areas (sensitive areas, ecological reserves, etc.);
- daily movement flyways (e.g., between a wetland and adjacent agricultural field);
- habitat of species at risk; and
- areas with a high incidence of fog and mist
Osprey contact with transmission lines usually occur on lines that are close to areas where ducks, geese and other large water birds frequently fly. In up to 90%of cases, birds come in contact with an overhead wire instead of the more visible energized conductors. Approaching birds will often fly upwards to avoid the conductors, only to hit the wire. Research has shown that removing the overhead wire can decrease those collisions by half.
NB Power has plans in place to place lines in a way that reduce the risk of ospreys and other large birds making contact with these lines. For example, we build new transmission lines at the same height or lower than nearby trees and vegetation. Birds will gain altitude to fly over the obvious tree line and avoid any contact with the line.
Finally, we work with the Department of Natural Resources to build high wooden platforms to encourage nest-building away from our poles. When we discover active nests on our structures, we assess to determine if they are immediate threats to the electrical system. If the nest doesn’t pose a threat, we will inspect the area after the osprey chicks leave the nest (end of the summer) but before the following nesting season (early spring) takes place. After the baby birds have left the nest, we can transfer it to an adjacent osprey platform.
May 5 2016, 15:19 PM
We have a big decision to make about the future of the Mactaquac Generating Station. The station is nearing the end of its life, and NB Power is considering what to do next. Whatever is decided will have a big impact on the environment and the people who live and work near the station. That’s why NB Power is working with experts and the public to find out what those impacts might be, and how to lessen them.
Under the guidance of top scientists, the Mactaquac Aquatic Ecosystem Study (MAES) examines the Saint John River above, around and below the dam at Mactaquac Generating Station to support NB Power with science-based information.
Dr. Allen Curry, Science Director at the Canadian Rivers Institute, points out some key aspects about the project in this week’s blog post.
What is the Mactaquac Aquatic Ecosystem Study?
It’s a multi-year project and the first in-depth study of its kind of the Saint John River and unique in this sense among studies of large Canadian rivers. It’s divided into three phases: Phase 1 (now until 2017), Phase 2 (during the Environmental Impact Assessment [link to CER blog] and followed work at the station) and Phase 3: (after construction or drawdown.)
Our university-based team includes professional scientists and engineers from different disciplines including biology, geology and engineering, field and computer technicians, and more than 50 students. We are presently working on more than 30 different studies that examine the whole river ecosystem, fish passage and environmental flow in the Saint John River.
What is the goal of the MAES?
The goal of Phase 1 of MAES is to establish a thorough characterization of the river and headpond to improve our understanding of the ecosystem in these areas and to use various models to predict changes to the ecosystem under each of the options. This information will be used to inform NB Power and to support our own scientific research.
How large is the study area compared to the river?
The Mactaquac Aquatic Ecosystem Study area stretches from the Tobique River headwaters to the estuary in Saint John, though some of the projects focus on study areas that are smaller and more focused on a particular issue.
What exactly are you looking at when you look at the river as a whole?
Our reason for undertaking a whole river ecosystem study is to attempt to understand, to the best of our ability, the full extent of how the MGS has affected the ecosystem of the SJR to date and to predict the likely changes of the options on the whole river ecosystem. This is different than the typical approach of limiting the study to smaller sections of a river as is commonly done due to the time and financial constraints of collecting sufficient data over large areas. The whole river ecosystem approach also attempts to bring together biological and ecological information, like fish and plant communities, with physical and chemical information like water and sediment quality and river flows in such a way that the information can be considered together when characterizing the river ecosystem and making predictions about its future.
Dams are infrastructures that block natural fish passage in a river. How are you studying fish passage for Mactaquac?
We have reviewed existing literature, hosted an expert workshop to discuss global views on fish passage for multiple species, and visited with other experts in areas where dams have been removed. With the data collected via fish tags [link to Austin’s blog], the team will also study individual species including the Atlantic salmon, Striped bass, Sturgeons, American eel and Muskellunge. For example, our study of Atlantic salmon looks at all life stages of migration (adults upstream and downstream, and smolts downstream) and considers not just the dam as a potential barrier to passage, but also the large and lake-like headpond.
Why is the Mactaquac Aquatic Ecosystem Study so important?
The Saint John River flows 673 kilometers from the woods of northern Maine into the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick. It is the second longest river in eastern North America and supports the greatest diversity of aquatic plants and animals in eastern Canada, including 15 at-risk species.
Our collective understanding of how dams affect river ecosystems has improved greatly since the original construction of the dam. There is an opportunity with the Mactaquac Project to reverse some of the adverse changes that have occurred during the time since its construction through the removal of the dam, or to improve the design and operation of a new dam such that the whole-river ecosystem is improved compared to the present. Such opportunities should not be taken lightly, or done without sufficient consideration of the best data using state-of-the-art science and engineering methods and models. We believe that MAES is vital to NB Power making a well-informed decision that provides maximum benefit to the state of the Saint John River ecosystem and that this will in turn be a benefit to all who live within its vast watershed.