Monday, 30 January 2017

MUSKRAT COST ESTIMATES "A COMPLETE FALSIFICATION", SAYS ENGINEER

What would you think, having received these comments from a long time professional engineer on the Muskrat Falls project? He writes:

“I could not put up with falsifying information anymore.

To begin with, the original cost of $6.2 billion on which the project was approved was a complete falsification. The estimate was deliberately kept low below $7 billion, so as to appear favourable relative to the cost of thermal power generation.

The likely costs were known about three years ago, but Nalcor Management kept it a secret, steadfastly denying that there were major schedule delays and cost overruns, until it was no longer possible to hide the true status with the election of a new Provincial Government.

The unit prices used were ridiculously low. The Management at the time knew this.

The Astaldi contract, at the time of award, had left out many items. The Canadian bidders were in the $1.8 billion range the present renegotiated cost...

Now that EY are coming up with the new cost… Whatever final figure EY generates must be confirmed by a completely separate entity, who are not paid by Nalcor.

The new leader of the "Oversight Committee" [should] specifically look into the costs of all the mechanical contracts, civil contracts and the service contracts. With the three year project delay, there will be a huge impact. The $11.7 billion interim figure, which includes interest during construction, looks too low… I know how the game is played. Expect a cost of about $15 billion!! 

This will be a big burden for the people of Newfoundland. They must know the truth.”

Those were the comments of one engineer. He was not exactly enamoured by the "independence" of the Independent Engineer either but that's another story.

I have received comments from a good many engineers, all so similar that they reinforce each other’s veracity.

One writes: “soil and weather conditions” have been blamed for cost overruns. He says it has nothing to do with weather or soil "just a lack of ability by both the contractor and SNC-Nalcor... weather has been on a par with conditions anyone who has worked in Labrador might have expected"

Another engineer wrote about the untendered contract given to Vallard: “The job was Vallard's even before the tender call (which was cancelled).” He also states: No one I have encountered [on the LIL] actually worked in Labrador beforeit's like the blind leading the blind

Yet another engineer took issue with a cost figure I had used to replace the "popped" cable which, from the factory to the towers, went either unnoticed or ignored by everyone. The engineer says the actual cost to Nalcor will be closer to $300 million (2 lines of 140 kms) He states that this will be a tough issue because it was a spec'd [item] via SNCthe supplier warned of a potential failure prior to production but [they] pushed ahead with production/installation anyway

An engineer who understood large project logistics wrote to me reviewing Nalcor's management structure and the number of people on the Lower Churchill Project payroll. He comments: With all these very highly paid people you might expect to have a project that would be so organized that it would be ahead of schedule and on budget. He asks: Do we need to have all these people with no hydro-electric construction experience? And what about SNC, what are they doing and what is their contract value now? And what about Ed Martin’s constant comments about being ahead in engineering that the risks and costs would be better managed?”

There is a pattern of dysfunctionality here all within Nalcor. And, to give it a different dimension, when Nalcor’s screw-ups run into the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, the corporation can’t be honest about the source of the problem. It tries to use the full cover of public and media indifference and ignorance of the issues to keep its incompetence hidden.

Nalcor appears now and again to fess up to a new, higher level of cost overruns only to go back into hiding because the government has given it unfettered access to the public purse.

There is dysfunction, dishonesty, and incompetence at Nalcor. The 46% of the public who still support the project would have a different view if they had a better understanding of the degree to which their money is being wasted. Soothing words and other blarney from Danny Williams only serve to extend public misunderstanding as to Muskrat's reality.  

Also aggravating is Nalcor's deceptive practices even under Stan Marshall. 

It is worth calling attention to a recent episode involving retired Canadian hydro engineer James L. Gordon, who has written extensively on this Blog. Jim was persuaded, briefly, to conclude that Nalcor’s design to remediate the North Spur was safe. The comments caused Nalcor’s PR machine to go into overdrive aided by a compliant mainstream media hoping to validate Nalcor’s refusal of independent review of the instability problem. 

But, within days, the hydro engineer realized he had erred and, to his credit, publicly said so. Wrote Gordon: “This new data indicates that it is now absolutely essential to have an independent Review Board undertake a comprehensive assessment of the stability of the North Spur.”

Nalcor treated Jim Gordon’s reversal with complete silence unwilling even to acknowledge the engineer or the faulty analysis it had vigorously embraced just a few days earlier.

This is sleaze.

But so, too, is falsifying information to warrant project sanction.

And when a phrase like “cost pressures” (one of Ed Martin’s favourites) is used to explain egregious cost overruns when incompetence is a far bigger problem, as in the example of the faulty cable you know this is an organization not deserving of the public trust.  

In a more sensible world, public exposure of those engineers’ indictments would cause a furor.

But not here.

In a well-run organization, such comments would incite the Nalcor CEO to action especially given that they are made by current and former Nalcor engineers.

But not here. 

Within a thoughtful and prudent government the Minister of Finance would descend on the free-spenders and wring their bloody necks. 

But not here.

Even the Auditor General cowers under Nalcor’s stare. 

It has been a tough slog for a good many engineers. Some, who couldn’t stomach the incompetence, left the project long before they wanted to. Some of them found in this Blog an outlet to express their concerns.  

Each of their emails was accompanied only with a simple request for confidentiality which will always be honoured.    

One of the engineers who asserted that the project cost estimates were contrived - falsified - suggested his comments should cause a “firestorm” of protest in the province.

I wrote him back and advised: "...anywhere else. But not here."

31 comments:

  1. It is not only Muskrat's cost estimate that may have been contrived.

    How about the argument that ---- "we need the power"?

    Nalcor repeatedly claimed that because the 40 year average island load growth was 2.2% annually, its forecast load growth of 0.8% annually was therefore ---- "conservative"

    Nalcor stopped describing their forecast as conservative after it was pointed out that 99% of that 40-year historical 2.2 % annual load growth was during the first 20 years of that 40 year period (from 1979 - 1999), and that for the 20 year period after 1999 our average annual load growth has been near ZERO.

    A contrived demand forecast? You be the judge.

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    1. CORRECTED dates --- should read (from 1970-1990) and then (the 20 year period after 1990).

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  2. The allegations of dishonesty in this post are very serious with no supporting evidence to back them up presented. If true these are allegations that should be filed with PEGNL as a complaint, otherwise this post is essentially slanderous.

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    1. No way in hell there'll be a legal action for slander!! .. as that would cause the proof to actually show up on public record. I can't speak for the blogger, but generally speaking I say "Bring it on" !! ... Filing to PEGNL may be of some use, unless the nepotism and corruption has infected that body too.

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    2. @10:32 There is more than enough evidence that an inquiry is needed just by looking at the current state of the project. Everything is wrong with it. Those of us within Nalcor and Government cannot publicly release embarrassing evidence without getting fired. There is no effective whistle blower protection. PEGNL would do nothing. If a professional engineer filed a complaint against another member or co-worker at Nalcor it would be obvious via the investigation who had lodged the complaint. That persons career would be in big trouble.

      If you look at the PEGNL board of directors you will see that Nalcor has influence. A random example: Jennifer Williams was appointed Vice President, Production with Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro in August 2016. Jennifer is a member of the Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Newfoundland and Labrador, where she has been an active volunteer in many different capacities, including as a previous member of the Board of Directors of PEGNL. There is no way that the board of PEGNL is not aware - they just choose to be silent.

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    3. The current PEGNL chair elect is the manager of project execution at Nalcor. I think it is unlikely that anyone working at Nalcor would have the guts to file an official complaint to PEGNL over aspects of Muskrat Falls given the potential employment consequences. These professional organizations are supposed to be self regulating but in a small province like Newfoundland and Labrador, it ends up being a tangle of perceived and real conflicts of interest. The only solution I can think of is to be regulated by something farther away like APEGA (Alberta).

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  3. Muskrat Falls was a testament to sleaze and incompetence from the outset. It was apparent from the lies and distortions put forward in the EIS like "least cost", the rosy future demand projections when every utility in North America knew demand was flat to declining, that MF was all about sleaze and corruption .

    Watching Gil and his crew of "experts" that included Perry Trimper justify the need for and the dismissal of the alternatives to Muskrat was sleazy at best.

    Watching with horror as provincial specialists giving evidence were tightly controlled by a Justice lawyer, rewriting parts of their testimony with clumsy changes to the evidence and in one case testifying on the record that the price of testifying would be their employment (he declined to give evidence). Watching federal scientists give constrained but terrifying testimony on the instability of the entire valley, the north spur in particular, was particularly chilling.

    SNC used the same playbook in NL it has used at Site C in BC and many places overseas. It involves bypassing regulators like the PUB, take or pay contracts that makes ratepayers solely responsible for costs and total secrecy keeping the "chumps" in the dark.

    Why was this on its face a sleazy arrangement not challenged by government or "independent" media? A local strongman bullied all concerned, government employees, political opposition and media alike. An outfit indicted for fraud and bribery internationally and at home remains at the helm for MF. Yet no one even yet has the balls to ask the obvious questions about the integrity of SNC.

    If not for this blog even the facts of the incompetence in every phase of this nightmare would not be public information. It rests on the conscience of insiders to keep us informed of the ongoing sleaze and corruption. This is not good enough. It is high time a successful opposition to the sleaze materialized. Your future as a viable provincial entity is at stake.

    Standing with and for the Land Protectors, fighting for their lives, is a start.

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  4. The government lies,Nalcor lies,it's all about saving face,the Premier,MHA'S,never give the real facts.For some reason they believe that lying will some how relieve the fear that we ( the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador) will undoubtedly be engulfed with when this project is finished. The Ball government hopes it doesn't until they get their 4 years in and another party gets the nightmare. This government will never sleep peacefully nor Danny Williams because they're the deliverers of this evil that will be living for decades to come. I pray for the people,as for the fore mentioned they can all go to hell. ��

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  5. Read this piece about 9 am, then tuned in about 9:45 to Pat Daley, and caught the end of a conversation, I think with Des Sullivan. One might think this information would cause a concern with listeners,,,,,,but not one called over the next 2 hours except the very last call, as the show was winding up. Daley said there will be no inquiry, and did not himself seemed to concerned.

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  6. As to Maurice`s comment about the demand forecast.....don`t forget that Nfld Hydro forecasts for industrial growth that was more or less nothing, and Nfld Power forecasts for residential and commercial. Residential, especially electric heat growth was the rationale for Muskrat. Now it is also Nfld Power that is lowering forecast which is not materialising as they predicted. The chant WE NEED THE POWER by politicians can be traced back to Nfld Power to some extent...... Although Nfld Power I believe predicts for just 5 years out, and there was growth for a few years during the housing boom here, but to predict long term growth, perhaps that was Nalcor`s call.

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  7. Well,I know nuttin'about nuttin',but even I knew from the get go that this was gonna be a "boondoggle".Every large project in Nl that has been done or tried has been the same.Corruption,nepotism,on and on.Politicians lie about everything,former politicians lie and exaggerate,and we know who that is.Nl will never again be outta the hole,ever.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. I'm not really aware of the level of gvt corruption in Nfld, but minimizing corruption / maximizing accountability require a certain level of effective internal controls (or "red tape"), and to some extend, this might cause an heavy/complex burden, especially for a smaller population.

      I'm wondering how PEI (or NS by example) performs in term of minimizing corruption/maximising accountability? What was the optimal level of internal controls implemented?

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    4. In the Canadian Government, smaller Departments are regularly audited by the "Auditor General of Canada". ( www.oag-bvg.gc.ca )

      This process is mostly efficient and effective; you get the real picture (whether you like or not), and it comes with a set of recommendations to rectify a situation (like in a "boondoggle").

      With the amount of $ Billion guaranteed by the Feds here, Canadian / Nfld voters can technically demand/pressure the Gvt of Canada to perform an audit of the loan, and the MF collaterals. The OAG possesses the means, the competence and the independence to perform such an Audit.

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  8. I said from day one this project would bankrupt NL not going to be far off the mark on that one, we have been lied too and then lied too again and again with this project by previous government and present government....we will be in a financial mess we will never see the end off....I predict before it is completed this project will cost us Newfoundlanders about 17 to 18 billion, cause you know more cost overruns are gonna happen...I don't know how we will ever afford our electric bills, especially seniors and people on fixed incomes who live paycheck to paycheck!! Nalcor had no accountability and did what they wanted, only in NL would they get away with that!!

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  9. Its seems that the engineering profession in Nfld is on the path to shame and ridicule, as has happened to the clergy. Muskrat Falls may be a political blunder, and Danny Williams may be largely responsible, but that we have a 12 to 15 billion boondoggle is above all a engineering failure. There are many engineers in the know of false or unethical actions that that got this thing sanctioned and have have stayed silent. Sure, to expose this may be losing your job and putting your family at financial risk, but otherwise there is no evidence to support wrongdoing. Does confidentality agreements prevent disclosure ...... surely if there is criminal actavity it should be disclosed to authorities. Then again, who to disclose to,,,,,,,if all in the system, including the justice system ate party to this boondoggle. Surely it weighs heavy on the conscience of engineers who are in the know, and good that they unload on Uncle Gnarley. Perhaps there will be an overwhelming number of engineers that will find the courage to disclose to the this site, such that eventually the public will demand an inquiry.

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  10. `How are we supposed to Churchill Falls power to market`, asked Danny Williams, `in a pickup truck!`
    This line went over good at the Board of Trade. It generated laughter. It brought ridicule to critics who would question the necessity of the transmission line from Muskrat and the link to the Nova Scotia.
    Roger Grimes, in a letter to the Telegram, has recently stated that the capacity of the Upper Churchill cannot be handled by that line from Muskrat, suggesting it would cost billions more to transmit such power, but Grimes did not put a figure on it.
    The Upper Churchill has a capacity of 5400MW. The DC line now from Muskrat has capacity of 900MW. This gives the Upper Churchill 7.1 times more capacity. The DC line to the Avalon is some 3 billions dollars which probably includes the cable under the Straits. The line from the Upper Churchill may be about 0.3 billion. The Maritine Link is 1.5 (or 1.7) billion. This only gets power as far as Nova Scotia. A new proposed DC line from Nova Scotia to Boston is estimated at 2 billion. So to get 900MW to Boston would be in the range of 3 + 0.3 +1.5 +2.0 = 6.8 billion in transmission costs for 900MW. Since the Upper Churchill is 7.1 billion more capacity this suggests 7 times this cost ,so about 48 billion.
    Now Quebec gets the UC power out on 3, I believe, 735kv lines, not 7.
    With higher voltage DC, via the Maritime route, it may be possible to have fewer than 7 lines. But I cannot imagine a cost for transmission to Boston for less than 30 billion. This is a quick approximation, and I invite others to comment on these figures.
    Now I suppose if one was to store the power in these new Tesla storage units and have a fleet of pickup trucks continuously travelling overland from Churchill Falls to Boston, it may not cost more than 30 billion to do that. Point being, that Williams` silly remark was meant to influenece the uninformed (which includes the Board of Trade) to think that this single Muskrat DC line is the solution to get the upper Churchill Power to market, without huge additional debt to pay for it. And reliability for that route is yet in question.
    Winston Adams

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    1. Should read: Since the Upper Churchill is 7.1 times more capacity, not 7.1 billion times
      WA

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  11. If Bruno and Winston go away , do you think that we could stay on topic and attract some intelligent comments?

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  12. The whole muskrat falls thing was based on many false premises. First, the need for more power is a misconception. We are wasteful. And a lot of our wastefulness is not on purpose. Some of it is a building code issue. Standards like energuide for homes, R-2000, Passive house, are elective. You can choose if you want. Countries like denmark have mandated passive house as their building standard for any new homes and retrofits. This alone decreases energy consumption for heating by up to 90%. Passive conservation measures are the first step to lower energy consumption. Through insulation, air sealing, triple glazed windows, and good design we can reduce energy consumption by more than 60%. beyond this, good air-to-water heat pumps exist for our climate that have coefficients of performance of greater than 2.5 on average year round. canadian families use about 60 gallons of hot water per day on average. It takes about 14 kWh to heat that much water. Now multiply that by 155000 detached households. Now multiply that by 365 days a year. A total of about 800 GWh!!! just to put that in perspective, Holyrood power plant would have to run continuously for 66 days supplying a demand of 500 MW to heat all that water! A heat pump water heater with a coefficient of performance of 2 could decrease that demand by at least 50%. At $4000 for a heat pump water heater, the government could have given each household a heat pump water heater for the total cost of $620M. This would free up a massive amount of energy. The take home story here is that there were other more short term solutions that could have been explored...but we NEEDED more power!

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  13. Anom....you are right ....agree with most everything. Codes should apply for all new housing. However heat pump water tanks will reduce winter peak load at -15C about 100MW, mini split heat pumps for space heating at COP of 2 (at-15C) would reduce winter peak load about 325 MW, COP of 3.0 (at -15C) would reduce winter peak load 433 MW. Nova Scotia lists many models rated at COP 3.0 at -15C
    Commentators like you who know we did not need this power should not be anonymous.....people like you should help shape our energy policy for a green future. Is you job at risk if you identify yourself!
    Winston

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    1. Winston, I meant to say that in a low energy home (ie which uses 10% of the heating energy required for a code built home) concentrating measures on water heating is the next thing in line to take care of and the best option in that case would be a split heat pump water heater. Not one of those that have the heat pump attached to the tank. They typically rob the space of heat which needs to be made up in another way. They work great in summer but make your house cold in the winter. I agree with your comments. We must attack the largest consumer of energy first: heating. Hot water second. For our existing infrastructure, heat pumps will have to pave way forward if the codes don't change. Ultimately the root of the problem is that we are most of us are ignorant of being wasteful because we live in energy inefficient homes and don't know it. The homes are built to code but the code is not adjusted to the climate so we have to add mechanical/electrical technology to overcome issues with building standards. My job will not be at risk for identifying myself! and here is a link to my blog which I am using to document my passive house build https://flatrockpassivehouse.blogspot.ca/

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  14. the general public is in the dark about how this will effect us, exactly, in the future, how will it affect the pocket books of newfoundlanders, and this is a gradual thing, Newfoundlanders want to fight for justice and protest. Its difficult to protest something so gradual, and unseen, - just a thought - there is not much urgency - especially with the middle and upper class,

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  15. "Evil" Bloc Quebecois member of parliament Marilene Gill asked sensible questions about the MF federal loan guarantee. She got straight forward answers, again not very rosy for Nfld electricity consumers...

    https://bondpapers.blogspot.ca/2017/02/no-market-research-required-nlpoli.html#more (thanks to Ed Hollett for bringing it forward)

    At some point obviously, this kind of collaterals (rate increases) will not be sufficient/capable to repay this mess.

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    1. "Evil" (again) Bloc MP Marilene Gill fielded further questions on MF.

      FWIW, it might show some of the concerns Quebec has on the project.

      ==========================================================

      "With regard to the involvement of the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs in the Muskrat Falls project:

      (a) does the Minister intend for the government to become the owner of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric facility, its high voltage power lines and its underwater cable if it has to make good on the loan guarantee;

      (b) has the Minister analyzed the constitutionality, especially as regards section 92(a) of the BNAA, of a situation where the government would own or operate a facility to produce electricity on provincial land and, if so, what were the findings of this analysis;

      (c) has the Department considered the possibly that, if the loan guarantee were called upon and the government of Canada takes possession of the facility, it could dispose of the Muskrat Falls assets, including transferring them to another province or one of its Crown corporations, without the approval of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador;

      (d) if the answer to (c) is affirmative, what were the Department’s conclusions;

      (e) has the Department assessed the consequences for Quebec of its involvement in the Muskrat Falls project, in particular the arrival of a new competitor for the export markets sought after by Hydro-Québec in the Atlantic provinces and the northeastern United States;

      (f) if the answer to (e) is affirmative, what were the Department’s conclusions;

      (g) have the Minister or the Department contacted the Government of Quebec regarding this file, and what have they done to address the issues identified by the Quebec National Assembly in its unanimous resolutions of April 6, 2011, and November 30, 2012; and

      (h) has the government discussed with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador the possibility of authorizing infrastructure to transport electricity across Quebec’s territory?


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  16. Even if concerned professionals were to do a wikileaks style dump of internal Nalcor documents, I am not convinced that anything would happen -- other than trigger a criminal investigation into the source(s). Our elected government does not act in the best interest of the electorate and all three parties are virtually indistinguishable.

    Do we need a new political party with Des and Dave leading it? How do we move beyond this blog and educate the general population so that change is possible?

    The very institutions that should protect the public by speaking up, like the PUB, AG, PEGNL, courts, independent journalists, MUN and political parties have been captured by special interests and neutered. What now?

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  17. RE comment by David J Goodyear on Passive House:
    I spent a couple of hours reading your blog...good read and useful for others considering this.
    You mention that heat pumps are the solution to existing houses, agreed.
    However the combination of heatpumps with R2000 seems much more cost effective than passive. I assume passive design and build may cost you some 30 to 40,000 dollar premium.
    You say you need to achieve ability to heat with 2600 watts for 2000 sq ft., which is 1.3 kw per sq ft. We are heating 4000 sq ft at -17C at 3200 watts with minisplits, which is 0.8 watt per sq ft. And this included the garage which has a lower insulation standard than the rest of the house. So it the cost of passive cost effective.
    Winston

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    1. should read `2600 watts for 2000 sq ft, which is 1.3 watt per sq ft.

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    2. Re comment by winston.

      With current construction methods, these houses are coming in at 5%-8% above the cost of a code built home once you factor in the difference between the cost of framing lets say to the cost of less trim, and the fact that air sealing/ vapor retarder is done in continuous layer sandwiched in the wall creating a service cavity where no effort has to be dedicated to air sealing around receptacles, pipes, adding vapor barrier to the ceiling of separate rooms like a patch work quilt, etc. One cost often offsets the lack of another. So 5-8% is what people are seeing in Atlantic Canada.

      I think that we concentrate alot on talking about being cost effective with respect to payback of the effort put into the thermal envelope of a house. The fact of the matter is that insulation (depending on type) is fairly cheap, and you can only get air sealing right at the time of build. It's really too late once the drywall is up. Once that air sealing and insulation is achieved, savings are perpetual beyond the mortgage.

      As for heating. That part on the blog should have mentioned source energy factor and those heaters would have been oversized....The Passive house standard uses a model that goes back to energy used at the source of production which takes into account the efficiency of the energy source. North American grids are (on average) about 30% efficient, canada is better but the phius model assumes north american average. THe production of electricity is notoriously inefficient. Thermal losses, turbine inefficiencies, transmission line losses all compound to give large losses in the grid. Passive house concentrates on the global warming potential of said losses and making a difference to global warming at the source of generation. So my understanding is that those quoted numbers are inclusive of those inefficiencies. In which case, that peak load of 1.3 W/sqft is after being multiplied by a factor of 3 (source energy factor related to the grid inefficiency). So the power use on the house meter would be more like 0.4 W/sqft if you want to meet the standard. Anything electric is essentially penalized by a source energy factor. Electric baseboards are still possible but a designer needs to concentrate on maximizing solar gains during the winter and calculating internal gains like cooking, dishwashing, etc. After this calculaiton is done another calculation is carried out to determine the size of the heat source required. As long as you are below the requried energy use after multipling by the energy factor, you're good to go. Otherwise you'll need to find another energy source. So in the end, if you install a single minisplit, with a COP of 3 (for argument sake) it counter acts the source energy factor and the two factors cancel in the energy equation so your minisplit would be using 0.4 W/sqft. This is typically done using a single minisplit 12000 btu/h rating.

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    3. 0.8 W/sq ft is a great number. And because you're using a heat pump, it means that you're basically getting a 1:1 return on oil burnt to electricity delivered as the heat pump COP basically factors out the source energy inefficiency.

      The name passive house can be a little confusing as people often think about passive solar but it is so much more. its the lights, the people walking around the house, doing laundry, all the things that we do in our daily lives adding to gains inside the home. Capturing them and the solar gains along with heat recovery can be maximized in order to minimize the energy source. Ultimately, a simple home is possible depending on the climate. Maybe two base boards, no need for in floor heat, large thermally windows with lots of light, optimized plumbing and duct work all add to the efficiency.

      I feel that heat pumps are definitely the way forward for retrofits. and much cheaper than trying to air seal a home after its already been attempted. A deep energy retrofit would be much more expensive than adding a split heat pump, but a deep energy retrofit should be considered when one considers adding new windows, siding, etc. Deep energy retrofits would add considerably to the internal gains of the home which would decrease heating loads in the winter and cooling loads in the summer.

      phew...that was a long one.....

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