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Big Becky makes a breakthrough

Alexandra Pope, staff writer

May 13, 2011 — After five years of drilling beneath Niagara Falls, the world's largest tunnel-boring machine reaches daylight Friday.

Water will come rushing through this tunnel at a rate of 500 cubic meters per second
Water will come rushing through this tunnel at a rate of 500 cubic meters per second

The Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls are known worldwide for their incredible size and majestic beauty -- but they also represent the future of renewable power generation in Ontario.

140 meters under the City of Niagara Falls, crews are hard at work on Ontario Power Generation's Niagara Tunnel Project, which has been nicknamed “Big Becky”.

Becky's breakthrough to daylight on Friday is being called an historic event for Ontario. Officials with OPG say after years of drilling, the breakthrough has been one of the hardest parts of the project. Despite the progress however, there is still a lot of work to do before the tunnel is complete.

Under construction since 2005 and slated for completion in 2013, the tunnel is the largest hydro-electric project in southern Ontario. When finished, Becky will measure 14.4 meters wide and more than 10 kilometres long.

The tunnel will divert water from the Niagara River to the Sir Adam Beck power generating station, where gravity alone will propel it through the station at an incredible 500 cubic meters per second -- enough water to fill an Olympic swimming pool in a matter of seconds.

The flow of the water turns turbines, which produce electricity, explains Bill McKinlay with Ontario Power Generation.

“It's a clean, renewable form of electricity that Ontario's used for over 100 years.”

The Niagara Tunnel will enable OPG to produce an additional 1.6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually -- enough to power 160,000 homes for a year.

Groups like the Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA), which would like to see the Ontario government move towards 100 per cent renewable energy generation, are excited to see the Big Becky project completed.

“We have been a strong supporter of the Niagara Tunnel for many years,” says OCAA chair Jack Gibbons. “It's a very environmentally benign source of renewable energy and relatively low cost.”

With files from Andrea Stockton

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