Growing capacity at “The Beck”
Nearly eight per cent of Ontario’s electricity is generated at the Sir Adam Beck (SAB) Complex at Niagara Falls. The total amount generated has increased dramatically since the relatively modest beginnings of “The Beck” in 1922.
- In 1922, the complex consisted of a single generating station, now called SAB 1. Its water supply came from the upper Niagara River, through a 20 kilometre (12.5 miles) long canal.
- A second generating station, SAB 2, went on-line in 1954. Its water came through two new 8-kilometre diversion tunnels that ran under the city of Niagara Falls.
- In 1958, a reservoir (Pump Generating Station) was created to store extra water over night for hydroelectric generation the next day.
- Between 1996 and 2005, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) completed a major upgrade at SAB 2, increasing its potential generating capacity by 194 megawatts. This extra capacity enhanced the opportunity for the new Niagara Tunnel.
How a turbine works
Ever stood overlooking the Horseshoe Falls? To watch water flow over the falls is to witness an incredible force of nature. Unstoppable masses of water hurtle over the precipice, tumbling about 55 metres (180 feet) to the Maid of the Mist pool below.
In the old days
Using water mills, people have been harnessing the waterpower they witness on fast rivers, rapids, and small waterfalls for thousands of years. The modern hydroelectric power generating station is something like an old-fashioned water mill because both use moving water to power something else, be it a water wheel or a turbine. In a water mill, the waterpower is used on the spot to turn a water wheel. The wheel in turn propels a grinding stone (which grinds grain into flour) or a circular blade (which cuts lumber). In a modern generating station, the waterpower is used to create electricity, which can then be transmitted great distances and used by people for a multitude of purposes.
Getting power to your kitchen light
Transforming the waterpower of Niagara Falls into the electricity that lights up your kitchen light involves several stages.
- Water is diverted from the Niagara River at a high elevation (above the falls).
- It makes a detour around the falls through deep, underground tunnels that bring it to the hydroelectric power generating stations where the drop to the lower Niagara River is 89 metres (292 feet).
- In the power station, the water rushes through a pipe called a penstock, where it strikes the rotary blades of a turbine.
- The water makes the turbine spin very, very fast.
- The spinning turbine blades are attached to a shaft, which in turn is attached to the generator’s electromagnets. These also spin very quickly.
- When the spinning electromagnetic fields pass through stationary coils of wire, electricity is created in the coils.
- The electricity travels along electrical wires to transformers. Here the voltage of the electricity is increased for long-distance transmission over power lines.
People have been harnessing the power of falling water for thousands of years, to grind grain, cut lumber, and light their homes. As the centuries have passed, people have become better at harnessing that energy on a large scale.
Building on one man’s dream
Though you’ve possibly never heard of him, Sir Adam Beck made changes that allowed you and other Ontarians to live a comfortable, productive life. Born in Baden, Ontario, Adam Beck became the Mayor of London and the first Chairman of The Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario. He grew up in the nineteenth century — a time when electric wires did not crisscross the province, and when ordinary people could not access electricity. Beck wanted to change that. He believed that electricity should be affordable for everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful.
"Nothing is too big for us. Nothing is too visionary."
—Sir Adam Beck, speaking about Ontario
"The gifts of nature are for the public," he said, and the gift of nature he was most determined to harness was the hydroelectric potential of the Niagara River. He was certain that the waterpower of this river could be and should be harnessed. So he made it happen, by overseeing the building of the first generating station near Queenston, Ontario and a canal that diverted water to it from the upper Niagara River.
Beck lived to see hydroelectric power begin to flow across Ontario. For his vision and his devotion to the public good, he was knighted by King George V — and became Sir Adam Beck. His statue still stands at a prominent intersection in Toronto, where University Avenue and Queen Street meet.
Sir Adam Beck would not have hesitated to build the world’s largest tunnel. By dreaming big, and making those dreams happen, Ontario Power Generation hopes to follow Sir Beck’s example — to build a clean, renewable future for Ontario.