Berwick Electric Commission
A Short History of the Commission
This Community has operated a hydroelectric generating system on the South Branch Annapolis River since 1921, prior to its incorporation as the Town of Berwick in 1923. Previously, dams upstream from the present day headpond in Factorydale had been constructed and used for log driving. There was a sawmill at the Factorydale site until 1919 or so, operated by the Easson family. In the period 1919 to 1921, the Town acquired this property from the Eassons and converted the millpond to a hydro headpond. The upstream dams were used to impound water for later generation, as well as using run of river. The first generator was a 125 kW machine. In the early 1920s, Berwick supplied electricity to residents of the Town, and to local distribution companies in Morristown, Aylesford, and Somerset. Subsequently, the Avon River Light and Power Company built a 22kV transmission line along the Dominion Atlantic Railway ROW and began buying up local distribution companies, and selling power to Berwick and other communities which retained their utilities.
Hydroelectric Dam and Penstock, Factorydale, NS
Berwick continued to operate the Factorydale plant, and in the 1930s replaced the original generator with a 250 kW machine. Purchases of energy were made from Avon River and its successor, Nova Scotia Light and Power. NSL&P has since been merged with the provincially-owned Nova Scotia Power Commission and later privatized as Nova Scotia Power Incorporated. Berwick has purchased power from these companies as well as generating a portion of the Town’s electric load. In 1952 Berwick acquired a lease on Crown lands around Burnt Dam Flowage and increased hydro storage at that site, replacing the old log-driving timber dam with earthen dams and installing a submerged gate. In 1961 the Town acquired water rights to Randall and Birch Lakes, formally used by the McMaster lumber mill in Rockway Notch. A diversion canal was excavated to carry water to the East Branch from Randall Lake. It is believed that no additions were made to the McMaster dams on Randall. Birch Lake has never been diverted and it is unlikely that this will be done. At extreme high water Randall Lake overflows into Birch Lake and diversion would require raising any dams left on Birch Lake and excavating a canal between the two lakes. This was engineered in the early 1960s but never executed. Also in the early 60s, some work was done to rebuild the dam and gate control on South River (Parker) Lake. It is not known whether pondage was increased at that time.
In the period 1964 to 1968, design work and improvements were carried out on the headpond and generating plant in Factorydale, including building a new penstock and surge tank, and constructing a new powerhouse. A larger generator of 520kVa was installed.
In 1976, an Act of the Legislature created the Berwick Electric Commission (BEC) to manage the utility on behalf of the Town. Real property remains vested in the Town.
In 1983, the Factorydale dam was resurfaced and reinforced with shotcrete, four + inches applied over 4 x 4 reinforcing mesh pinned to the upstream and downstream faces. Through the 1980s and early 1990s, various solutions were tried to correct a structural problem involving the draft tube in the powerhouse, now stable.
Since the 1960s, no structural changes have been made to storage or diversion dams. Gate mechanisms have been repaired or replaced, and erosion damage at the Burnt Dam runaround spillway was repaired. On three occasions in the 1980s, BEC worked on bridge replacement with the Department of Natural Resources on the roadways providing access to the storage lakes. Some consideration was given to repairing an old log-driving dam on Lower Palmer Lake around 1990, but the project was deemed uneconomic. Following a 1992 agreement with Fisheries and Oceans to maintain minimum water flows in summer months, apertures were cut in control gates to serve this end and gauging stakes were driven in stream beds.
In 1997, the BEC investigated the value of building a second generating plant upstream of the Factorydale site at Beals Falls. A study done by Neill & Gunter failed to prove that the project had value; this may be re-examined in the near future. In 2000, BEC installed a catwalk and lifting beam over the spillway on the Factorydale dam to address safety and operational issues. 2003 saw the installation of automation including peak management software in the Factorydale generating station, with remote control from the Berwick Operations Office. Strum Engineering of Dartmouth designed and fabricated this system for our installation.
In 2004, BEC replaced 800 feet of the 48 inch diameter wood stave penstock that was installed in 1968. The work was done by Elliott Excavation of Waverly, engineered by YMCL. This leaves about 200 feet and the wood stave surge tank from the 1968 build. EastPoint Engineering is about to commence a study to identify how and how soon these replacements should be made.
In 2006-7, Mitchelmore Engineering (now MECO) carried out an inundation study and prepared an Emergency Response Plan for the Hydro system.
In 2008, BEC engaged Daeco Construction to reinforce the Factorydale Headpond Dam with rock anchors, extra mass, and a redesigned spillway to meet safety criteria of the Canadian Dam Association. By design, the spillway can pass virtually all floods of normal probability and the dam structure can withstand overtopping in the event of an upstream dam failure. Mitchelmore did this design work following an assessment done earlier by YMCL that indicated reinforcement was required.
The Utility operates the distribution system serving the Town and some adjacent areas of Kings County. Staff undertakes line construction and maintenance, meter installations and meter reading, hydro control and maintenance, and standby duty and trouble calls. Operationally the BEC employs three Powerline Technicians who conduct meter work and hydro operations as well. The Commission operates one fully capable double bucket truck, a digger derrick for pole setting, a van for general transportation and a diesel 4x4 and a tracked vehicle for hydro operations. We also exchange aid with other Town Departments and support special events such as Gala Days.
View photos of the Factorydale Hydroelectric Dam.