In The Community With Jessica Polak of Ontario Power Generation

Hornblower Niagara Cruises is the official boat tour operator of Niagara Falls, Canada, but we also share the waterways with many key operations including the Ontario Power Generating System (OPG). The OPG controls the regulation of water through the Niagara River, in which our business depends on. In August 2010, Jessica Polak joined Ontario Power Generation and in January 2017 she joined the OPG team in Niagara Falls, Ontario. As of 2018, Jennifer became the Vice President of Local Ontario Power Generations Operations. Jessica’s role is not only vital for the decisions made on the Niagara River but impacts the entire province of Ontario. Jessica is unafraid to get her feet wet! We sat down with Jessica to ask some questions that might have visitors to Niagara Falls scratching their heads about the force and diversion of water in the area.

Q&A With Jessica Polak, Vice President of Local Ontario Power Generations Operations

What does an average day look like for you?

JP: My day is mostly about people. Facilitating the creation of an environment where our staff can do what they do best, as best they can to provide Power with Purpose. It starts with understanding what it is needed to provide clean, reliable, low cost and sustainable power for the province. Then providing vision, seeking alignment, making decisions and removing barriers for our teams to accomplish just that. I do this by interacting with all levels of the organization and across the organization to ensure I have the best understanding of how we can accomplish that goal.

What does being a female leader in the workplace mean for you?

JP: It means progress. It means paving the path for other women. It’s about breaking down bias, by understanding it and sharing experiences. It is also showing women and girls, that you too can do a role like this, or any other role not previously or not commonly held by a woman, and do it well!

We understand that you are the person behind controlling the flow of water from the Falls, explain what this means and how the water is regulated?

JP: There is a very competent and skilled team behind me that manages the flow of water. We need to manage water within the regulations from our treaty, due to our diligence regarding public safety and to preserve the health of the river for all its many uses.

What is the Niagara Icebreaker boat?

JP: It is an 84-tonne vessel that smashes through the ice and moves slush to keep the river clear and flowing well. This prevents loss of generation and more impactful to our communities keeps the public safe, avoiding or mitigating flooding on the Upper Niagara River.

What is an Ice boom and why is it critical for before any boat tour operations?

JP: The Niagara River Ice boom is 2.7 km span of floating steel pontoons linked with steel cables and anchored to the river bottom. This keeps the ice at bay while allowing the water to flow beneath. Without ice booms, power production would be impeded and the risk of flooding increased. The boom does restrict boat traffic, so having it removed early is good for that purpose. But if lake ice prevails, then it’s important to keep the ice out of the river and sometimes the boom needs to stay in longer.

Explain how the Sir Adam Beck I Generating Station will produce more energy after its overhaul program?

JP: We are in a major overhaul program which will last for approximately another 16 years. All of our units in the Beck Complex will be refurbished, allowing them to run reliably for the next 25 to 30 years. These overhauls will include enhancements to promote increased and more efficient generation. We’re also rebuilding 2 units that were taken out of service in 2012. These units have been completely removed as they were old 25 Hz units, providing power to major industry and were no longer required. They are now being replaced with modern 60 Hz units to provide about 110 MW of additional clean low-cost generation for the province.

How much energy is produced from all three Niagara Falls waterfalls?

JP: The beck generating complex owned and operated by OPG, has 30 generators (soon to be 32). Those units use the Niagara flow to produce enough electricity to power 3 million homes. And this is only half the story, as New York Power Authority is allotted the same amount of water to produce power on the other side of the border.

What is the OPG doing to maintain clean waterways in the Great lakes?

JP: OPG Manages within our water management treaties for due diligence and to manage flows. This is also where the Icebreaker and ice boom come into play to limit flooding as best as one can. We also keep the water clean from an environmental perspective by merely taking advantage of its flow to produce power and return it back to it’s natural waterway without impacting the quality of the water.

What has been one of your fondest memories of Niagara Falls to date?

JP: Driving along the parkway is one of my favourite things in this city, I like to take the time to appreciate my surroundings. I always take the parkway when travelling from the Sir Adam Beck Generating Station to the International Control Dam to take in the scenery and appreciate it’s beauty.
To learn more about the Ontario Power Generation, visit their website.