BC Hydro narrowing choices for second power line route to West Kelowna

BC Hydro says it expects to chose a route for the second electricity transmission line before the end of the year.

BC Hydro

Completing the multi-million project is still at least 3 1/2 years away, but BC Hydro says it’s closer to picking its preferred route for a second electricity transmission line into West Kelowna.

During a presentation outlining the three routes it is still looking at to West Kelowna council earlier this week, Hydro spokeswoman Sue Foster said all three routes have their pros and cons.

The options include:

• Connecting the West Kelowna substation to one in Vernon via a 110-kilometre line that would run up the west side of Okanagan Lake. But, she said, because that route is the longest of all under consideration, it would be through challenging terrain, it would be the most expensive option and have the most visual impact.

• Running a second line from the Nicola Valley substation to West Kelowna along the same route—but to the south— of the existing single transmission line. It would be the cheapest option and second longest at 72 kilometres but would have what BC Hydro describes as a moderate environmental risk. However, West Kelonwa Mayor Doug Findlater expressed concern about the threat to that line if something like wildfire were to threaten the existing line because of their close proximity. The aim, he pointed out, is to have a second line in case something was to happen to the first.

• Running a line through West Kelowna to the lake and from there either BC Hydro or FortisBC would run a cable either under the lake or attached to the Bennett Bridge with the line then linking into the FortisBC system that services Kelowna. If that option were to be chosen, it would be the shortest route and make BC Hydro a customer of FortisBC, said Foster.

She said BC Hydro hopes to decide which option to proceed with before the end of the year and the second line could be ready for use if needed by 2020.

After years of lobbying for a second line, and then seeing Hydro’s drop it as a priority, West Kelowna was able to convince Premier Christy Clark, MLA for the area, to push the project back onto Hydro’s agenda in the spring of 2015.Since them Hydro has been looking at possible routes.

Findlater said it was clear during the Smith Creek wildfire a few years ago that the loss of the one and only power transmission line into West Kelowna could be devastating on the community from both a individual and economic point of view. In 2014, 22,000 customers went with out power for eight hours after a fire brooke out on the line high up off the Okanagan Connector.

The mayor said as it now stands the community has lost potential business—in the form of companies not locating there—because of the threat of power loss that a single transmission line poses. West Kelowna is the largest populated area in the province without some form of back-up in case the main electricity transmission line goes down.

Since last spring, open houses have been held in the Central and north Okanagan to talk about route options and BC Hydro’s Sarah McKinney told council more are planned. The next ones are set for Peachland’s community centre on Monday, the Westbank community hall on Tuesday and the Coast Capri Hotel in Kelowna and the Atrium Hotel in Vernon next Thursday. All the meetings will run from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

No cost estimate has been set and consultations are still ongoing with aboriginal groups in the area over the impact to them of a new transmission line.