West Kelowna power outage shows need for second transmission line says mayor

Outage left an estimated 22,000 homes from Summerland to West Kelowna in the dark for nine hours Wednesday night.

West Kelowna’s mayor says Wednesday’s massive power outage, which left an estimated 22,000 households in West Kelowna, Peachland and parts of Summerland in the dark for nine hours, points to the need for a second B.C. Hyrdo electricity transmission line into the area.

Doug Findlater, said the issue of a second line has been something successive West Kelowna council’s have been pressing since incorporattion seven years ago.

The last major outage that affected as many households was an even larger one in 2007. Like the one Wednesday night, it resulted from a problem with just one pole on the line a great distance from the Westside.

On Wednesday, a fire on a Hydro transmission pole in a remote, mountainous area east of Merritt resulted in the outage, which lasted from 6:30 p.m. Wednesday evening to 3:30 a.m. Thursday morning.

Crew has to find the problem in the dark, fix it and them restring power lines in challenging conditions, said B.C. Hydro. That is what lead to the lengthy outage.

With power out across the district, many businesses were forced to close early, traffic signals and street lights were out and thousands of people directly affected.

Findlater said B.C. Hydro currently has a business case for a second transmission line in its possession and has told West Kelowna it will study it and appear before council to discuss its findings before the end of November.

The mayor said threat of more serious problems in the event of a lengthy outage is very real here and he pointed to the number of care facilities for seniors in the community as an example, saying they were particularly vulnerable.

“If you were to get a prolonged outage, basically it could shut down your community,” he said.

As many as 70,000 people between Summerland and the William Bennet Bridge over Okanagan Lake could be affected if the line went down, he added.

Currently there are three options for a second transmission line to the Westside — twinning the existing line from Merritt, running a line from Vernon to the north or tapping into the FortisBC line that serves Kelowna on the east side of Okanagan Lake via an underwater line.

All three have pros and cons. In the Wednesday night’s case, a twinned Merritt to West Kelowna line would have helped but it would be just as susceptible to wildfire as the existing single line is. During the recent Smith Creek fire, flames came dangerously close to the existing line but it was not damaged, said the mayor.

A line from the Vernon could cost as much as $100 million when construction and land acquisition is taken into account and a submarine line from Kelowna would likely include a “standby” charge from Fortis to B.C. Hydro that Hydro is not likely willing to pay, said Findlater.

But he added despite the potential problems getting a second line built, he feels the district is much farther ahead on the issue now than it has been in the past.

“It definately won’t happen next week but within the next five years? I’m hopeful,” said Findlater.

According to the mayor, the issue has been raised with Premier Christy Clark, the MLA for the area, and she is supportive of a second transmission line and the deputy energy minister has also helped move the issue along.