After seven years of lobbying and recent direct intervention by Premier Christy Clark, the Westside is finally getting a second B.C. Hydro electricity transmission line.
But while Clark, MLA for Westside-Kelowna, and new B.C. Hydro president and CEO Jessica McDonald both said Thursday the multi-million dollar project is a go, no time frame, route or actual cost was announced.
All three will have to wait while until a route option is chosen and public consultation and engineering are done, they said. But McDonald, who has only headed B.C. Hydro for eight months, said an undisclosed “range” of money has been allocated for the project in the Crown corporation’s 10-year capital plan.
The project has also been pushed up on the priority list for B.C. Hydro, meaning it will be done in the first half of the capital plan, likely within five to six years.
McDonald said the reason no details are currently available about the cost is because a route option for the line has not yet been determined and public consultation will have to take place to look at the social, economic and environmental impacts of three potential options under consideration.
The options include:
• The new line running from the north, west of Okanagan Lake.
• The new line running from Nicola substation near Merritt to the Westbank substation in West Kelowna following a different route than the existing line.
• A line under Okanagan Lake cable connecting the Westbank substation to the FortisBC system on the east-side of the lake.
Both McDonald and Clark said as part of the consultations, B.C. First Nations in the area will be asked for input.
“We will work closely with First Nations, the public and stakeholders to determine the best
route option for the community while delivering the project efficiently and prudently,” said McDonald.
She added B.C. Hydro committed several years ago to study the feasibility of a new line and after an extensive review, decided this is the right time to invest in an upgrade to West Kelowna’s transmission network.
The vulnerability of the existing single transmission line, which serves 22,000 homes in West Kelowna, Peachland and unincorporated areas on the Westside and around Summerland was highlighted both by the Smith Creek Forest Fire and last October when a problem with a power pole in a remote area east of the Okanagan Connector knocked out power to most most homes and business on Westside.
That outage lasted about nine hours and West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater said a more lengthy disruption could have serious consequences for residents, businesses and municipalities in the area.
The Smith Creek Forest Fire, while it did not damage the line, did threaten it also causing concern at the time.
McDonald said the new 138-kilovolt line would not replace the existing one but would be alternate power supply to be used if anything happened to the other line.
She said including it in B.C. Hydro’s 10-year capital plan did not displace any other projects.
Clark said growth in the area is another reason to have a second transmission line.
“As more people and businesses move to the West Kelowna area, infrastructure has to keep pace,” she said. “Over the next 10 years, electricity demand is expected to grow by 18 per cent. This
addition will ensure a reliable power supply as the economy and communities grow.”
Findlater welcomed the announcement and praised Clark for helping push the project to the front of B.C. Hydro’s agenda.
He credited the premier for delivering on her promise a year ago to help get the second transmission line built.
“Boy, it’s happened in a hurry since Premier Clark got involved,” he said at the announcement held at the Westbank hydro substation Thursday.
As part of the project, the substation will also have improvements made to it said McDonald.
The substation has already had work done to improve it in recent years. In 2008 an new transformer was installed, and in 2011 and 2012 upgrades were made to the line to increase capacity.
As part of the capital plan, B.C. Hydro says it will spend an average of $2.4 billion per year over the next 10 years to build new infrastructure.