October 02, 2014 - 12:06 PM
WEST KELOWNA – District of West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater says last night’s line failure that cut power to thousands of homes for nine hours would have been very serious if it happened just one month from now.
The failure was caused by a fire that started atop one of hundreds of poles supporting West Kelowna’s only power transmission line. The outage lasted from 6:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m.
“We were lucky last night,” Findlater says. “It got a little chilly but… it would be significantly different in minus 20 weather.”
The line from Merritt to Shannon Lake is the only power supply for all of West Kelowna, Westbank First Nation, Peachland and parts of Summerland. It supplies power to 22,000 households and businesses in the area.
Findlater says the outage is more than just an inconvenience for residents.
“We use power to pump water, for sewage treatment plants, traffic lights and for commerce,” he says. “We absolutely need a second or alternate transmission connection for the security of 70,000 or so people. With care homes and retirement homes, if the outage went on much longer we would likely have to evacuate some of those facilities.”
While Findlater agrees with B.C. Hydro that there is relatively low risk of failure—the last one happened in October 2007—he says the need for a second line should be based on potential consequences his municipality would face not the risk of failure.
“Hydro feels it’s a very reliable line and that’s why it hasn’t gotten the attention that we would like to see.”
B.C. Hydro has looked at several options, including running a second line from Merrit, a new line from Vernon or a submarine line from Fortis in Kelowna, but either of those options could cost upwards of $100 million.
Still, Findlater says the issue was raised at last week’s UBCM meeting and he’s encouraged by the response. He says the Smith Creek fire earlier this summer really underscored the vulnerability of having a single line supplying all the power for so many people.
“We made progress last week with B.C. Hydro,” he says. “They’re doing their studies in order to move this up their list of priorities.”
Findlater says his goal is to get a secondary line into the capital plan as soon as possible but will wait to see the results of the study when they come out at the end of November.
“We have to work within the system but that’s pretty good timing,” he says.
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