West Kelowna fights B.C. Hydro’s plan to delay second power line - InfoNews

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West Kelowna fights B.C. Hydro’s plan to delay second power line

The existing B.C. Hydro transmission line is pictured in the Smith Creek neighbourhood in this undated photo submitted by the City of West Kelowna. The transmission line runs between the Nicola substation in Merritt and the Westbank Substation in West Kelowna.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/City of West Kelowna/Darren Hull
March 27, 2019 - 4:00 PM

WEST KELOWNA - City councillors are outraged by B.C. Hydro's plans to further delay a proposed new power line to West Kelowna.

Council learned about the delay in a letter from B.C. Hydro that they responded to yesterday, March 26. Hydro told the city the existing power line from Merritt to West Kelowna had to be reviewed first.

“To me it’s the first step in saying ‘we’re not going to do anything. We’re going to improve the line you’ve got and that’s it. We’re going to roll this project back and flush it down the toilet,'” Coun. Rick DeJong said, prior to making a motion to reject Hydro’s plan. Other councillors added instructions to Mayor Gord Millsom's rebuttel letter to local MLAs, the Minister of Mines and the Premier.

Coun. Doug Findlater, who was Mayor for much of the past decade, said this is an issue that is “near and dear" to his heart and one he’s been working on for 11 years.

“Based on the number of incidents, which is only two that I’m aware of, Hydro says the risk is very low,” Findlater told council. “But the consequences are very high and put a lot of people at risk. I think we need to call on B.C. Hydro to get on with building this redundant line as soon as possible and stop fooling around with reviewing existing work.”

The last time the line was cut was about five years ago, Findlater explained. Hydro crews had to drive from Lillooet to Vernon to pick up equipment before driving to the Okanagan Connector and onto side roads trying to find the cause of the outage, in the dark. They couldn’t find it until they powered up the line with workers scattered along its length looking for sparks.

The results of the 16-hour outage included a house fire in Peachland where candles were lit for heat, businesses closing because they couldn’t make transactions, traffic lights failing and seniors care homes considering the evacuation of  residents.

“In a conversation with B.C. Hydro, they said it’s not unusual to review a capital project and reassess as to whether or not it’s viable,” Coun. Jayson Friesen said. “Yes, I agree. However, you can’t do that on a project that has substantial life and death circumstances.”

The letter from Hydro was signed by Sabrina Locicero, Stakeholder Engagement Advisor for Hydro. In it she wrote that the cost estimate for a second line was higher than expected.

“One additional alternative that we need to examine, as part of our due diligence, is to improve the resiliency of the existing transmission line that serves West Kelowna and Peachland to minimize the risk of outages resulting from forest fires and geotechnical events,” she wrote.

Councillors took that to mean the idea of a second line is dead and Hydro is just going to look at decreasing the risk of fire or other natural disasters to the existing line.

iNFOnews.ca requested an interview with Locicero, but instead received a statement from B.C. Hydro communications officer Kevin Aquino.

“Alternative 2, a new transmission line from Nicola Substation to Westbank Substation, is still the leading alternative. However, since it was identified in 2016, the cost estimate to build the new transmission line has increased and is higher than expected," Aquino wrote. "That’s why we are looking carefully at the other alternatives, including improving the resiliency of the existing line, before we make any further decisions. We need to make sure we are making the best possible decision for our customers."

In November, Hydro staff met with council to tell them the Merritt to Westbank line was their preferred option but a final decision would not be made until this spring. The planned review of the existing line will put that off for another year.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2019
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