Opponents of proposed BC Hydro transmission line “incorrect” – mayor

Some citizens in and around Merritt, B.C., are taking issue with BC Hydro’s planned Merritt area transmission project, questioning the utility’s assessment of the need for the line, but the city’s mayor says the line is definitely needed.

“The need for the power has been identified for the past three years,” Susan Roline told TransmissionHub on May 7.

“We do have five sawmills in town that take a lot of power, and we also have a biomass facility being built here,” Roline said, referring to a C$140m (US$141m), 33 MW generating station approved for the area.

Critics point to that facility as evidence that the line is intended as an avenue for independent power producers to export their power, a charge Roline disputes.

“Approximately half the power will be used by the plant and the adjoining sawmill, and the rest will be fed back into the grid,” she said.

She said the lack of transmission capacity has already hindered the area’s short-term economic growth. Different types of businesses that had expressed interest in locating in Merritt were told by BC Hydro that the area couldn’t support any increased business, Roline said, “So we were losing our market share.”

The additional transmission capacity will be needed as Merritt, the self-proclaimed “Country Music Capital of Canada” about 270 km (168 mi) northeast of Vancouver, BC., positions itself aggressively for long-term growth.

The city’s official community plan includes the goal of more than doubling the city’s population by 2030. “To get the residents, we need more employers, so that’s why we’re trying to attract more employers so that we can grow our population,” Roline said.

The community plan states that a 30% increase in the number of businesses, or an additional 116 businesses, is needed to serve the area when its population doubles. The plan also includes the goal of having “at least three new large industries locate in the city of Merritt.”

BC Hydro load forecasts anticipate significant electrical load growth in the Merritt area well before the plan’s 2030 target date, and predicts that the area’s demand will reach its current capacity by 2014.

Contributors to this growth include development of new hotels, residential subdivisions, and a resort south of Merritt in the Coquihalla corridor, according to the utility’s project website.

BC Hydro’s first choice had been to upgrade an existing 69-kV line that runs 37 km (23 mi) between the Merritt and Highland substations to 138-kV and to upgrade both substations, according to the project website. However, because the utility was not able to acquire the property rights required to complete the project within its established timeline, it chose to build a new 35 km (21.75 mi) 138-kV line along right-of-way that it already owns but which is presently unused.

“I think [the new line] is generally accepted,” Roline said, admitting that acceptance was higher when the expectation was that the existing 69-kV line would be upgraded. “It was fine when it was in somebody else’s back yard but now that it’s coming in to their back yard, they’re not so fine,” Roline said.

Nonetheless, she said, there’s little question in the minds of most residents – and none in hers – that the line is needed in the near term as well as for future growth.

“If we don’t have it in place by late 2013 or early 2014, we could be looking at some of our mills having to reduce their hours because there won’t be the power to meet their needs,” Roline said.