Community council in British Columbia questions need to upgrade BC Hydro line

A member of the town council in Kitimat, British Columbia, a community of fewer than 10,000 people located about 75 miles east of Prince Rupert, B.C., is questioning BC Hydro’s planned upgrade of its transmission line between their community and the town of Terrace, B.C., about 39 miles to the north.

At a town council meeting Nov. 5, Councilor Phil Germuth raised a number of questions about the merits of the project.

“BC Hydro says the transmission between Kitimat and Terrace is nearing the end of its useful life and it needs to upgrade it and double its capacity, all by November 2013,” Germuth told TransmissionHub Nov. 8.

BC Hydro’s draft integrated resource plan (IRP) calls for the utility to “undertake work to maintain the earliest in-service date for a new 500-kV transmission line from Prince George to Terrace and Kitimat and from the Peace River region to Prince George” to meet new demand on the north coast.

The draft IRP refers to “two liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities included in BC Hydro’s base load forecast [as well as] a number of other LNG and mining projects currently being considered on the north coast. If a third LNG facility is approved and requests electrical service, BC Hydro would need to acquire significant additional energy and provide additional peak capacity to serve the additional load.”

The document also recommends “[c]ontinu[ing] to work with LNG developers to understand their electricity requirements, and keep options open until further certainty on future requirements can be established.”

Although the draft IRP indicates BC Hydro is still “studying a range of options” and refers to a “potential future need for both electricity supply and associated transmission infrastructure,” Germuth said it appears a decision has already been made.

“If they don’t even have a plan in place, why is this line being upgraded at this time when … the transmission line proposed from Prince George to Terrace is only being studied?,” he asked.

BC Hydro says it is currently upgrading the transmission line between Kitimat and Terrace, as the Kitimat area is currently being served by a single 287-kV transmission line and this upgrade will double the line’s capacity. The work is projected to be done in 2014, a BC Hydro spokesperson told TransmissionHub Nov. 9.

“Following the upgrade, a new transmission line will be built but BC Hydro is still determining the size and location and this is all dependent on which loads are expected to materialize,” the spokesperson said. “Should LNG loads not materialize, BC Hydro will still need to address any end-of-life issues with the [existing] transmission line, including timing, size and location of a new line or lines.”

Germuth said from what he’s learned, he doesn’t think additional transmission will be necessary to serve proposed LNG terminals. During a recent meeting with the Union of BC Municipalities, Germuth said both government and opposition sources told him that the LNG terminals were not going to use power from BC Hydro.

Instead, the LNG plants are expected to produce their own electricity, which Germuth expects they can do more cheaply than the $87 to $95 per megawatt range he said BC Hydro estimated would be the cost of power from its expanded Site C, a proposed third dam and hydroelectric generating station on the Peace River in northeast B.C.

Whether or not the LNG terminals will use power from BC Hydro, Germuth objects to the cost of the line upgrade being placed on the backs of his town’s ratepayers.

“I’m totally in favor of the LNG [terminals]; it’s just that, as a ratepayer, I’m not in favor of subsidizing them,” he said. “If it’s for the [proposed LNG terminals], they should be paying for it.”

Without additional demand from LNG terminals, he said the existing line is sufficient.

“The only thing that line has even been used for is going out of Kitimat; never power coming in.” he said. The 896-MW Kemano hydropower generating station, which supplies power for an aluminum producer’s smelting operation in Kitimat, occasionally uses the transmission pathway to sell surplus power to BC Hydro.

Germuth said he is going to continue to press the issue.

“We are going to request BC Hydro have a public meeting in Kitimat, and provide a copy of their final report from all the forums they held during the summer,” he said.

He also plans to write a letter to the leader of the opposition and to the government to clarify their position on power for the LNG producers. “We seem to be hearing two different things,” he said.

This story was updated Nov. 9 to include information received from BC Hydro.