Stewart hydro project powers up

A $100 million hydroelectric project near Stewart is powering up.

The Long Lake hydro project, located 25 km north of Stewart on Cascade Creek, is expected to generate nearly 130 GWh/year for sale to BC Hydro over the next 40 years.

“We are commissioning and hopefully we're going to start generating power next week,” said Neil McLaughlin, project manager at Regional Power, which owns the 31 mw hydroelectric project along with Summit Power. “We've been here three seasons and we're pretty much on target to spark this thing up.”

A series of tests are being conducted, running the plant for a few days at a time, checking the systems, running it for longer, and checking again.

“Everything gets looked at closely ... and if everything's okay we run it for as long as it runs,” he said.

The project works like this: a rock-filled dam at the head of Long Lake builds up a supply of water which is then diverted down a 7.25km penstock, gathering pressure to turn two-jet Pelton-type turbines which in turn generate power year round. The water is then discharged into Cascade Creek.

A 10km transmission line connects the turbines to BC Hydro's 138kv line which runs into Stewart, flowing the power into the crown corporation's provincial grid.

The line runs over and down a mountain ridge and was built by Valard, the same company which is building BC Hydro's 287kv Northwest Transmission Line.

Canadian Projects Ltd, out of Calgary, designed the site, with a contracting consortium called WEN handling construction. Westpark Electric, based in the Fraser Valley, was also involved as was Soucie Construction from Stewart and All North and Triton, companies with offices in Terrace.

The work took three years and the powerhouse portion of the project, which houses the generators, turbines, and all of the control equipment, has actually been finished for a year, said McLaughlin.

“The powerhouse is the most sophisticated equipment that's involved in all of this, the rest of it's civil works and a pipe in the ground,” he said. “We finished that a little earlier than scheduled, so that was good.”

At the peak of construction, the project provided 270 direct jobs, he said.  Now, three to five full time operators will be running the plant – to put that into perspective for the small community of Stewart, explained McLaughlin, the three men already signed on to work at the plant have six children between them, which is “10 per cent of the public school.”

Long Lake will be the biggest tax base for the Stewart. After applying for and receiving a revitalization tax exemption for a 10 year period, they will pay a maximum of $400,000 in taxes for the next decade, explained Maureen Tarrant, director financial administration for the District of Stewart.

“In saying that they are still our largest tax payer,” she said. “At the end of the 10 years they will pay the utility rate on the assessed value of their properties.”

The project will provide power for mining and exploratory projects in the surrounding area.

“They're looking at taking power from this line and running it up to Pretium,” he said of the company which has a promising gold property called Brucejack.

“There's various exploratory potential projects that are underway at the moment to take power up to the mines, as well as the Northwest Transmission Line that everybody knows about.”

Unlike the Northwest Transmission Line, this hydro project has kept a low-profile over the years, despite being in the planning stages for over a decade.

“We've been very low key actually,” said McLaughlin, noting that permitting for the project actually began in 1999.

Regional Power, headquartered in Toronto, has two more hydroelectric projects of similar value in Sechelt, and another one under construction in White River, Ont. The company worked with the Nisga'a throughout the duration of the project, with opportunities for training and employment a main part of the agreement.

“We have a training program where we train operators for other plants, not just for here but for other plants down in Sechelt, and also in Dease Lake,” said McLaughlin, noting that the company also manages a smaller hydro project in Dease Lake.

Summit Power has operations in North America and the United Kingdom.

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