THE OFFICIAL completion of BC Hydro’s Northwest Transmission Line was recognized today with a plaque unveiled at the crown corporation’s Skeena Substation, Kilometre 0 of the line which stretches 344 kilometres north of Terrace to a newly-built substation at Bob Quinn.
The $746 million 287 kilovolt line was energized last month with the goal of providing stable and affordable power to mining and other developments and to transmit power into the provincial grid from power projects in the region.
Calgary-based AtlaGas is the first customer for the line by feeding power into it from its Forrest Kerr run-of-river project along the Iskut River, the first and largest of three such projects owned by the company.
“We are pleased to announce that we have safely commissioned and energized the largest construction project in our history,” said AltaGas chair and CEO David Cornhill in a recent release.
The first customer to take power from the line is to be Imperial Metals of Vancouver for its Red Chris copper mine which is now being commissioned.
Imperial built a second transmission line from the Bob Quinn substation north along Hwy37 North to a point where it then built a smaller line to the Red Chris property.
Taken together, the transmission line, three run-of-river projects and mine represent more than $2 billion of spending.
A group of approximately 40 people, including provincial energy minister Bill Bennett, senior BC Hydro officials, officials from the major companies which planned and built the line, local politicians and economic development officials and First Nations representatives were in attendance at the substation.
Terrace mayor Dave Pernarowski said the construction of the line is a critical piece of infrastructure for the city, region and province.
“It really is a crucial piece of the puzzle for diversification of the economy and for stabilization of the economy,” he said.
Pernarowski noted that in addition to AltaGas and Imperial Metals, more companies are eyeing the northwest, attracted by the power being made available from the transmission line.
The list of companies seeking to tie into the line includes Seabridge Gold which just last month received provincial environmental approval for its KSM gold and copper mine project.
Pernarowski did recall the time in late 2007 when the province halted planning and environmental work for the line after mining company NovaGold, which was to be a financial contributor to the line, stopped work on its Galore Creek copper mine after construction costs rose.
That prompted the creation of a coalition of local governments, First Nations, businesses and like-minded individuals to at least press for the completion of the line’s environmental work.
“A delegation of Terrace residents, businesses and others, drove to the Smithers airport so we could have a meeting with [then-provincial finance minister] Colin Hansen,” said Pernarowski of a group which later became known as the Highway 37 Power Line Coalition.
“We had about 40 minutes before his flight to speak to him,” he said of the start of a campaign which eventually lead to the line being revived.
“We were able to make a very strong effort,” Pernarowski added of the coalition.
The province subsequently warmed up to the power line, a circumstance aided by the announcement in the fall of 2009 that the federal government would provide a $130 million grant to help finance construction.
That money came with a commitment by BC Hydro to also extend power to several communities who had been relying on diesel generators.
That extension work to run a smaller line into the Iskut area is next on BC Hydro’s ‘to-do’ list.
Following the unveiling of the plaque, a luncheon attended by more than 80 people was held at the Skeena Golf and Country Club.
The Northwest Transmission Line is made up of 1,092 tower structures.
Valard Construction, based in Edmonton and owned by Quanta Services of Texas, and the engineering firm of Burns & McDonnell were awarded the construction contract in 2011.
Valard will be keeping a small office in the city in anticipation of further power line work stemming from other industrial projects.