BC Hydro to choose power line builder

  • Feb. 28, 2011 9:00 a.m.

BC HYDRO officials are this week beginning the task of selecting who will build its Northwest Transmission Line up Hwy37 North, a $404 million project regarded as the start of an economic revival for the region.Four bidders, with each made up of several different companies, were shortlisted last year and three have stayed with the project and had until Feb. 25 to submit their final proposals.Speaking last week, senior BC Hydro official Bruce Barrett said the crown corporation wants to have the winning bid selected well in time for an official spring construction start on the line.Scheduled completion date is late 2013, a timeline that fits with the planned completion by Calgary-based AltaGas of the Forrest Kerr run-of-river project on the Iskut River that will feed power into the provincial grid through the transmission line and the desire by Imperial Metals to build its own line to hook into the transmission line to run its Red Chris copper mine.Environmental approval for the project came Feb. 23 from the provincial government and the week ended with local and provincial politicians and business leaders urging the federal government to follow suit with its own environmental approval.Terrace mayor Dave Pernarowski characterized the provincial approval as some of the best news the Terrace area has had in years. The region was hit hard beginning in January 1997 when once-dominant Skeena Cellulose went into bankruptcy protection, starting a downward spiral that marked the end of the forest industry as a major economic factor in the region.“This power line is going to transform the region,” said Pernarowski of the 287kV line, which will stretch north of Terrace to Bob Quinn on Hwy37 north.The power line, the Forrest Kerr project, the Red Chris mine and another mine that is widely anticipated to be developed, the Galore Creek copper project owned by NovaGold and by Teck Cominco, represent more than $2 billion in spending over the next four years.“I don’t see any reason why approval won’t follow quickly,” said Pernarowski of waiting for word from the federal government. Pernarowski, who is also co-chair of a lobby group of local and regional governments pushing for construction of the line, said he and other group members will travel to Ottawa if need be to emphasize the need for fast approval.Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin said the announcement was a “positive step forward.” He also hoped First Nations groups who have traditional territory over which the power line will be built will agree with the provincial determination that they had been adequately consulted.Skeena – Bulkley NDP Nathan Cullen also welcomed the news, saying the line and expected development from the line will boost businesses and employment.Cullen, like Austin, said First Nations along the power line route must have their interests respected.“This isn’t 1940 anymore,” said Cullen. “Governments who don’t realize [their obligations] act as an encumbrance to economic development.”Businessman Nino Roldo, who spearheaded a campaign last spring urging local businesses to show their support for the project, said the line represents a turning point in the region’s economic fortunes.“Perhaps now we’ll have prosperity and growth in the area,” he said.“We need something to bring back workers and families, especially young families, to Terrace,” Roldo added.AltaGas is paying $180 million toward the line’s construction costs with the federal government adding $130 million.That leaves $94 million to be covered by the province but that amount is expected to be reduced as other companies strike deals to connect to the line.There are other mineral properties which show potential and AltaGas has two other run-of-river projects in the area it wants to develop.BC Hydro’s Barrett acknowledged that the Northwest Transmission Line stops south of communities along the Hwy37 North corridor.But whether or not the line will extend toward those communities is not yet known, he said.