Power restored to 120,000 customers after northern B.C. transmission failure

Lightning is suspected to be the cause of the outage, says BC Hydro

More than 120,000 customers in northern B.C. were without power Wednesday night due to a transmission circuit failure caused by a suspected lightning strike, according to BC Hydro.

The power went out at 8:54 p.m. impacting communities south, north and west of Prince George, including Mackenzie, Vanderhoof, Smithers, Fort St John, Dawson Creek, Chetwynd, Hudsons Hope, Terrace, Houston and Burns Lake.

Crews began restoration efforts right away to restore power to all customers within a few hours.

The utility said power had been restored in Prince George at about 10:30 p.m. and most customers could expect theirs back by 12:30 a.m.

Burning gas from a facility at the Husky oil refinery in Prince George momentarily made it appear as if an explosion had knocked out a 5,000-watt transmission line serving northern B.C., according to BC Hydro.

“When it went dark, there was a glow of orange just north of the river from my side,” says Dave Mosure, community relations coordinator for BC Hydro, who also lives outside of Prince George.

“It turns out it is off-gassing from the Husky refinery plant where they burn the gases, and it creates this huge an orange glow. It was significant enough because everything else was dark, that the City of Prince George had their fire department respond only to learn it’s not a fire, it’s just them burning off gas.”

While Mosure says it’s not certain exactly what the lightning hit, the strike happened somewhere between Clinton and Prince George, taking out the transmission system.

“Transmission lines are the ones that feed all the other lines and all the other substations,” Mosure says. “This was a really big line, 5,000-volt lines that comes down east from the lower mainland.”

With large transmission line failures like this, Mosure says crews can switch power lines around to reconnect service allowing crews to make repairs after.

Prince Rupert was the only city in northern B.C. served by BC Hydro’s power grid that wasn’t affected. The city had already been separated from the main grid and is being served by the Rupert Gas Plant because of maintenance work on the system between Terrace and Kitimat.

“Prince Rupert is in a bit of a unique situation where they can be ‘islanded’,” Mosure says. “If the big transmission line goes down, we can open up a switch, and there is a backup gas generation plant in the area.”

Both Fort Nelson and Atlin are isolated from BC Hydro’s main grid.

Mosure says BC Hydro would evaluate and consider new technologies that may offer better protection or mitigation against lightning strikes in the future.

– with files from Brittany Gervais and Angie Mindus


Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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