Federal environmental approval for power line remains outstanding

BC Hydro still hopes to pick the contractor who will design and build its Northwest Transmission Line this month.

BC Hydro still hopes to pick the contractor who will design and build its Northwest Transmission Line this month.

The expectation fits in with a timetable set out by the crown corporation to have the transmission line, which is expected to lead to the development of several mines by running power up Hwy37 North, completed by late 2013 and in service shortly thereafter.

Three of four contractor groups remain in contention for the job, which is will bring employment and business contracts to the region.

In the meantime, federal officials are continuing to work on finishing their environmental assessment of the transmission line.

The line  received provincial environmental approval the end of February and the Nisga’a Lisims Government gave its blessing to having the line go through a portion of core Nisga’a lands and through the Nisga’a Lava Bed Memorial Park in March.

“Infrastructure Canada is working collaboratively with the proponent to ensure the federal environmental assessment on the western [Nisga’a] route is completed as quickly as possible,” stated an April 6 email from the department.

And the same officials say the lack of a final federal environmental assessment shouldn’t hold up a construction start.

“From the federal perspective, construction can begin on the western route with the issuance of the provincial certificate, and is not contingent on the completion of the federal environmental assessment.”

“We are continuing to work with the proponent directly to conclude our report,” the email continued.

But the same officials caution that they won’t be forwarding any construction money to BC Hydro until their environmental assessment has been finished.

The federal government in 2009 promised to provide $130 million of the $404 million cost of the line.

Originally, the federal government was to have sent $32 million to the province by the end of March. But without an assessment being finished, that amount has been added to the $61 million the federal government is expected to send in the new fiscal year which began April 1.

And while BC Hydro officials have every intention of choosing a construction contractor this month, they’re now reluctant to say when they would start work without first receiving the federal money.

“BC Hydro would not be comfortable proceeding with construction of the [transmission line] without full certainty of having all the funding required to complete the project,” an email from the corporation stated April 8.

In terms of project financing, Calgary-based energy company AltaGas is paying $180 million of the $404 million transmission line cost so it can transmit power from its Forrest Kerr run-of-river project now being built on the Iskut River into the provincial grid.

That power is being sold to BC Hydro thanks to a 60-year deal struck last year.

But the deal AltaGas has struck means it won’t have to provide $90 million until 2013. The remaining half will come in the form of 20 annual payments to begin when Forrest Kerr power starts flowing in 2014.

The AltaGas and federal payments amount to $310 million, leaving $94 million to be covered by BC Hydro and the province. And they expect to cover some of that off by payments companies make to hook into the transmission line’s planned substation at Bob Quinn on Hwy37 North.