Gov’t to probe northwestern BC power line cost

Minister in charge expresses "dismay" at $736 million price tag

THE PROVINCIAL cabinet minister in charge of BC Hydro says he’s going to find out why the Northwest Transmission Line project cost has ballooned to $736 million.

“I will be meeting often, quickly, with B.C. Hydro to determine how this happens. Our government does not support this way of managing capital projects, and we will get to the bottom of it,” energy minister Bill Bennett told the legislature yesterday when pressed in Question Period for an explanation.

Just last year the project to run a power line 344km north of the Skeena Substation near Terrace to Bob Quinn on Hwy37 North was pegged at $561 million.

That cost was revised to a range of between $561 million and $617 million this spring and then revised again to $736 million in budget documents released yesterday.

First estimates in 2007 placed the cost at $404 million, a figure that’s been rising steadily since.

NDP opposition leader Adrian Dix, in questioning Bennett, wondered why the cost grew so much in the time before the May 14 provincial election to now.

“They said it was $561 million before the election, and now suddenly, magically, he discovers another $170 million in cost overruns now to tell the people of British Columbia about. Can he give any explanation to ratepayers and taxpayers for this, frankly, outright incompetence on the part of the government?” Dix asked.

Bennett said the cost increase wasn’t known by the government until after the election, adding he was in “dismay” over the new figure.

Despite the cost increase, Bennett defended the transmission line as “nation-building,” saying developments that will stem from it will create jobs and revenue.

“[The] Red Chris mine will employ 350 people. Many of those people will be First Nations people. There’ll be Nisga’a. There’ll be Tahltan. There’ll be other First Nations people. They’re excited about this opportunity, and this opportunity does not exist unless we have electricity up that highway,” said Bennett.

The energy minister listed off a series of reasons the project cost has kept climbing.

He said a slow construction start was blamed on the need to first sign impact benefit agreements with First Nations affected by the line.

“Those economic benefit agreements have been negotiated. The First Nations along the line are actually quite supportive. In fact, First Nations are involved, actually, in the construction of this power line,” added Bennett.

“That delayed the start point of the construction, and I’m advised — I’m telling you what B.C. Hydro has told me — that in fact that slow start caused them to put additional resources in at the front end of construction, which ended up costing them more money,” Bennett continued.

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