The tiny community of Iskut along Hwy37 North celebrated a switch from diesel-generated power to hydro-electric power Dec. 18.
And thanks to 400 feet of LED icicle lights provided by B.C. Hydro for the occasion which were then strung up at the community’s administration building, the switch over marked the end of years of dependence upon diesel generation.
“It was a split second,” said Iskut Band operations and maintenance manager Henry Carlick of the event which took place at 10:45 a.m. Dec. 18.
“The lights blinked for a few seconds. We thought it was going to take time but I guess it was just a flick of the switch and it was done,” he said.
The hydro-electric power flowing to Iskut stems from BC Hydro’s Northwest Transmission Line, a 344km 287kv line running north of Terrace to a substation at Bob Quinn on Hwy37 North. A second 287kv line, called the Iskut extension, then runs 93km north of Bob Quinn to another substation at Tatogga Lake.
And from there, a smaller 25kv distribution line extends further north to a facility now housing diesel generators near Iskut from which lines branch out to more than 160 residences, public buildings and businesses.
The Iskut extension was not built by BC Hydro but by Imperial Metals, part of the infrastructure needed by the company to take power from the Northwest Transmission Line to run its not-yet open Red Chris copper and gold mine.
A separate 287kv line branches off from Tatogga Lake 16km east to the mine site.
Part of the deal to build the Iskut extension involves its sale to BC Hydro for $52 million and that arrangement is now in the final stages of being completed.
Providing hydro power to Iskut is crucial to BC Hydro to help defray the costs of the $746 million Northwest Transmission Line which went into service this August.
The federal government announced in 2009 it would provide $130 million toward the transmission’s lines cost provided the provincial crown corporation took Iskut off of diesel generation.
According to BC Hydro figures, the gross cost to run diesel generators for Iskut and area was approximately $1.5 million a year. After customer payments, the cost dropped to $860,000.
The Dec. 18 switch is a full six months ahead of the July 2015 target date BC Hydro had to meet in order to receive the money, says Jim Shepherd, the BC Hydro manager in charge of the Northwest Transmission Line.
“We had planned to remove the [Iskut] diesel generators by 2016 so now we have two winters to make sure things are running properly,” he said. He estimated the switch to hydro-power will eliminate 2,800 tons a year of greenhouse gases that would otherwise be produced by burning diesel.
That’s equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 589 vehicles.
The power now being provided by the new 25kv line is three-phase, meaning there is a supply for new businesses and developments in the area.
“Three-phase is much more efficient to drive electric motors and equipment. It’s a better way of transmitting power,” said Shepherd.
The contractor hired to build the distribution line to Iskut from Tatogga Lake was Valley Power Line Contracting Ltd. from Surrey.
Even as BC Hydro was finishing off its work to provide hydro power to Iskut, Imperial Metals was in the final stages of running hydro power from the Iskut extension to its Red Chris mine site.
“The transformer at the Red Chris site was first energized by grid power through the Northwest Transmission Line on Nov. 7 and we are now working on electrical commissioning of the Red Chris mine,” said company vice president Steve Robertson.