Northwest powerline work charges forth

Goal of more available hydro power north of Terrace continues with work beginning on an extension to BC Hydro's Northwest Transmission Line

The goal of making hydro power more available farther north of here continues with work just beginning on an extension to BC Hydro’s Northwest Transmission Line.

The extension runs north of the transmission line’s current end at a new substation at Bob Quinn along Hwy37 North to the Red Chris copper and gold mine now being built by Imperial Metals.

It will have the same capacity as the Northwest Transmission Line – 287 kilovolts – and will run approximately 95 kilometres north of Bob Quinn to Tatogga Lake. From there a shorter branch line runs about 20km east to the Red Chris site. Based on construction schedules, the extension work and the mine will be finished by late May of next year to fit with the planned completion of the Northwest Transmission Line, says Imperial Metals official Steve Robertson.

The timeline fulfills Imperial’s longstanding objective of being the first customer to accept power from the $746 million Northwest Transmission Line which itself is 344 kilometres long.

“We are on schedule for commissioning by the beginning of June,” said Robertson of the start of Red Chris operations.

Imperial has chosen a Western Canada-based company called Rokstad Power to construct its line from Bob Quinn to Tatogga Lake.

Valard, the company chosen by BC Hydro to build the Northwest Transmission Line, was also in the running for the work.

Rokstad has started putting in foundations and assembling towers for the extension and will have approximately 100 workers on the project at peak times.

The majority of the workforce will be staying at a camp owned by Imperial along the powerline route and an overflow is staying at the company’s Red Chris construction camp, said Robertson.

Another company, Arctic Power, was chosen to the build the line from Tatogga Lake to the Red Chris site.

As challenging as building a major powerline may be, so is the background to the extension.

That’s because it is meant to serve both the needs of Imperial’s Red Chris mine and of BC Hydro.

When the Northwest Transmission Line was first announced, the federal government stepped in with a $130 million grant, but only if BC Hydro built a line to Iskut to take that community and surrounding area off of diesel power.

With Iskut being approximately 112 kilometres north of Bob Quinn, BC Hydro faced the prospect of building its own line to Iskut just to qualify for the federal grant.

But with Imperial also needing hydro power for Red Chris as an alternative to more costly and polluting diesel generators, it and BC Hydro worked out a deal which, overall, is resulting in a larger capacity line than both would need individually. When the portion to Tatogga Lake is complete, it’ll be turned over to BC Hydro in return for a $52 million payment to Imperial Metals.

Imperial is responsible for any costs over that amount and Robertson said the company has yet to release that figure

But overall, he said the extension project makes sense for BC Hydro and for Imperial.

“The province is getting a great piece of infrastructure,” said Robertson.

BC Hydro is responsible for running a smaller line from Tatogga Lake north to Iskut, a distance of approximately 16 kilometres. It estimates that cost at $5 million.