Power secrecy criticized

ONE group is wondering about the secrecy surrounding a key aspect of the Northwest Transmission Line project

  • Oct. 15, 2012 7:00 a.m.

ONE group is wondering about the secrecy surrounding a key aspect of the Northwest Transmission Line project to provide power up Hwy37 North.

Rivers Without Borders says it received 76 virtually blank pages when it filed a Freedom of Information request asking for the provincial government’s plan to run a small line to serve two small villages.

The small line, called a distribution line, would start from a sub station at Bob Quinn, where the larger 287kv Northwest Transmission Line is now to end, and run 105km north to take Iskut and Eddontenajon off of diesel powered generators.

Building the small line within a year of the larger Northwest Transmission Line being completed in mid-2014 was a key condition to the province receiving $130 million from a $1 billion federal program intended to finance “green” infrastructure projects.

So it was a surprise for Rivers Without Borders to receive the virtually blank pages as well as blacked out emails when it asked for follow up information, said one of its officials, Tadzio Richards.

“British Columbia was to have submitted its plans for the extension project by June 30, 2012 as a condition of the federal-provincial agreement,”  said Richards. “Technically it’s in breach of the agreement.”

“Clearly the plan has been talked about,” he said of the smaller line. “We think people should know what it is.”

Although the Northwest Transmission Line was originally packaged as a way of providing “green” power to diesel generator dependent communities, Richards said Rivers Without Borders believes much more is at stake.

“The Northwest Transmission Line makes it possible for mining projects to happen,” he said.

As it is, Calgary-based AltaGas is building the large Forrest Kerr run-of-river project on the Iskut River and will construct a line to the Bob Quinn sub station to feed that power into the provincial grid.

And Imperial Metals wants to build a line south from its Red Chris copper property to Bob Quinn to take power in time for the planned 2014 start of mining there.

The Imperial line plan is also the subject of speculation, said Richards.

It would parallel the route of the planned smaller line to Iskut and Eddontenajon along Hwy37 before branching off to the Red Chris property about 20km east of the highway.

BC Hydro in the past has not commented on the possibility of combining forces with Imperial Metals so that one line could serve a common purpose.

In any event, Imperial does have environmental approval to build a power line from its Red Chris property west to Hwy37 North but not to continue the line south to the planned Bob Quinn sub station.

It did apply in February for environmental approval to continue the line south but the provincial environmental assessment office is still reviewing the request.

The prospect of a project the size of the Northwest Transmission Line, which is now slated to cost $561 million, up from an original $404 million, seems more weighted toward “essentially subsidizing mining infrastructure,” said Richards.

Of that $561 million price tag, AltaGas is putting in $180 million so its power can get to the provincial grid and the federal government is putting in $130 million, leaving upwards of $251 million to come from ratepayers, he said. Government information indicates the smaller line to Iskut and Eddontenajon could cost as much as $117 million in addition to the $561 million for the larger transmission line.

Richards said Rivers Without Borders has complained about the province’s response to the BC Information and Privacy Commissioner.