BC HYDRO is quietly laying the groundwork to extend the Northwest Transmission Line past its currently scheduled end point at Bob Quinn on Hwy37 North.
The extension would bring the line up to the mostly-aboriginal village of Iskut, approximately 105km north of Bob Quinn.
Right now, the line is to be 344km long, beginning at BC Hydro’s Skeena Substation near Terrace and cost $404 million to both bring power to mine sites and transfer power to BC Hydro’s provincial grid from hydro-electric projects in the area.
So far, BC Hydro is saying little about how it is to provide power to Iskut.
“….. BC Hydro has yet to consider different options for providing service to potential customers north of Bob Quinn following completion of the [Northwest Transmission Line], including service to Iskut,” reads an email sent by BC Hydro Northwest Transmission Line project manager Tim Jennings.
“At this time, decisions have not been made on the design, service requirements or timing of any extension and therefore we are unable to provide any detailed information on an extension to Iskut or its cost.”
But a commitment to electrify Iskut, now serviced by BC Hydro using diesel generators, is a crucial part of the agreement between the federal and provincial governments for the former to provide $130 million toward the Northwest Transmission Line’s $404 million cost.
That’s because the federal government money comes from the $1 billion Green Infrastructure Fund and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from diesel generators is one of its objectives.
Under the terms of the federal-provincial agreement, BC Hydro is obligated to electrify Iskut within one year of the Northwest Transmission Line’s completion, now scheduled for Dec. 2013.
Estimates prepared six years ago indicate an extension to Iskut from Bob Quinn of a 287kv line, the same size as the Northwest Transmission Line, would cost more than $100 million.
At least one mining company could be affected by BC Hydro’s commitment to provide power to Iskut.
Imperial Metals has federal and provincial environmental clearance to develop its Red Chris copper property which is south and to the east of Iskut and is now in the final stages of obtaining permits before beginning construction.
The company has approval to build a power line from its property approximately 20km west to come out at Tatogga Lake on Hwy37 North.
It is now seeking environmental clearance to extend the line approximately 100km south of Tatogga Lake to hook into the Northwest Transmission Line at Bob Quinn.
The line would be 138kV in size, smaller than the Northwest Transmission Line’s 287kV capacity.
Imperial Metals has consistently said it wants its mine finished by late 2013 so it can become the Northwest Transmission Line’s first customer.
Imperial Metals official Byng Giraud says there are any number of options available to provide power to Iskut.
One is to run a smaller line branching off of the Imperial line into Iskut, a distance of approximately 12 kilometres.
Another is for BC Hydro to build a 287kV line, the same size as the Northwest Transmission Line, right from Bob Quinn to Iskut. Imperial could then connect to that line at Tatogga Lake.
For now, Giraud called any plans for Imperial to join with BC Hydro in any project running north of Bob Quinn “hypothetical” until it hears a lot more about what the crown corporation has in mind.
“We’re proceeding as if we are building our own line,” he said. “And we won’t be building a line larger than what we need for our own purposes.”
Giraud also said the company is focussed for the time being on finishing its permitting requirements for the Red Chris property itself.
Meanwhile, Elmer Derrick says there’s no question the Northwest Transmission Line should be extended north of Bob Quinn.
The chief land claims negotiator for the Gitxsan and former co-chair of a lobby group pushing for the line’s construction says there’s potential for an extended line to encourage the development of more mines and more power projects whether they use northwest rivers or wood.
“My priority is to get it as far north as possible,” said Derrick.
He’s already on record as wanting the Northwest Transmission Line to be larger, 500kV instead of 287kV, and to develop connections with Alaskans eager to develop hydro power in the southeastern part of the state.
A beefed up Northwestern Transmission Line could be the bridge between Alaskan power and a growing North American demand for clean electricity, says Derrick.
And it makes economic sense to extend the line to Iskut from Bob Quinn sooner rather than later because construction crews with experience will already be in the area for the Northwest Transmission Line, he added.
“It’s like buying in bulk. When you bulk order, things are cheaper,” said Derrick of combining the current Northwest Transmission Line length with the section from Bob Quinn to Iskut.