The Site C substation is now the leading option to power a major BC Hydro transmission line aimed at the natural gas industry.
Late last month, BC Hydro informed local leaders that the substation, which would have power coming from both the Peace Canyon and Site C generating stations, is the “leading alternative” to power its Peace Region Electricity Supply (PRES) project.
The 230-kilovolt line would run south from the Site C substation to the Shell Groundbirch Substation, part of the newly-energized Dawson Creek and Chetwynd Area Transmission Line (DCAT).
That line was built to supply what Hydro calls “unprecedented” electricity demand growth from natural gas producers operating west of Dawson Creek, including Shell, a leading partner in a liquefied natural gas export project proposed in Kitimat.
Electrifying drilling projects, which would otherwise burn fossil fuel to meet power demand, has been a priority of the BC Liberal government. BC NDP Hydro critic Adrian Dix, however, argues the lines are subsidies for industry, as well as a means of creating demand for power from Site C substation, which opponents say is not needed.
The dam, approved in late 2014, wasn’t initially considered as an option for PRES, which has been in the planning stages since 2013.
Last summer, Hydro revealed 11 potential power line routes, the majority of which would run from the GM Shrum generating station at the W.A.C. Bennett Dam to a DCAT substation. However, changes in the in-service date for PRES made Site C substation a viable option, BC Hydro’s Lesley Wood told the Alaska Highway News last summer.
In a Jan. 29 letter to the Peace River Regional District, Wood wrote that the Site C substation route has since emerged as the best choice.
“The comparison showed that this alternative has the shortest length, lowest cost, and would be the easiest to construct,” she wrote. “It avoids important First Nations sites, requires the least amount of clearing and access road construction, minimizes visual impacts from communities and highways, and can be constructed in the shortest period of time.”
However, she stressed that BC Hydro is not “completely ruling out” any of the other options.
PRES would double the amount of electricity flowing to DCAT, which could be under-powered if electricity demand grows at the rate BC Hydro projects. A similar project, proposed by ATCO Power, would connect the Bennett dam to Progress Energy drilling operations in the North Peace.
In a letter to the editor that appeared in the Alaska Highway News last week, energy minister Bill Bennett argued against Dix’s claim that electrifying gas fields was an attempt to drum up demand for Site C.
But Dix said the decision to connect PRES to Site C contradicts the claim that “these projects weren’t for Site C…that they’re not racing around looking for a market for Site C.”
Dix said that at the current rate of power consumption, Site C won’t be needed by its 2024 in-service date.
“They’re going to have a very significant surplus when it comes online,” he said. “That changes the economics of Site C, and there’s only one group of people that’s going to pay for that, and that’s BC Hydro ratepayers.”
While a collapse in oil prices has led to a slowdown in B.C.’s gas fields, the government believes PRES and the ATCO project are still needed. Last month, Bennett said he would consider expediting construction on PRES by exempting it from the B.C. Utilities Commission, the independent BC Hydro watchdog.
Bennett said electrifying natural gas projects is “a pretty significant benefit to British Columbians” because it cuts emissions.
The federal government is also proposing new regulations on emissions in the upstream oil and gas sector, which could lead to new demand for transmission capacity.
(Editor's Note: A previous version of the story implied the power for the transmission line would come from the Site C dam. The power would actually come from the Site C Substation, which draws its power from the Peace Canyon Dam and the Site C generating stations.)