A closeup of a power pole with lots of wires and a street lamp on a cloudy day.

Photo Credit: Ethan Morneau / NorthIsle.News Staff

BC Hydro Tells North Islanders to Deal With It

No new power coming from BC Hydro

But can homegrown solutions keep the lights on?

Thousands of people in NorthIsle have spent hours without power over the last few weeks.

Wind. Rain. Snowstorms. Hell, last week, the power went out in parts of Campbell River because a bird messed up some transmission wires.

On northern Vancouver Island, power outages are a fact of life. But do they have to be?

Last month, BC Hydro Community Relations Manager Ted Olynyk and Transmission Asset Planning Manager Michael Guite met with the Port Hardy Chamber of Commerce. The main topic? Keeping the power on north of Comox Valley.

According to the North Island Eagle, who reported on the meeting, Guite told folks, “[w]hat we’re proposing is a concerted plan to do a sustainment approach to the existing infrastructure.”

In plain English, that means keeping the existing line alive.

Guite said he has a team working on “a three to five-year plan to address all the end-of-life transmission structures, and in parallel with that, we’re increasing our work on vegetation maintenance and especially removing edge trees which have been some of the causes of our longest outages.”

So they’re replacing old towers and lines, and cutting back trees. But we already knew that. That’s why they’ve turned the power off. Twice now.

But, according to Guite, BC Hydro isn’t going to build a second transmission line. And they aren’t going to increase the voltage in the existing line.

And they wouldn’t expand electricity to the North Island unless a big industry applied to connect to the system.

It’s a real catch-22. North Island can’t develop economically without more power. But BC Hydro won’t bring in more power unless NorthIsle develops economically.

“I don’t…go out and build the transmission lines in anticipation of the industries arriving. We only set that up once there’s a committed customer,” Guite told the Chamber of Commerce.

That’s a convenient statement, if only it were true.

BC Hydro invests in massive, new, expensive powerlines if the provincial government makes it a priority.

So the message BC Hydro managers Olynyk and Guite really delivered last week was “Northern Vancouver Island is not a priority for this government.”

Less than ten years ago, to spur mining in the northwest, BC Hydro built the 344-kilometre, 287-kilovolt Northwest Transmission Line that runs north between Terrace, and Bob Quinn Lake. BC ponied up over $400 million of the $746M cost.

And that’s not the only time.

Investing in the future is how BC grew in the past.

We built the Jordan River dam in 1911 and the Puntledge River dam in 1912. We didn’t need the power yet. But 100 years ago, people thought ahead. They could see that the region would expand, so they built for that expansion.

But we don’t do that anymore. We don’t remember how to be proactive.

Unless there is an industrial megaproject that will make the corporate fat cats rich.

Not that we need a bunch more big dams gumming up our rivers. But we have a hell of a lot of wind. Cape Scott is already one of the biggest power producers on the Island. And small hydro can produce a lot of power right where it’s needed.

So maybe when it comes to powering the NorthIsle, we need to look closer to home.

Clearly, the natural gas plant was a bad idea. And the diesel generators that folks use as a backup are really bad for the climate.

But leaders in NorthIsle are starting to work on homegrown solutions. For example, District of Port Hardy Councillor Fred Robertson brought it up in the meeting with BC Hydro.

“I’m sure you’re familiar with the fact that all of the mayors, the chairs, and the chief councillors in the area are beginning to meet and discuss hydro generation and power in the North Island,” he told Guite and Olynyk.

Either we can wait for BC Hydro to be proactive, or we can be proactive ourselves.

From the sounds of things, North Islanders are sick of waiting.