By Korie Marshall

Discussions with McBride-area independent power producers to build a new transmission line from Valemount to McBride have fallen through.

BC Hydro spokesperson Bob Gammer says BC Hydro has been in discussions with Independent Power Producers (IPPs) since 2012 about a potential transmission line from Valemount to McBride and a substation in McBride. The line would also require an upgrade to the Valemount substation. He says the negotiations were based on a confidential term sheet, and the proponents had until December 31, 2013 to conclude negotiations, a date the IPPs did not meet. Gammer says the negotiation for this project, which would have included electricity purchase agreements, has terminated “and BC Hydro is not proceeding any further with the upgrade.”

In May 2012, BC Hydro committed $50 million for required upgrades to the Valemount substation if independent power producers would build the 138 kV transmission line to McBride. The announcement was made following the formation of the McBride to Barriere Corridor Regional Economic Investment Initiative, a pilot project spearheaded by the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training (previously Innovation). Power was one of the groups of important issues identified by the initiative as critical to the economic development of McBride’s end of the corridor.

Three companies were to spearhead the construction of the line – ecoTECH Energy Group, Holmes Hydro Inc. and Snowshoe Power Ltd, but several other small IPP’s also need the transmission line to proceed with their projects.

“We have been abiding by a mutual non-disclosure agreement with the Crown Corporation this past five years,” said Colin Hall, Chief Executive Officer of ecoTECH, when asked for comment. “So your request and their disclosure come as a surprise.” He declined to comment further at the moment.

When asked what other options there might be to get power to market, Holmes Hydro president Duke Peterson said “It is best that I do not discuss it now.” He did however note he is fully engaged in finding answers to the question.

The Goat did not reach Rick Lucking of Snowshoe Power by press time. However the McIntosh Creek project had been listed on the province’s Trade and Invest website, and is now listed as an expired opportunity. Information about the investment opportunity says “even this very small facility at 1.2MW needs the 138 kV powerline extension to McBride before construction will begin,” as the project will not be realized without it.

There is a current application from Snowshoe Power through BC Hydro’s Standing Offer Program, a framework for electricity purchase agreements from clean or renewable projects under 15 megawatts. When asked how that agreement might be finalized without the transmission line, the Ministry of Mines and Energy would only say that BC Hydro is currently reviewing the application.

Shirley Bond, MLA for Prince George-Valemount and Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, could not be reached for comment by phone by press time, but confirmed in an email that the study on ways to improve power reliability in the McBride area should be available by spring.

Gammer says BC Hydro recognizes the need to keep working to improve power reliability for the Robson Valley, and their investments weren’t all hinging on the transmission line negotiations. He says they have been making investments in McBride already, like the biodiesel backup station that serves 20 km of Highway 16, and extensive additional vegetation management work since 2010 which he says are cutting down the number of outages in McBride.

BC Hydro says it is continuing to study ways to improve power reliability, including investments in the distribution system, the transmission system, and further vegetation management (tree clearing). The results of that study should be available this spring.

Gammer says BC Hydro is working with a couple other IPPs that would allow for economic investment, including a six megawatt project of Castle Mountain Hydro that should be ready next year. According to BC Hydro’s website, an electricity purchase agreement was awarded to Castle Mountain Hydro for its Benjamin Creek project in 2010.