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By: Korie Marshall

For the first time, the Hystad Creek Independent Power Project, just west of Valemount, powered part of the Robson Valley directly.

Independent power projects normally supply power to the grid, and have not traditionally been built to supply it directly to a certain area, sometimes referred to as “stand alone” mode. John Wheeler, one of the owners and developers of the upcoming Castle Mountain Hydro project in McBride, told the Goat in March that before 2003, BC Hydro had not been looking for power projects to be able to power an area on their own. After the fire in Barriere, when power was out in the Robson Valley for about a month, Wheeler says they tried to get the hydro-electric plant at Hystad to power the community, but it just wasn’t build for that. After that fire, he says BC Hydro started rethinking that policy. Now when they look at projects that are a suitable size and location, it can make sense for the project to have that ability built in, as it is in the plans for the Castle Mountain project.

On Thursday June 5th, after extensive planning, BC Hydro started up the McBride Diesel Generator, and directed the Hystad Creek power project’s output into the local grid to power Valemount and the rest of the Robson Valley. BC Hydro spokesperson Jen Walker-Larsen says 2567 customers were smoothly switched to the two local generating sources at 8:15 am, and then the substation was disconnected from the system. Crews finished upgrades to the station that were started two years ago, as well as some routine maintenance work, and then customers lost power momentarily at 3:10 pm, when BC Hydro reconnected the substation.

Walker-Larsen says extensive planning was required for BC Hydro to pull this off. Without two local generating sources, the work would have meant the power had to be off for the whole time. However electricity demand is fairly low at this time of year, and Hystad Creek Hydro’s generating station was close to its peak production at five megawatts, because of high river flows. The McBride Diesel Generating Station has a capacity of six megawatts, so between them there was enough to power the Robson Valley.

Four separate power outages the day before were unrelated to the upgrades at the substation. A sudden windstorm brought trees down on powerlines, causing power outages to about 950 customers around Valemount on Wednesday. Power was out for at least two hours, and over 10 hours for a few customers.

After this success, Walker-Larsen says transmission and distribution staff will analyze the information to see how this approach could be used in the future. She says BC Hydro has invested $4.5 million since 2006 to improve reliability to the North Thompson, include the Valemount substation upgrade, vegetation management, powerline routing adjustments, and powerline pole and equipment upgrades.

BC Hydro says you can prepare for outages and stay informed by visiting bchydro.com/outages, or bchydro.com/mobile from your handheld. For more information call 1 888 POWERON (1 888 769 3766).