Castle Mountain hydro-electric opens: could provide back-up power for McBride

By: Frank Green

Ten years and nearly $20 million later, there’s a new power plant in town. Castle Mountain Hydro unveiled its new operations up on Rosine Creek, about 35 kilometers outside of McBride. They’re siphoning water off the creek into pipes that drop 300 meters across four and a half kilometers, where it arrives in a roaring engine room and shoots into a turbine, which produces six megawatts of power every hour.

To do it, the company cleared nearly 20 kilometers of trail, and all the cement they poured could build a concrete cube nearly 40 feet high. The partners are glad it’s over.

“It’s a relief,” said Peter Hulka, who managed the project. (“It’s a weight off our shoulders.”

Lisa Mendoza-Hulka, his partner, was more enthusiastic.

“Finally I don’t have to be a single mom anymore! I got my husband back.”

“We’re pretty proud,” she added of herself and their children.

Given the size of the creek, the plant could’ve been designed to pump out about 15 megawatts per hour when the water’s highest, but the electric lines in the Robson Valley can’t handle that much power, so they’re only producing six. But that means they’ll still be able to produce those six megawatts 10 months out of every year.
(The water flow shrinks up during the coldest months, typically January and February.) If it was a creek that maxed out at six megawatts, they’d only get those six for about half of each year.

Producing just six megawatts also means the plant can pick and choose its water. Water flows into the pipe where two forks of the creek come together. The water from one side is gray with mud, while the other is almost turquoise. Castle Mountain Hydro built a wall between the forks, with two separate intakes, so they could just use the turquoise water when there’s enough of it. The silty side is tough on the machinery downstream, so they’ll only use water from that half of the creek in the low months, to top up the turquoise.

The company’s already selling it’s power to BC Hydro’s grid. And Hulka said they’re “working to finalize” a deal for BC Hydro to plug into their plant’s electricity when McBride loses power, instead of relying on the expensive diesel generators they currently switch on whenever a kid crashes into a utility pole, for instance, or a forest fire takes down power lines.

BC Hydro declined to comment.

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