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By Andrea Arnold

BC Hydro has reported that electricity demand in British Columbia is expected to increase by 15 per cent over the next 6 years.

In response, on April 3, BC Hydro issued a call for power. They have requested proposals to acquire about 3,000 gigawatt hours per year of electricity.

The Robson Valley is no stranger to independent power projects, or IPPs. These plants supply energy to the BC system year round and several times a year the local sites kick in to provide electricity when something goes wrong along the lines.

However, none of the run of the river power projects have the capacity to meet the requirements of this call, and their output is already calculated in the provincial energy budget.

BC Hydro is looking for proposals for new projects that have a maximum output between 40-200 megawatts.

John Wheeler has worked alongside most of the IPPs in the valley as a consultant and works designing electric energy systems. Wheeler says that the maximum output of energy generated from the  run-of-the-river hydro projects that are dotted throughout the valley fluctuates with water levels.

“During freshet or run off, when the water levels are at their highest, that is not the time of year that the demand for power is taxing the system,” he said. “Also, none of the local sites have the additional production capacity they are calling for.”

The call states that in order to participate in the program, the proposed project must be a newly constructed facility, which could include new generating units that will generate additional energy to what has previously been produced.

If that was all there was to it, then potentially, there are a few new sites around the Robson Valley that could meet the capacity requirements with a lot of time, money and work invested. 

The call is not only for hydro power. It also includes solar, wind, biomass, bio gas and geothermal heat.

“Although McBride is a windy place, it does not maintain a steady enough wind to produce consistent power,” said Wheeler. “Unless you were to build on the top of a mountain.”

As we recently reported in the heating feature the Goat ran in February, locals with solar panels have found that the hottest coldest/darkest months are not when the panels are producing at their best. It is these times that the demand for power is at its peak.

If an IPP that would be able to meet the production requirement was constructed in the valley at this time, the power would not be able to be used by the population.

“The transmission lines that run through the Robson Valley are not capable of carrying a load equal to what they are calling for,” said Wheeler.    

The notice from BC Hydro states that their integrated resource plan includes advancing upgrades to transmission infrastructure to achieve additional capacity. Through his experiences working with the local IPPs, Wheeler figures that hundreds of kilometres of new transmission lines would be needed in order to supply power from a Robson Valley source into the main grid, and he would be surprised if local lines were included in the upgrade plans as the amount of energy is not available when BC Hydro needs it, to justify the cost.

Other ways BC Hydro is hoping to make adjustments to meet demand are:

  • Ramping up energy efficient activities and investments to limit peak demand
  • Offering voluntary time-varying rates, like optional time-of-use rates that begin in June
  • Updating the net-metering program that enables customers with solar installations to sell power back to BC Hydro’s grid
  • Renewing electricity purchase agreements with existing clean or renewable independent power producers on a cost-effective basis
  • Continuing to explore the expansion of existing capacity at the Revelstoke generating station
  • Advancing the integration of utility-scale batteries (energy-storage systems)

So, at this point, the call for power does not seem like a call that can be answered by anyone in the Robson Valley.

However, there may be future opportunities for smaller scale production. The notice from BC Hydro also states that  they, along with The Province, New Relationship Trust, and PacifiCan are developing a new program stream to help offset the higher anticipated cost of small-scale power projects.

The development team for this program intends to begin engagements with First Nations this spring.