NTL: B.C. power grid goes under the microscope
By Scott Simpson, Vancouver Sun, May 19, 2009
The debate over independent power production in British Columbia did not end with the recent provincial election.
The B.C. Liberals loved it, the New Democrats hated it, and environmental groups were split.
Now, along with electricity exports and natural resource development, private power projects will be examined in the context of their ability to make a practical contribution to the provincial economy -- for the next 30 years.
The B.C. Utilities Commission, acting upon orders from the Ministry of Energy, is in the early stages of an inquiry into the the shaping of the province's economic future -- and to realize the Liberal's ambition to make B.C. electricity self-sufficient through the expansion of its high-voltage electricity grid.
The subject of the inquiry is the custodian of the grid, BC Transmission Corporation.
The contribution of private power to that future grid is a precondition of the inquiry -- as is the expansion of renewable power production in order to export electricity to markets in the United States.
The commission has also been ordered to advance plans for the development of transmission in northwest B.C., where mining opportunities abound -- and in northeast B.C., where the natural gas industry is on the cusp of an unprecedented boom.
The commission is constrained from making judgements on specific projects but it has the latitude to ensure that grid expansion is cost effective and orderly -- which could lead to delays or exclusions of private power projects that can't offer a simple and inexpensive connection to the grid.
The commission can also red-flag potential transmission routes where first nations interests are strong, or where new transmission lines would threaten provincial parks and environmentally sensitive areas.
On Thursday, the commission will announce its proposal for the scope and content of the inquiry which is not expected to wrap up until autumn 2010.
BCUC chair Len Kelsey compares the commission's task to the way Wayne Gretzky played hockey -- skating to where the puck will arrive, rather than chasing it around the rink.
So far, the commission has received 81 applications for groups and individuals seeking intervenor status in the inquiry, and a further 14 seeking "interested party" status. Registrants include first nations, power producers, mining and forest companies, conservation and environmental groups.
"Despite all the communications that have gone out announcing this, there's a fair number of people that probably don't even know about it yet. As we proceed ... I bet it will be double this by the time we get finished," Kelsey said in an interview.
"I think people are approaching it with some excitement but also frankly with some trepidation. It's a massive undertaking."
BC Transmission Corp. vice-president for customer and strategy development Doug Little is looking forward to the input "to help us shape a 30-year vision for the transmission system in British Columbia."
"There really is a chance to take a strategic visionary view on transmission development into some of these areas of the province, the northeast and the northwest, and do that in a very strategic and well-planned manner," Little said.
THE BCTC SYSTEM
- 18,336 km of transmission lines
- 22,000 steel electrical towers
- 100,000 wood electrical poles
- 291 switching, distribution, and capacitor stations
- One main System Control Centre located in the Lower Mainland
- One backup Control Centre located in the Interior
- 169 microwave and fibre optic sites;
- Connections to Alberta and the U.S. Pacific Northwest
Source: BC Transmission Corporation
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LONG-TERM ELECTRICITY TRANSMISSION OUTLOOK