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REPORTING · 18th March 2012
Merv Ritchie
As the North American Continent struggles to manage their electrical power needs; from Fairbanks Alaska to the Florida Keys and from San Diego to St Johns, utility companies are upping the rates and brown outs continue. This while three new nuclear power plants worth of electricity sit idle, simply waiting for a grid system to connect. Today in Northwest BC the communities are engaged in training personnel to construct a new 297 KV (kilo volt) grid line from the substation at Terrace to a new substation being constructed at Bob Quinn Lake. A new 195 MW (mega watt) hydro electric project is also being constructed near to this location on the Iskut River called Forest Kerr. This tiny grid transmission system and hydro electric project is like playing checkers next to a Chess board. Maybe the better game analogy is like ‘Tiddly Winks’ to ‘Texas Hold Em’. What BC is currently performing is a pre-school game when we need to be mature adults.

Providing an electrical power grid for the Northwest region of British Columbia is critical for mining projects. No full scale mine is feasible without an electrical power grid. The shovels and drills that move the rock cannot be run on diesel fuel. The screening, processing, wash plants, dryers and tailings management use copious quantities of electricity and the production of this power is large scale as are the mining projects. Seabridge Gold representative Jay Layman stated their project in the Nass River watershed is expected to require 165 MW, consuming the entire quantity of power being produced when the Forest Kerr project is complete. The BC Government has stated they can only have 150 MW; they have to provide the rest they need on their own. Who writes these regulations?

The reality of the electrical power grid and the electrical power potential is that what we have and what we are building today, that which has been announced, is far too small to run even one full scale mine project reliably. When we include the Kitimat Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) aluminum smelter, along with the Kemano power station, the surrounding communities and associated industries will most certainly not have the capability of expanding if only one single full scale mine goes into production.

Currently the main grid into the Northwest is a 500 KV line from Prince George via Houston to Terrace. It is considered to be at full capacity today. Whenever this line is disconnected by some mishap the entire NW runs on the excess power available from the Kemano generation facility built for the RTA smelter. After the new smelter at Kitimat is built, RTA will not be able to reduce their consumption as they are currently able to do. This will result in potential brown outs in the Northwest if the main grid line fails between Smithers and Terrace as RTA will need to continue their power consumption to save their 3 billion dollar investment in the new smelter.

This is a critical factor of consideration for grid improvement and more power generation capabilities. The new planned NTL (Northwest Transmission Line) grid to connect Forest Kerr, along with the completion of the second power generation tunnel at Kemano, are critical components to ensure a safe supply for the requirements of the NW now and for the new smelter. To have a reliable electrical supply for mining projects and to maintain what is in the current planning stages, a completely different perspective is required.

Almost all nuclear power plants are less than 1000 MW in size. Many are that big and a few are bigger however to provide a context on the amount of power a nuclear generation plant could provide, we use this for a guide. The WAC Bennett Dam utilizing the Williston Lake reservoir near Hudson Hope, BC is rated at 2700 MW; Revelstoke is 2480 MW and the Mica Dam is 1780 MW. This is the backbone of the BC Hydro grid. In this context one could state these three dams constitute about the capacity of 7 large nuclear power plants.

The grid exiting these three power production facilities are rated at 500 KV times three; essentially three 500 KV grids leaving each facility. These then continue across the province supplying every community and the lower mainland as well as the international grid network in various configurations.

One single 500 KV line runs from Prince George to the substation in Terrace. The entire region is at the mercy of this single line with Kemano, and the soon to be completed 195 MW Forest Kerr Hydro facility, as back up.

Southeast Alaska has 3000 MW of potential hydro-electric and thermal power, all pure green electricity, virtually just sitting idle, waiting for a leader to hook it up. As Congressman Don Young stated in regards to constructing the grid required on March 14, 2012, at the South East Alaska conference on their IRP (Integrated Resource Plan), which includes the Alaska Canada Energy (ACE) Coalition, “Is it expensive? Yes. Is it too expensive? No.”

But the plan requires something no one is discussing.

In December 2010 North Coast Power was given the ‘go ahead’ to conduct a preliminary survey through the Iskut Valley from Bob Quinn, BC, to Tyee Lake, SE Alaska, for a potential power line. No context of size was provided during the application phase. The reality is very basic, grade school actually when it comes to critical thinking skills..

SE Alaska has the potential to provide North America with the power capacity of three new 1000 MW Nuclear power plants, as much power as any one of BC’s major hydro dams mentioned earlier. “Site C” on the Peace River would no longer be required and various IPP’s (Independent Power Producers) would have a new grid to connect to, providing even more power; an untold, unimagined potential.

As a first stage another triple 500 KV grid would need to be designed to be constructed from SE Alaska through Bob Quinn to Prince George to intertie with the main Grid heading south. An initial line, the first of the three 500 KV lines, would provide all the power necessary for two mines and the back up for RTA and the NW. The subsequent lines would provide more security for the southern grid. And of course, the Alaskans would need to connect the SE Alaskan communities from Skagway to Craig.

While energy conservation measures improve and become more mainstream, more generally accepted by the public and widely implemented, the requirements might be greatly reduced. Some estimate if the newest energy efficient and green sources of heat and lighting were widely applied, the reduction could be greater than 50%. If this were the case and if Alaska and the entire NW could be ‘hooked up’ to the main North American Grid, not only could there be a boon in resource activity but one or two, maybe more, nuclear power plants currently relied upon, that are old, out of date and extremely hazardous, could be slowly and completely, shut down.

Young may be the only person who has the context in the correct manner. “Is it expensive? Yes. Is it too expensive? No!”

Read some background here from December 2010.