Old BC Hydro dams could be removed

Ruskin Dam in the Fraser Valley created Hayward Lake

Ruskin Dam in the Fraser Valley created Hayward Lake

Energy Minister Rich Coleman is exploring options to rein in BC Hydro rate increases, including the possibility of decommissioning two of its old dams that need costly reconstruction to withstand an earthquake.

Ruskin Dam in the Fraser Valley and the John Hart Dam on Vancouver Island are being studied to determine if they can be decommissioned, Coleman told Black Press in an interview Thursday.

The 80-year-old Ruskin Dam is slated for an almost complete reconstruction to make it earthquake safe. BC Hydro estimates the project would take six years and cost as much as $850 million, to preserve a dam and upgrade a powerhouse to supply about 33,000 homes.

Coleman said he has sent BC Hydro “back to the drawing board” on Ruskin, after receiving assurances that it is technically possible to lower the level of Hayward Lake over time and decommission the dam.

Coleman is touring the John Hart dam on the Campbell River Friday with BC Hydro engineering staff to see if there are options to decommission it. The John Hart project was completed in 1947 by the BC Power Commission, BC Hydro’s predecessor. It is one of three dams on the Campbell River that supply about 11 per cent of the electricity used on Vancouver Island.

Coleman announced a review of BC Hydro’s upgrade plans Thursday that are projected to push electricity rates up by as much as 50 per cent in the next five years.

BC Hydro is scheduled to start a $930 million project to install new digital “smart meters” in homes and businesses all over the province this summer. It is also in the midst of a major overhaul of its dam and transmission system, and is under instructions from the B.C. government to add new capacity and achieve energy self-sufficiency.

Coleman said the smart meter program is well advanced, and the savings BC Hydro expects from a “smart grid” will pay for the upgrade, so scrapping or delaying that would not give relief from rate increases. Projects to add turbines to the Mica and Revelstoke dams on the Columbia River are also well along and provide needed capacity, he said.

Coleman has instructed the review panel to report back on options by the end of June. The panel members are John Dyble, deputy minister to Premier Christy Clark, deputy finance minister Peter Milburn and Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland, the former comptroller general who is now associate deputy minister of the Environmental Assessment Office.

The panel’s terms of reference say it will “include a financial and administrative review, including consideration to rates structures and may consider corporate governance to the extent it provides opportunities for improved effectiveness and efficiency. The objective of the review is to ensure costs are minimized and the benefits to the province, taxpayers and ratepayers are maximized.

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