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By Rose Ragsdale
For Mining News 

NW power line inches toward construction

B.C. groups finalize deals to create jobs, reduce greenhouse gases with new infrastructure for underdeveloped region of province


Last updated 6/27/2010 at Noon

As development of the long-awaited Northwest Transmission Line moves toward construction startup this fall, stakeholders in the C$404 million venture are making deals aimed at maximizing economic and environmental benefits of the project.

British Columbia's Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources released details May 28 of agreements between BC Hydro, British Columbia Transmission Corp., Coast Mountain Hydro L.P., a wholly owned subsidiary of AltaGas Income Trust Ltd. and the Tahltan Nation that will help to create jobs, provide clean and renewable electricity to B.C.'s northwestern region, and spur completion of the line.

The 287-kilovolt publicly-owned transmission line will extend 335 kilometers, or 208 miles, along the Highway 37 corridor from Skeena Substation (near Terrace, B.C.) to Bob Quinn Lake. It will provide an interconnection point for power generation projects, supply electricity to support industrial developments in the area and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by enabling B.C. communities now relying on diesel to generate electricity to connect to the grid.

An application for an environmental assessment certificate for the line was accepted by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office on April 14.

As one of his final actions as B.C. Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Peace River South MLA Blair Lekstrom announced the agreements.

"These agreements will open up the Northwest by providing access to some of the up to 2,000 megawatts of clean energy potential that has been identified in the region and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They are part of our long-term vision for clean, renewable, low-cost energy for all British Columbians," said Lekstrom, who was succeeded as minister June 11 by Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett.

The agreements, which will support construction of the new transmission line, include:

A C$180 million umbrella agreement between AltaGas and BCTC for the construction and development of the transmission line (BCTC will operate the line.);

An electricity purchase agreement between BC Hydro and AltaGas for the Forrest Kerr hydropower project near Bob Quinn Lake; and

An impact-benefit agreement between AltaGas and the Tahltan Nation for the Forrest Kerr project.

The project also includes C$130 million in funding through the Government of Canada's Green Infrastructure Fund. Estimated ratepayer contributions to the project will total C$94 million, which is expected to be offset by payments by future renewable energy projects and/or mine developments.

New NW hydro project

AltaGas plans to generate electricity at the 195-megawatt Forrest Kerr project, which it acquired in 2008. Located 1,000 kilometers, or 620 miles, north of Vancouver, the project is designed to capture energy produced by the natural flow and elevation drop of the Iskut River and its tributaries and deliver power to the grid at Bob Quinn Lake via the Northwest Transmission Line.

Altagas aims to redirect a portion of the flow of the Iskut River through a tunnel to an underground powerhouse containing turbines to generate electricity.

The run-of-river nature of the project ensures continual movement of water and materials downstream of the proposed tailrace discharge, minimizing any potential effects on aquatic resources in the area.

Further, because of the underground nature of the Forrest Kerr generation site, it has a relatively small surface footprint, that also will minimize impacts to terrestrial ecosystems.

Electricity generated at Forrest Kerr will be delivered to the Northwest Transmission Line at Bob Quinn Lake via a 37-kilometer, 23-mile, 287 kV transmission line.

AltaGas acquired Forrest Kerr in 2008. The project is located within the Tahltan First Nation traditional territory and AltaGas said it will continue to work closely with the Tahltan to advance the project to commercial operation.

The Forrest Kerr project is part of B.C.'s plan to achieve energy self-sufficiency by 2016, as well as help meet its clean energy needs in an environmentally and socially responsible manner by offsetting the use of electricity generated from fossil fuels.

"The Forrest Kerr project represents an important evolution in AltaGas' power business as we continue to build long-term, contracted, generation assets," said AltaGas Chairman and CEO David Cornhill. "This project will provide the people of British Columbia with clean and reliable power from a significant water resource. For our investors, this announcement comes at an important time in history as governments move to reduce emissions while building for the future."

Spur for new jobs, mining

A 180-day application review period for the Northwest Transmission Line is under way, and public meetings have been held in the project area.

Construction of the Northwest Transmission Line is expected to create about 280 jobs, once the project wins necessary environmental assessment and regulatory approvals and accommodates the interests of affected First Nations.

The B.C. government has promoted the project as the first step in reinvigorating the regional economy of Northwest B.C. It is expected to provide significant direct economic stimulus to the region. It also will leverage an investment of more than C$700 million in Alta Gas' clean energy project that is expected to lead to creation of 400 jobs.

B.C. officials said investment and jobs in the region will increase with anticipated new industrial development.

British Columbia's new Clean Energy Act, currently before the provincial Legislature, sets the foundation for a new future of electricity self-sufficiency, job creation and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, powered by unprecedented investments in clean, renewable energy across the province, Lekstrom added.

The Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia, a mining industry group, applauded news of the agreements, reiterating its longtime support for construction of the Northwest Transmission Line. The AME BC said the power conduit will lead to critical economic development in a region of the province which currently has an unemployment rate exceeding 11 percent.

"The transmission line will provide up to 10,700 jobs from 11 potential mine projects, which will reverse the decline of employment in this region. With regard to the environment, the line will have a small physical footprint and will provide the first step in a green energy corridor leading from Alaska to British Columbia, and possibly Yukon (Territory). Importantly, it will reduce reliance on fossil fuel use and will lower emissions. The net environmental benefits of the power line will outweigh the localized impacts, which can be mitigated," the AME BC said in a statement June 4.


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