BC Hydro’s plan to supply hydro-electric power to a potential liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant at Kitimat is starting to take shape by involving a project to boost the amount of power an existing line can transmit and a second project to construct new power lines and substations.
Kitimat LNG would use hydro-electricity to run compressors to supercool natural gas from northeastern B.C. to a liquid for export overseas but to meet the demand, B.C Hydro needs to add capacity to its northwest system.
The first step is to beef up its power-carrying ability by adding capacitors to the existing 500kV line which runs 460 kilometres from the Williston Substation near Prince George to the Skeena Substation just south of Terrace.
Power-boosting capacitors of the kind BC Hydro would use would be installed at three places along the 500kv line — one near Vanderhoof, the other near Burns Lake and one near Telkwa.
Once this increased power arrives at the Skeena Substation it would be transmitted south on a new 287kV line to a new substation near the existing Minette Bay substation near Kitimat.
A shorter 287kV line would be needed to connect the new substation to the Minette Bay one and a new 287kV line would be needed to connect the new substation to Rio Tinto. Kitimat LNG would build its own line connecting its plant to the new substation.
As currently contemplated, the new 287kV line from the Skeena Substation to a new substation near Kitimat would run down the west side of the Kitimat Valley.
In that fashion, this new line revives a project BC Hydro was planning several years ago to replace its current 287kV line from the Skeena Substation which runs down the east side of the Kitimat Valley to Minette Bay.
But that was cancelled when BC Hydro decided it could refurbish the current line at a far cheaper cost then constructing a new one along a new route.
BC Hydro began contemplating increasing its northwestern power capacity as early as 2011 by proposing a new 500kV line to the Skeena Substation to meet anticipated demand by large industrial customers.
That prospect was put on hold in 2016 when anticipated demand did not materialize but revived in 2019 when Kitimat LNG told the crown corporation it wanted to use hydro-electricity exclusively to super cool natural gas.
BC Hydro then decided to use capacitor stations along its current 500kV line route instead of building a second line.
“[The] project will increase the capacity of the transmission system by 500 megawatts or 60 per cent with the addition of three capacitor stations,” said BC Hydro official Kevin Aquino.
“By using capacitor stations, we are able to significantly increase the capacity of the existing transmission line in a cost-effective, safe, and reliable way.”
The crown corporation has now asked interested and qualified parties for a fuller cost of installing the capacitor stations and is asking for comment concerning the work it wants to do running south of the Skeena Substation.
Kitimat LNG has so far not indicated how much power it will need and BC Hydro, in outlining its broad capacity station goals, says the resulting power could go to a variety of large industrial users in the northwest.
And although BC Hydro is planning to have the capacitor station network in place by 2025/2026 if it starts work in Sept. 2021, it has not indicated when it might start the new line running south of the Skeena Substation and associated works.
A decision to do so would rely on Kitimat LNG making a final investment decision, something that had been expected by now but which is now on hold.
Such a decision may have to wait because in December 2019, Chevron Canada, which owns 50 per cent of the project, said it was putting its share up for sale. The other half is owned by Woodside, an Australian company.
Also on the sales block is Chevron’s natural gas assets in the northeast and its share of the Pacific Trail Pipeline which would be built to pump gas to the Kitimat LNG plant.
Chevron’s sale decision followed a slump in natural gas prices and a glut of it available around the world.
“The Kitimat LNG decision is part of Chevron’s global portfolio optimization effort,” the company said in a statement.