British Columbia

Northwest Transmission Line too expensive for small business

The operators of a wilderness lodge in northwestern B.C. are frustrated they will not able to draw power from the new Northwest Transmission Line.

Power from $700 million line is unaffordable says wilderness lodge operator

The Northwest Transmission Line in northern B.C. is nearing completion. (CBC)

The operators of a wilderness lodge in northwestern B.C. are frustrated they will not able to draw power from the recently completed Northwest Transmission Line.

BC Hydro is in the process of commissioning the $700 million power project, which runs about 350 kilometres north of Terrace alongside Highway 37, and it is expected to come online sometime this month.

The high voltage line is expected to bolster mining and private hydroelectric power projects in northwestern B.C., reduce the use of diesel generators in the area and cut greenhouse gas emissions. It could also eventually connect Alaska with the North American transmission grid.

But while the new transmission line passes within 300 meters of the Bell 2 Lodge, which relies on diesel generators for power, the lodge won't be able to use it for power, according to Mike Watling, the sales director at the lodge.

"We were told it's going to cost us $3 million," said Watling, who says the operation can't afford to pay that much money upfront. 

"You know, there's clean energy right there on your door step, and for us to be sitting there and not to be able to take any advantage of it whatsoever, yeah, naturally frustrating."

Not feasible for small businesses

BC Hydro Spokesperson Simi Heer says it is not feasible to simply tap into a high-voltage line.

"What this customer needs is lower voltage electricity and that's going to require some significant investment in the equipment."

Heer says BC Hydro needs to protect its entire customer base, and ensure it isn't subsidizing equipment costs for one customer.

But Watling says major industrial users, like mines, aren't required to immediately recoup the costs of hooking up to the line.

"I understand that the idea of the NTL was not only to support big business, but also small business, try and get smaller communities away from diesel power generation," said Watling.

"We think we're being unfairly treated because the bigger business are getting that advantage of basically financing from BC Hydro, whereas we're not."

NDP Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson agrees industrial users aren't asked to immediately recoup costs when they hook up to the line, and he's also asking the province and crown corporation to extend the same privilege to small businesses.

In 2009 Blair Lekstrom, who was then B.C.'s minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources, said the line was expected to cost about $404 million, but the cost jumped to over $700 million within a few years.

The Northwest Transmission Line's schematic map. (BC Hydro)

With files from Marissa Harvey