It is one of the biggest capital investments Vancouver Island has seen this decade and it is now giving residents a return on that investment.
More than a decade after its initial conception, the new $1.1 billion John Hart Generating station is officially complete and fully operational.
Representatives from all levels of government involved in the project, along with chiefs of local First Nations and dignitaries from all facets of the station’s construction gathered for one more tour of the Campbell River-area facility Thursday, touting the project’s importance to the corporation, the community and the people.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to see, first hand, the extraordinary scope of this work,” says North-Island MLA and Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena. “I remember a number of years ago, sitting outside by the parking lot as this was being announced. Now to be here just when the finishing touches are being completed is truly impressive.”
Trevena calls the project an important step in “making sure that we are going to have more clean energy for B.C.” and says she references the John Hart Generating Station project as a key example of how the Community Benefits Agreement works.
She also says hydroelectricity is a key component of the shift required to meet our climate targets.
“We must increase our use of cleaner energy – especially hydroelectricity – in our lives and in key sectors of our economy, shifting away from our reliance on fossil fuels for transportation, for industry and for housing. This project will help ensure that we have the power we need to support that low-carbon electrification and meet our climate goals.”
The project included replacing the aging existing underground generating station with new equipment, replacing three 1.8 kilometre pipelines with a single 2.1 kilometre tunnel and building a new water intake and bypass facility.
Chris O’Riley, president of BC Hydro – who actually began his career with BC Hydro at the old John Hart facility – says the facility is “a really key part of our system on Vancouver Island, but it is also a key part of the region’s history.
The construction of the dam itself 71 years ago, O’Riley says, “kicked off the growth in the North Island. In particular, it enabled the Elk Falls mill, which allowed this town to grow up from a small fishing town into the robust community that we know today, and John Hart continues to build those connections and fill that role today and into the future.”
But the original power plant, “was recognized as one of the biggest environmental risks in the company,” O’Riley says, and when they eventually settled on putting the new powerhouse underground, “it solved a lot of problems and constraints,” but it also forced them “to really change how we thought about building a plant and forced us to be open to different approaches and open to other ideas.”
Chief Chris Roberts of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation says he’s happy with the environmental considerations BC Hydro has made throughout the planning and construction.
“I’ve only been in this position for about eight months,” Roberts says, “and a lot of people here have talked about being here from the beginning. But for me, our people have been here since the very beginning of when this infrastructure was first put in place.
“In those days, there was no effort of consultation on engagement of how this might impact a place that we call home. When I learned about some of the details about what this project has in terms of being environmentally-aware infrastructure – I was very pleased to see that it was an improvement rather than just a replacement.”
Chief Brian Assu of the We Wai Kai was involved through the entire process, and agrees with Roberts about the relationships between First Nations and the company.
“I’ve been involved with BC Hydro for a very long time,” Assu says. “But I’d especially like to recognize and thank past Chief Ralph Dick and Chief Robert Pollard. They were integral to forming the new relationship that has developed between not only our First Nations, but also BC Hydro and SNC (Lavalin). We were all working together over time and the results are just fantastic.”