The owners of the Bell 2 Lodge are asking BC Hydro to reconsider after being told it will cost them millions of dollars to draw power from the Northwest Transmission Line, which runs within 300 metres of their business.
Not only that, but partner Mike Watling said they were told the amount must be paid upfront, unlike the arrangement the utility company has with larger industry who is tapping into the line.
“We’ve known about the NTL for a long time and we tried to wait for the right opportunity to get in there and find out about how feasible it is to hook up to it,” Watling said. “[BC Hydro] told us it was going to cost $3 million and come talk to them when we were ready to do something.
“I don’t even think it’s reasonable to suggest that.”
The year-round tourism business employs 65 people during high season and generates about $10 million in revenue annually.
In the winter, the Bell 2 Lodge is the jumping-off point for Last Frontier Heli-skiing.
During the summer months, there is a restaurant, gas station and accommodation for travellers along the Stewart-Cassiar Highway.
Watling said they were hoping to hook up to the system to reduce their energy costs and the amount of greenhouse gas they produce. Currently, they burn about 250,000 litres of diesel a year to generate their power.
Simi Heer, manager of media relations for BC Hydro, said it’s not a simple task to link a small business with the NTL.
“It’s important to remember that the NTL is a transmission line that carries electricity at 287 kilovolts,” Heer said in an email to The Interior News. “This customer would need electricity at a distribution voltage of 25 kilovolts. The estimate includes the cost of stepping down the voltage to an appropriate level. In this case, that would require a brand-new substation and additional distribution infrastructure.”
And BC Hydro is guided by the Electric Tariff, Heer said, which ensures the cost of new developments benefitting one customer are covered by that customer. The reason mining companies have been allowed to pay off the cost to hook onto the NTL over time is because of a special tariff approved by the BC Utilities Commission.
“[The tariff] is there to ensure BC Hydro recovers the cost of the line from clean energy producers and industrial companies who use the line,” Heer said. “In addition to paying for the infrastructure required to connect to the line, these companies are also required to pay a portion of the overall project cost, based on the amount of capacity required.”
In June, Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson wrote a letter to mines minister Bill Bennett, asking him to reconsider charging Bell 2 Lodge, and similar Northern B.C. businesses, upfront to connect to the NTL. He has yet to receive a response.
“Do you believe it sounds fair that other potential business users of the Northwest Transmission Line can hook up and pay off over time, while an existing tourism venture is told they must immediately pay $3 million for the switching station to hook up to the line that runs right through their backyard,” Donaldson said in the letter.
“It’s a matter of fairness,” Donaldson said last week.
“I’m hoping to get a positive response back from the letter I wrote earlier in June from the minister to say they’ve had a look at this and it’s an unfair situation and it’s about jobs and environmental benefits so let’s get on with it.”
The commissioning of the $746-million NTL is taking place now.