BC Hydro has revealed that the right-of-way to be used for the coming $38-million transmission line in Merritt will house another line in the future, maybe even a third.
At a BC Hydro open house last night at Merritt Bench Elementary School, Merritt Area Transmission Project senior manager Andrew Leonard fielded questions from the public during a question-and-answer session towards the end of the meeting.
"Sometime in the future, there is going to be another 138-kilovolt line, maybe two," he told the audience of about 60 people.
BC Hydro says the project—alternative 1B—is intended to boost power to Merritt through a 138-kilovolt, 37-kilometre transmission line along mostly unused right-of-way from Merritt to the Highland substation north of Merritt. Alternative 1A would have upgraded an existing, 37-kilometre, 69-kilovolt line to 138 kilovolts.
"The station, when we expand it, will serve Merritt for the next 30 years," Leonard said.
Hydro explains that the project will relieve the electricity demand for Merritt, set to exceed capacity by about 2014.
City officials and some business groups have touted the benefits of bringing more power to Merritt, saying more businesses will come to Merritt when power capacity is increased.
Questions from the audience included concerns over a possible devaluation in property for those residents living near the proposed line, or, in some cases, where Hydro right-of-way passes through ranch land.
"Who's going to compensate us for the devaluation of our property," a Forksdale resident asked. "Is Hydro going to do that?
"What you're doing to us is wrong."
Out of Merritt residences, houses on Forksdale Court and Forksdale Crescent come the closest to the line.
The line will go from the Merritt substation through a residential area before it crosses the Extra Foods and Canadian Tire parking lots. The line will consist of three cables strung up along single wooden poles along the City of Merritt portion. Once out of the city, Hydro will support the cables with metal H frames. The use of wooden poles in the city is said to be less of an eyesore than the H frames.
"They're going to experience more of a devaluation (of property) if there's no power, and businesses don't move in," Leonard told reporters prior to the meeting.
However, some in the audience questioned the need for more power in Merritt and suggested that the project is part of a long-term deal between Hydro and independent power producers.
Leonard denied the claims. "The natural population growth requires this line."
Merritt's population peak was in 1996 and district school enrollment trends point downwards. Last summer, BC Hydro announced it had awarded BioEnergy a contract to build a $140-million, 228 gigawatt-hour biomass plant that would add electricity to Merritt's grid.
Other concerns raised by those in the audience centred on the possible negative health effects associated with power lines and the electromagnetic fields (EMF) they emit.
Leonard says the 30-metre buffer zone provided by the right-of-way keeps the fields to a minimum—about 5 milligauss, well below national and international safety standards. Concern over EMF was central to a four-year dispute between residents in Tsawwassen and BC Transmission Corporation over the Vancouver Island transmission line in 2005, which ran through neighbourhoods and by schools. Residents claimed their readings of EMF were shown to exceed figures given by Hydro and BCTC. And because schools were in close proximity to the lines, residents argued that the younger bodies would be more susceptible to negative health effects, like leukemia, which have been linked to fields from power lines.
The dispute ended up forcing BC Hydro to purchase 104 homes of residents who wanted to move because of the line.
Hydro argues that if there were such a devaluation in property, why were they able to resell the homes so quickly?
Leonard says Hydro will provide Gauss meters to residents wanting to measure the fields for themselves.
Members of the audience requested another meeting with Hydro, to which Hydro agreed.
No date has been set for the meeting; however, Leonard said he would meet with concerned residents on an individual basis as well as those living close to the proposed line in the meantime.
Merritt Area Transmission Project construction timeline
BC Hydro will begin to upgrade the Merritt substation and start land development around the area beginning in October this year.
Right-of-way preparation and construction of the transmission line will begin in 2013.
"You'll see activity all through 2013 all the way to 2014," Leonard says.
He adds that development and construction crews of up to about 60 workers will benefit Merritt's economy.
The project's completion is scheduled for late 2013, early 2014.