Workers rushed for medical attention as Atchelitz substation burns
From The Hotline, March 2012 - Residents in Chilliwack and Sumas found themselves without power on a cold winter day in January as an electrical transformer caught fire and exploded at BC Hydro’s Atchelitz substation forcing a power shutdown. Thick black smoke could be seen for miles as residents scrambled with health concerns as advisories were issued telling residents to stay “inside”. Media reported a toxic oil spill occurred and 38,000 residents were left without electricity.
According to BC Hydro’s website, 12 on-site employees were working at the substation when the fire broke out and all were accounted for, with four being transported to hospital for assessment but able to return to work.
Local firefighters managed to extinguish the blaze. Power was eventually restored and an environmental cleanup was undertaken. The cause of the fire remains unknown.
The Atchelitz substation fire is the latest in a growing list of attention gathering infrastructure problems that are causing power outages for BC Hydro’s customers.
In June of last year, a leaning 500-kv transmission tower on the Fraser River near Coquitlam caught the public’s attention. On July 4th, a the spectacular collapse of a 230-kv transmission tower on the south bank of the Fraser River near Surrey occurred, resulting in the closure of both the Trans-Canada and Lougheed Highways and part of United Boulevard. Marine traffic was shut down, the morning commute was interrupted and 25,000 customers were immediately left without power. Serious concerns about the public utility were raised by residents and local officials and bigger questions were being asked - what’s happened with BC Hydro and their trusted ability to reliably deliver power?
According to a government review of BC Hydro released last July, decreasing reliability can be attributed to “aging assets”. BC Hydro’s own industry benchmarking review noted, “amongst other items, that BC Hydro’s spending, overall, has increased dramatically for all stations when compared to earlier benchmarks and that plant performance problems identified in the maintenance section may be indicative of historically low levels of investment over many years. It has also led to the need to invest to maintain and grow the system.”
While understanding that accidents do happen, the union believes kudos need to go to our members, the BC Hydro workers, who have managed to maintain the aging electrical, generation and transmission infrastructure across the province to the best of their abilities. And there’s a degree of frustration at not being allowed to do a quality job on additional necessary work when restrictions from “the higher-ups” prevent you from doing so. You can only do the job you’re told to do...
Meanwhile, as the public sees their electricity rates rise and the questions and concerns about spending initiatives such as Smart Meters run rampant across the province, the questions remain: What’s going on with BC Hydro? And who’s to blame?
From the Review of BC Hydro, June, 2011:
The Availability of BC Hydro’s Generation Facilities is declining...
… decreasing reliability can be attributed to aging assets. Specifically, the very high outages in the fiscal years 2009 and 2011 are a result of equipment failure and rock falls including the following:
GM Shrum Unit 3 turbine failed catastrophically in 2009 forcing the unit out of service for the entire fiscal year (the unit was out of service for a total of 14 months);
Bridge River Unit 4 was forced out of service for about 6 months in F2009 due to explosive failure of the unit circuit breaker;
Whatshan Unit 1 was forced out of service for about 4 months in F2009 due to a rock fall in the penstock tunnel which also resulted in damage to the turbine;
Alouette Generating Station has been forced out of service since February 2010 due to a rock fall at the intakes (and remains out of service);
Shuswap Unit 2 was forced out of service for about 9 months in F2011 due to severe vibration in the turbine bearing and damage to the exciter; and
Ruskin Unit 2 turbine bearing failed, forcing the unit out of service for about 4 months in Fiscal 2011