Power on at Waneta Dam

After 4 years and over $900 million, the Waneta expansion is up and running earlier than projected.

The “on” switch has been flipped well ahead of schedule at the Waneta Dam expansion site.

After over four years under construction and over $900 million invested, the dam expansion wasn’t expected to fully operational until mid-May, but officials say because of proper planning and very few time-lost events, the project is up and running.

“The eighth largest infrastructure project in British Columbia, the Waneta Expansion Project was completed six weeks ahead of schedule and on budget while maintaining an excellent safety and environmental record,” read a press release on Thursday. “With over 3 million person hours logged there were only two minor lost-time incidents and no major environmental incidents or concerns.”

Back in January, Columbia Power officials said construction to expand on the already-running Waneta Dam was running right on schedule with the add-on of a second power house down river. Crews then installed two Francis turbines that can produce 335 megawatts of power.

Now that the addition is complete, the site is providing power to around 60,000 homes through a 10-kilometre transmission line, ending up at BC Hydro’s Selkirk Power Station near Fruitvale. After that, power gets distributed throughout the existing grid.

But who is going to benefit financially from the completion of the project?

According to the press release, both BC Hydro and FortisBC have long-term contracts to purchase the power produced by the new turbines, but Fortis owns a bit more, allowing them to produce on-demand power. Fortis also owns 51 per cent of the facility, with Columbia Power and the Columbia Basin trust owning the other 49 per cent.

The local economy also financially benefitted during the four-and-a-half-year project with 1,400 tradespeople hired to work onsite, 70 per cent of which were considered local –  living within 100 km of the construction site.

From start to finish, Columbia Power Corporation says that over $300 million was “injected” into the economy through services, goods and wages, but now that most of the construction work is finished, the site will be nearly empty most of the time.

Audrey Repin, director of stakeholder and external relations with the Columbia Power Corporation, says there will be a skeleton, probably part-time, crew at the dam during regular operations, with the exception of emergencies, maintenance or special circumstances.

“Following project completion, a small, small team will be required for operations,” she said back in January. “Other than regular planned maintenance where a larger team is required, an operational team would typically consist of less than 10 people who may also be providing operational expertise to other operating facilities in the area.”

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