The Province of British Columbia's announcement Monday that it's moving forward with a major dam project could mean new power lines running through Pemberton and Whistler.
Premier Gordon Campbell announced that the province is taking the next steps with the Site C Energy Project, a 900 MW hydroelectric dam planned for the Peace River near Fort St. John. Projected for completion in 2020, the premier claimed it could provide "clean and renewable energy" for over a century.
"Hydroelectric power helped develop our province and Site C will build on B.C.'s heritage of clean, renewable and affordable power," Campbell said in a news release. "Site C will be a publicly owned heritage asset and will ensure that British Columbia has reliable sources of clean electricity, while contributing to our goal of electricity self-sufficiency."
"Moving forward" at this stage means the project will go to an environmental assessment overseen by the Environmental Assessment Office, a joint office between the provincial and federal governments. The process is expected to take about two years and will include opportunities for public input and submissions.
What Campbell didn't say in his news release is precisely how the power will be moved. The amount of electricity produced at Site C may necessitate upgrades to existing transmission lines and even the construction of new ones.
Those power lines may find their way across the Pemberton Valley and through Whistler. That has some politicians in Pemberton concerned about the impact they could have on lands.
Pemberton Councillor Susie Gimse, who also sits on the board of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District as director for Area C, has been following the issue for several years. She said at a Pemberton council meeting that even 20 or 25 years ago there were discussions about running transmission lines through Pemberton and the Birken area.
"I recall heated meetings with B.C. Hydro where they were talking about expropriating and increasing existing transmission line infrastructure, doubling the size of a tower to accommodate the new power coming in from Site C," she said. "Very clearly it has to come somewhere, the path of least resistance is on our already existing transmission route."
Whistler also grappled with B.C. Hydro over the issue of power lines about 20 years ago. Although B.C. Hydro decided against upgrading power lines then, the Whistler council of the day opposed any upgrade unless the lines could be buried under ground.
Pemberton is already grappling with issues related to transmission lines in the valley. Power lines traverse the valley floor and run right through the centre of town, right above the bike park and the location for a skateboard park that has yet to be constructed.
The Village of Pemberton has looked at various options for minimizing the impact of the existing lines on the community. They've looked at burying the lines or even elevating them with new posts. All options cost more money than the village can afford. Site C could mean that even more power lines will be constructed atop the existing towers.
As it stands, B.C. Hydro can install the lines without asking permission from local governments or any meaningful public input at all.
Gimse went on to say that B.C. Hydro has been seen picking up "key parcels" of land in the Birken and D'Arcy areas to Pemberton's north.
"I have questioned B.C. Hydro about their motives," she said. "They have always indicated that their motives are honest ones and the parcels of land relate more to wildlife and wetlands versus the fact that the valley really narrows there.
"It's a critical spot for transmission line infrastructure, so I'm suspicious."
Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy said the Site C project is still in its early days but admitted that "transmission is not a small issue."
"The demands are all in the southwestern part of the province," he said. "You've got production there and demand here, you have to connect the town. Where are they going to go? I think Councillor Gimse is right, it's going to go through existing corridors."