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BC Hydro scraps 'substations for schools' proposal

Last Updated Mar 9, 2017 at 8:15 pm PDT

(iStock photo)

BC Hydro looking for above-ground locations for new power stations

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – BC Hydro has pulled the plug on its proposal to build new schools in the West End and Coal Harbour in exchange for new underground substations.

The utility says the City of Vancouver had asked it to pay a price based on what it would cost to purchase the land outright — making it too expensive.

NDP MLA Spencer Chandra-Herbert says this was rushed.

“I said, we need a little bit of time to consider this, it’s a pretty major change to our community. Just to look at everything from safety, to the finances, to when the new schools would be built, child care, etcetera… just give us a couple of months.”

While disappointed, Hydro says it’ll keep listening and looking for ideas as it makes new decisions on above ground substation options in the downtown core.

In a release from the City of Vancouver, “council cited limited public consultation to date and a lack of information to address its concerns and concerns raised by the public as the main reasons for not providing approval at this time. Concerns about the project have included: noise, impacts on parks, transportation and utilities, concerns about electromagnetic field impacts and financial due diligence, and the limited time-frame required by BC Hydro to complete the transactions.”

BC Hydro had this to say:

In January, BC Hydro introduced seed: an innovative idea to meet the electricity needs of Vancouver’s growing population and make better use of land downtown by building two new substations underground. Our idea would have made the substations virtually invisible and left available land for important things like schools, parks and housing, while investing millions of dollars into public benefits instead of solely on the purchase of land.

Working with the City of Vancouver, Vancouver Park Board and Vancouver School Board, it was exciting to see the possibilities take shape – a new school in Coal Harbour by 2020, a new school and daycare spaces in the West End by 2025, a refresh of Cathedral Square Park and a refresh of Emery Barnes Park in 20 years along with millions to invest in new park and recreation facilities – all while ensuring reliable, clean power supply.

Over the past two months, we consulted the public about their early thoughts about seed, holding four public open houses, four roundtable meetings, two meetings with Parent Advisory Councils and giving several talks and presentations to approximately 400 people. We received 219 feedback forms and 27 written submissions, with the majority of consultation participants indicating they think seed is a better idea than our traditional approach of building above ground substations.

We recently learned that, in exchange for the rights to build a substation underneath Emery Barnes Park, similar to our existing substation lease at Cathedral Square, the City of Vancouver has asked BC Hydro to pay a price based on what it would cost to purchase the land outright. This shift makes the extra costs of building underground prohibitive. We also learned that the City will not be making a decision about whether or not seed could move forward for many more months. While we respect their processes and views in reaching this decision, this means that our proposal is no longer possible.

We always knew the timelines and partnerships required to make this idea work were ambitious – but at a time when land is scarce and new community facilities and amenities are needed, we knew we owed it to the residents of Vancouver to explore new public partnerships to make better use of available land and enable a more efficient use of public funds.

I want to thank the Vancouver Park Board, Vancouver School Board and the City of Vancouver for the time they took to consider this proposal, as well as the hundreds of downtown Vancouver residents who attended our roundtable meetings and open houses and provided feedback online.

This concept has shown the creative thinking and innovative ideas that take place within BC Hydro each and every day. While we’re disappointed, we will keep listening and looking for ideas as we make new decisions on above ground substation options in the downtown core to support the growing demand for energy in Vancouver.