The time frame for a $3-billion transmission project in northern British Columbia could be accelerated to supply more hydroelectricity to industrial customers such as LNG Canada, BC Hydro’s chief executive officer says.
Chris O’Riley said there are early-stage plans afoot for expanding electrification on the North Coast region that could eventually help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as those from LNG Canada’s production of liquefied natural gas.
He said B.C. Premier David Eby has asked the Crown corporation to fast-track the planning process. “We’re committed to try and expedite as much as possible,” Mr. O’Riley said in an interview. “We’re trying to do the right thing and come up with the best possible plan that’s consistent with B.C.’s climate plan, and it’s really hard.”
LNG Canada is slated to begin exports from Phase 1 of its Kitimat terminal in 2025. Under a potential Phase 2, LNG Canada’s co-owners are considering a major expansion in Kitimat that would double the export capacity of the fuel to Asia, possibly by 2030.
Mr. O’Riley said it would normally take eight to 10 years for BC Hydro to devise and construct a major transmission project. While he said it’s important to be on an expedited track to supply more hydroelectricity to northern B.C. to help the province meet its climate goals, he cautioned that major proposals such as the North Coast transmission line are complex.
“There are a lot of impacts from an investment like that in terms of impacts on the land and on communities and on First Nations,” Mr. O’Riley said. “Those impacts have to be managed and done carefully.”
Details yet to be worked out include how the $3-billion in capital costs would be financed. “There would probably have to be a process designed for that and some kind of cost-sharing arrangement put in place,” he said.
Increased capacity for hydroelectricity on the North Coast from the new transmission line would arrive too late for LNG Canada’s Phase 1, which will use natural gas-fired turbines to drive compressors in the process of producing LNG. High-efficiency turbines using “aeroderivative” technology from Baker Hughes Co. BKR-Q will help supercool natural gas into liquid form, with hydroelectricity used only in supporting roles such as auxiliary power.
“Climate plans are important in the province and it’s hard to get reductions in the emissions,” Mr. O’Riley said. “If we have more gas-fired compression at LNG Canada’s Phase 2, that will make it that much harder.”
Phase 2 expansion plans already have regulatory approval to utilize natural gas-fired turbines, similar to Phase 1, though LNG Canada is considering subsequently switching over to electric motors to drive compressors for Phase 2′s liquefaction.
“We would be happy to supply LNG Canada with electricity, but we need time to get the power to them and we’re going to work hard to compress the time as much as we can,” Mr. O’Riley said.
On Feb. 15, BC Hydro began inviting non-binding expressions of interest from prospective industrial power users on the North Coast, including LNG Canada, mining companies and the Port of Prince Rupert. The deadline for submissions is April 11.
In 2013, with LNG proposals in B.C. in their infancy, BC Hydro suspended planning on a new project, which would have twinned the existing 450-kilometre transmission route from the Williston substation near Prince George to the Skeena substation near Terrace. Last October, BC Hydro embarked on a multiyear program to add three new capacitor stations to the existing line in upgrades to expand capacity, with a scheduled in-service date by 2028.
Construction on LNG Canada’s $18-billion export terminal began in 2018 at the Kitimat industrial site located on the Haisla Nation’s traditional territory. The B.C. project remains the only LNG export terminal under construction in Canada.
For the potential new transmission line, BC Hydro has started talks with First Nations to explore Indigenous participation through co-ownership of infrastructure.
Mr. O’Riley said BC Hydro is hoping that responses to the call for expressions of interest will generate momentum for twinning the existing transmission line from Prince George to Terrace.
“When you’re building big, linear infrastructure, it’s very costly,” he said. “We have not done any detailed planning or engineering for the project.”
Teresa Waddington, LNG Canada’s vice-president of corporate relations, said the Shell PLC-led joint venture supports efforts to speed up electrification across B.C.
“We see ourselves alongside many industries in B.C. with the opportunity to lower emissions, supported by government, as electrical infrastructure for the region is further developed,” Ms. Waddington said in a statement. “Advancing electrification can benefit northern and Indigenous communities, adding needed infrastructure along the transmission route and in coastal areas.”
LNG Canada’s Phase 2 feasibility studies show that a prospective new wing at the Kitimat site could begin with gas turbines, before switching to electric motors to drive compressors, once sufficient and reliable hydroelectricity becomes available.
Marc Lee, senior economist at the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the general goal of electrification is a step in the right direction to fight climate change, but he disagreed with the concept of earmarking hydroelectricity to help produce LNG.
“Using that power eventually for Phase 2 of LNG Canada would be squandering it,” Mr. Lee said, adding that methane leaks from fracking for natural gas in northeast B.C. also need to be factored in when calculating emissions.