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BC Hydro killing plans for underground substations in Vancouver

BC Hydro announces a plan to replace aging infrastructure in Downtown Vancouver. It involves two major construction projects that will be underground. Aaron McArthur reports.

BC Hydro is walking away from their plan of building two new electric substations underground in Vancouver.

In January, the utility company decided to go underground for their projects in large part because of Vancouver’s sky-high land values.

It said it would like to upgrade electrical infrastructure by proposing to build two new substations underground, leaving the space above available for developments, such as schools.

But now, BC Hydro says the City of Vancouver wants them to pay a price based on the full market value of the land, which would drive up the cost of the project too high to be feasible.

The substations were going to be located in the West End and Yaletown, supplying power for what was anticipated to be a 75 per cent growth in demand across the downtown region over the next 30 years.

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At the time of the announcement in January, BC Hydro president Jessica McDonald said building for the future in a city where land is scarce and expensive challenged BC Hydro to find a new approach.

“By literally planting our substations underground, the available budgets and the land above can be used to grow community benefits, whether that is a school, a park or a playing field,” she said.

Hydro shared and worked on the concept with the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver School Board and the Vancouver Park Board. Some of the possibilities presented were: 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.

Over the past two months BC Hydro consulted the public, held roundtables and open houses, offered several presentations and received feedback, concluding the “majority of consultation participants” thought the underground substations was a better idea then the traditional approach.

WATCH: BC Hydro substation concerns

BC Hydro substation concerns
BC Hydro substation concerns

In addition to the city wanting the full purchase price, BC Hydro says they also learned the city would not be making a decision about whether or not the project could move forward for several months.

“While we respect their processes and views in reaching this decision, this means that our proposal is no longer possible,” McDonald said in a statement.

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“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.”