West Kelowna mayor renews call for backup power source as wildfire threatens only line

Click to play video: 'Wildfire threatens key Okanagan power source' Wildfire threatens key Okanagan power source
WATCH: For the second time in seven years, a wildfire is threatening the only transmission line serving around 60,000 customers on the west side of Okanagan Lake. The Mayor of West Kelowna is expressing his frustration, while BC Hydro is saying, it's doing all it can to keep the lights on. – Jul 18, 2021

Sixty-thousand people in West Kelowna and Peachland, B.C., rely on a single source of power — and that transmission line is being threatened by a wildfire, again.

The Brenda Creek wildfire, discovered on July 18, is 450 hectares in size and is burning south of the Okanagan Connector, right in the path of BC Hydro’s electrical lines.

Gord Milsom, the mayor of West Kelowna, is renewing calls for the power utility to fast-track its approval of a backup, secondary transmission line, stating that a mass power outage would cause “chaos” in the community.

Read more: Specialized team takes control of Okanagan wildfire response efforts

“West Kelowna council, we have been advocating since 2007 for power redundancy, a second source of power, and I know that BC Hydro has done a lot of studies and consultations since 2007, and I understand it’s within their capital plan, but the delays have been too numerous, and it has just taken so long, so it’s time to get on with it,” Milsom told Global News on Sunday.

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Milsom said consequences of a power outage due to a wildfire include the loss of air conditioning during a heat wave, point of sales systems down for businesses reliant on tourism and the loss of traffic lights once backup generators are expired.

“Could you imagine if there were no lights on Highway 97?” he said.

BC Hydro said its crews are feverishly working with the BC Wildfire Service and local fire departments to protect the integrity of the power line. No major damage has been identified to date.

“Through this fire, it has threatened the transmission line quite regularly. It’s burned past the transmission line on at least two occasions and it’s been burning in that area for a number of days,” said BC Hydro spokesperson Dag Sharman.

Read more: BC Hydro keeping eye on large Okanagan wildfire that’s burning near transmission line

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He said that the electric utility understands the concerns of the community and the West Kelowna transmission project is a top priority.

“That project is well underway. The project is a priority for BC Hydro. It is in our capital plan and it remains ongoing, the work to advance it,” Sharman said.

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“We fully understand the community wanting the project to move faster than it does, but transmission projects are challenging and they take time.”

BC Hydro said it looked at building a new transmission line from the Westbank substation to the Nicola substation, but costs have increased since the alternative was identified in 2016.

Now it’s assessing a project that would connect the Westbank substation to the FortisBC system. A decision on the best option is expected this year.

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Read more: More evacuations as more than 300 wildfires rage in B.C.

West Kelowna and Peachland’s only source of power was also threatened in 2014 due to the Smith Creek wildfire.

Milsom fears it may be too late by the time a second transmission line is established.

“I am concerned about the health and safety of our residents,” he said.

“We’ve got to prepare for the worst, and I encourage our residents to prepare, in case there is an extended outage.”

– with files from Megan Turcato

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