Parents hope for the best if underground West End substation gets the go-ahead
Artist's concept of Nelson park (foreground) and new Lords Roberts school annex (rear right) overtop a new underground B.C. Hydro substation. B.C. Hydro. Jan. 2017. (File Photo)
Many parents are awaiting with resignation for the decision on building a new, underground B.C. Hydro substation near a West End school annex.
"Right now, where we're at, our biggest concern is that when Hydro gives the money to the Vancouver school board, the money is actually used for the two schools Hydro talked about," said Kathryn Gibbons, coordinator of West End Families in Action.
"That everything goes as promised, I guess that's our concern right now. There's definitely a feeling it's a done deal."
B.C. Hydro announced in mid-January that it wants to build two new underground substations, one under Emery Barnes Park in Yaletown and one at the site of Lord Roberts school annex in the West End, to meet projected growth in energy demands downtown.
In exchange, Hydro proposed paying for a new school at Coal Harbour, a new Lord Roberts annex and playground at Nelson and Butte, and a renovated Emery Barnes park.
B.C. Hydro assures the public underground substations are safe and the new ones will be safer yet because they will use an inert gas (called SF6) for insulation instead of the traditional, and volatile, oil.
"Gas-insulated transformers are a relatively new technology in North America," Andrew Leonard, project manager for the new substations, said. "The risk of potential fire or explosions basically goes to zero."
Even with oil-insulated transformers, the risk of fire is rare.
That's why when there was an explosion and fire at B.C. Hydro's Kidd2 substation on No. 4 Road in Richmond in 2015, engineers rushed to study it.
"We went to look at it, it's so rare, but it has happened," Paul Luoca, senior vice-president at Lex Engineering, said. "I've never dealt with gas insulation, but it would mean less mess if there's a fault, no oil spilled, so very limited fire danger, probably.
"This could be a win-win situation, but it's got to be done right."
Substations take 230,000 volts of electricity and lower its voltage before power is distributed to buildings. Hydro estimates there will be power shortages downtown by 2028 if new substations aren't built.
The Cathedral Square substation at Richards and Dunsmuir is one of three currently servicing downtown and was the first underground substation built in North America, in 1984.
Since then, one was built in Anaheim in 2007 and one is being built near the base of the CN Tower, which will be operational this year.
B.C. Hydro has made it clear it's not a matter of if the substations are needed but where they'll be built, underground or above ground on hyper-expensive real estate.
The underground idea surfaced late in the planning stages, Leonard said, thus the rush, because if Hydro has to assemble land and then build the substations above ground, that's a 10-year project.
"Downtown Vancouver would otherwise be out of power by 2028," he said. "So there isn't a lot of time to spare."
The Vancouver school board, run by a government-appointed trustee following the province's firing of the elected board last fall, says it will have a decision in late March.
"There’s no doubt in my mind this is a done deal," said West End resident Larissa Rutquist, mother of seven- and three-year-old boys. "The process was way too rushed, it was not meaningful. The speed this happened demonstrated a lack of respect for the community.
"Now we’re faced with dealing with the park board and the school board. We need to focus and speak with a unified voice for the community.
"I’m trying to focus on that it could be a win-win because it is a done deal, and set my sights on seeing that the result is the best deal for the community."