The modernized BC Hydro substation currently under construction near downtown Fernie

The modernized BC Hydro substation currently under construction near downtown Fernie

BC Hydro substation on track for 2018

The B.C. Hydro substation is under construction in Fernie.

The B.C. Hydro substation currently under construction in Fernie, is on schedule and maintaining its estimated operational date of spring, 2018.

The current firm capacity of Fernie Substation during winter is 10 mega volt amperes (MVA) which assumes that one transformer (T1) is out of service.

As a result, the 2016 load demand of 18.5 MVA has already exceeded the firm capacity by 185% and the load demand would be exceeding the firm capacity by approximately 200% by 2026 if an upgrade wasn’t done.

The current technology in place to power Fernie is closing in on fifty-years-old.

The upgraded substation (2018) will be more than twice as efficient and powerful, sitting at a capacity of 23 MVA. This is set to supply Fernie with equivalent power, and looks to accommodate an estimated 10 per cent increase in demand, over the next 10 years. Once completed, the substation is predicted to remain sufficient for the next 30 years, before another upgrade is needed.

BC Hydro is currently spending two billion dollars a year, over the next 10 years, upgrading power stations across the province.

“The demand for power is increasing, Fernie is growing,” said Amec Foster Wheeler site manager, Allan Moreau, who just celebrated his 20th year with Amec Foster Wheeler.

“Technology has evolved, just like anything else. Your 1970’s car is not what you’re driving nowadays. (Here) transformers, switch gear, poles, everything is new and improved.”

The goal with the new equipment upgrade is not only capacity, but also efficiency and reliability. The new substation will also come with the ability to switch power feeders, which will grant the ability to restore power in a power outage much faster than before.

If preplanned power outages are in the future in relation to the project, BC Hydro would like to assure the public they will be forewarned.

BC Hydro owns the project, and the engineering company, Amec Foster Wheeler, has been contracted to complete it.

In this particular case, BC Hydro construction services and FMI Installations are involved in the construction of the new substation. Within this, the Ktunaxa Nation has been contracted to also partake in the construction of the new substation.

There are currently five Ktunaxa members working on site, three labourers, one apprentice and a site manager.

“It’s been great,” said Ktunaxa site manager, Zoe Gravelle.

“With this partnership, what one of the benefits was, capacity building for the nation members. With apprenticeships, job mentorships, labourers. Plus the labourers also get training off an on,” she said.

Every member working on the new substation undergoes cultural awareness training.

“It’s really allowed us to explore our mutual interests, and both organizations are benefiting because they’re both getting the opportunity to learn about each other,” said BC Hydro Communications Manager for East Kootenay, Diane Tammen.

Hydro electricity starts at a dam. Next, it travels to large substations that take it in at around 500 kilovolt (KV). Next, this is distributed to smaller and smaller substations, eventually working its way down the line to substations like the one found in Fernie.

Transmission lines, in this case, host transmission (input) cables on top, and underbuilt distribution lines on the bottom. Only an expert in this field could tell which was carrying the higher voltage.

Every substation is similar in design to the next, ranging only in technology and size. First, high voltage comes in, hits a multitude of different transformers, and is then converted to a lower voltage (25 KV).

“That’s the whole reason why we’re doing this, we’re actually getting newer, updated equipment and it provides more flexibility for Hydro to service the customer,” said Moreau.

The control room is the brains of the substation; the bricks for this have been laid, although the building is far from completed. This building will be built with Fernie’s aesthetic in mind; the entire project was designed with the city of Fernie to be not only a functional base of hydroelectric operations, but also a site fit for the downtown area. Inside will also host much more space for storage and accommodation. Also, more technology comes with more controls. This is the reason for the large control room upgrade. The current control room is a shed.

A modern fence will surround the base, and will be installed inside of the current fence line. The green fence currently in place does not represent where the fence will lie when the project is completed. In addition, the skate park will remain in place, unfazed by operations.

“A special consideration was made for this substation. There’s a nice brick cladding on the outside to match the local environment. Normally you don’t have a nice, beautiful, bricked control building. That’s a nice requirement here for Fernie,” said Moreau.

Concrete pillars have been put in the south half of the 25 KV switchyard, which will elevate the switchyard above the drainage risks from the wetlands area above, as well as allow a vast amount of cables to run underneath in the precast cable trench. The finished grade is around six feet elevated from the current ground level.

Large steel structures are being laid in the area of the concrete pillars, to support all the new switchgear.

Four main concrete pillars in the middle of the 25 KV south half will support the new circuit boards.

A series of perforated drainpipes will be installed in the substation, which will collect the water and feed it into the municipal drain lines. The substation as a whole will be connected to these same lines.

The deadline for operational status is spring of 2018, and the additional aesthetic features including trees and plants, will be put in place within one year of the substation being completed. Right now, the end of the summer, or beginning of fall, 2018 looks like it would be an ideal time to plant vegetation.

Next on the to-do list for the new substation is to install the new transformer slants, which are scheduled to arrive June 30. At this point the crew will switch from construction workers, steelworkers and woodworkers, to more advanced and particular work that will require the expertise of electricians and engineers. Until then, the foundation will be under construction.

On behalf of BC Hydro, Tammen, “Would like to thank the City of Fernie, its residents and the public for their patience as we complete this important investment in the Fernie Substation.”

Any questions about the project can be sent to Diane Tammen at