John Hart power plant billion-dollar rebuild

It opened in 1947 and for 69 years it stood the test of time, but now that we know more about earthquakes, the John Hart power station is a disaster waiting to happen. So BC Hydro is going underground.

“The existing intake is about 600 metres downstream from where we currently are and the new intake is going to go underneath the dam and then drop about 80 metres into a power tunnel that will lead to the new power house,” Project Manager Brian Knoke said.

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When then Premier John Hart was in power, World War II was raging and most government programs were put on hold.

But the Hart power station was still built, and Vancouver Island had its own power-generating source.

“At the time industry was just starting to get going,” BC Hydro Site Manager Amy Stevenson said.

Metal was so scarce at the time that most of the water pipes are constructed of wood soaked in creosote.

READ MORE: BC Hydro offering to buy 11 homes due to seismic threat

But the pipes will soon disappear as almost everything will move subterranean. Staff has just finished blasting a cavern that’s as long as a football field.

Having an entire generating station embedded in rocks solves a lot of the seismic issues. There are also plans to reinforce the earth and dam as well.

Because of the way the water comes in at a point much deeper in the reservoir there are reliability improvements.

“We use the same amount of water but with better technology and a good design we can make better use of what we have,” Stevenson said.

“We’ve got more efficiency, which gives us more energy and some more capacity too.”

They way they’ve re-engineered the dam spillway will keep fish happy as well. BC Hydro says the water pouring out of the reservoir and into an arm of the Campbell River will be more regular and distributed more evenly.

“Campbell river is the salmon capital of the world we say, so having reliability for fish so that flow keeps going into the river is key,” Stevenson said.

When the project is finished, BC Hydro expect to power about 80,000 homes.

The project is expected to take five years to finish and is estimated to cost one billion dollars.

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