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$800m upgrade planned for Ruskin Dam

The last significant upgrade to the Ruskin Dam was in the 1950s. - Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS
The last significant upgrade to the Ruskin Dam was in the 1950s.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS

B.C. Hydro hopes to pump $800 million into the Ruskin Dam as part of its $6 billion plan to upgrade aging facilities across the province.
The dam, which sits on the Maple Ridge-Mission border, was built more than 80 years ago, and hasn’t seen a significant upgrade since the last generator was added in the 1950s.
B.C. Hydro is proposing to replace the dam’s aging powerhouse equipment, while making the dam safe in the event of an earthquake. When completed, the dam will generate enough electricity to power 33,000 homes, and will be able to withstand a one-in-10,000-year earthquake.
B.C. Hydro filed the project application Monday with the B.C. Utilities Commission, which still needs to approve the project before it can move ahead. But construction could begin as early as 2012.
The project is expected to take six years to complete, with crews working 20 hours a day, six days a week.
B.C. Hydro estimates the project will generate approximately 1,050 person-years of employment during construction.
The project will include seismic upgrades to the right bank of the dam, as well as the powerhouse structure. The powerhouse’s aging generators and turbines will be replaced, and the dam’s spillway gates and piers will also upgraded.
A new two-lane road over the dam with a pedestrian walkway will be built, while the powerhouse will have its historic facade restored.
The dam upgrade, which is expected to cost between $718 million and $857 million, is part of B.C. Hydro’s $6 billion, three-year capital investment strategy.
The plan is  aimed at meeting future energy demands by upgrading dams and generating stations, building new transmission lines and substations.
B.C. Hydro estimates the province’s demand for electricity will grow by 40 per cent in the next 20 years.
However, many facilities, such as Ruskin Dam, are aging and in need of massive repairs.
The investment will come at a price, however, and B.C. Hydro president Dave Cobb admitted electricity rates are likely to climb as a result.
“Infrastructure upgrades will put upward pressure on rates, which may be challenging for many people,” Cobb said in a press release Tuesday.
“We will continue to make prudent decisions on behalf of our customers while also providing them with tools they can use to help manage their own energy use and minimize the impact on their monthly electricity bills.”
In December, B.C. Hydro announced it would be seeking rate increases of more than 25 per cent over the next three years.
B.C. energy minister Steve Thomson touted the project as being critical for the B.C. economy.
“The upgrades at Ruskin Dam and Powerhouse are just one example of the real need to keep our heritage assets working hard for British Columbians,” he said.
“B.C. is growing and electricity is the backbone of that economic growth. We need to maintain our competitive advantage of having among the lowest rates in North America, while at the same time investing in our facilities to ensure British Columbians continue to enjoy safe, clean and reliable electricity for future generations to come.”
Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows NDP MLA Michael Sather recognizes the need for seismic upgrades to the aging facility, but hopes the investment isn’t a prelude to privatization.
“We’ve seen the Liberal government move ahead with privatization, and that is troubling,” he said.
“It’s a big chunk of money... I just hope they’re not getting the taxpayer to fix up the asset so they can then sell it off.”

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