The odd-shaped light bulb with its twisted filament and old fashioned wiring shows the age of the 85-year-old dam.
It’s a relic from another era, before the Second World War, the Cold War, 9-11 and ISIS, and it’s been turned on, producing a warm, orange glow, since the Ruskin Dam opened in November 1930.
“This thing has been turned on, to our knowledge, once,” Boyd Mason told a tour of politicians and assistants last week.
“That’s an urban legend,” added the manager of the $800-million refit project.
It’s not certain when the light was first switched on and if it’s ever been off, he explained.
But it’s a link between the old and the new in Ruskin Dam, halfway through a renovation that will see the dam strengthened to survive a one in 10,000-year-earthquake, while new generators and turbines will squeeze the most electricity from every drop of water.
The estimated cost of the Ruskin Dam and Powerhouse Upgrade Project is about $718 million, according to an April 2012 release from B.C. Hydro.
That differs from a fall of 2011 backgrounder, which said the project will cost between $718 and $857 million.
By the time the modernization is complete, new generators and turbines will produce eight per cent more power, while the substation jangle of towers and cables will be removed from the roof of the power house to a more scenic location on the banks.
The public will like one feature of the upgrade. There now will be a two-lane road on top of the dam, instead of just one, allowing easier passage back and forth.
There will be space for bicycles and pedestrians, as well.
Still to be installed are the new turbines, which will absorb the power of the falling water, then turn the shafts of three generators that will be partly rebuilt or new.
To save about $8 million, B.C. Hydro rebuilt the rotor, or rotating part of the generators, and installed new stators, the stationary part of the generators that produce the power.
Seven old piers and gates are being replaced by five larger, stronger gates, and six new piers, creating a completely new appearance of the structure. The new gates will weigh twice that of the old ones and have double the amount of steel.
Mason said the new gates on the dam will be twice as thick as the old ones to withstand earthquakes.
“There’s a lot of innovation and imagination that’s gone into this facility to minimize costs.”
Local suppliers and labour predominate on the project.
One task that had to be done was removing crumbling concrete from the face of the spillway. That requires shutting some of the gates while the work was going on, a difficult challenge when this November heavy rains had the reservoir almost overflowing.
Instead of sandblasting, high-pressure water was used to remove the old material.
“It’s a giant pressure washer.”
That technique is the quietest and was chosen to minimize disturbance to the residents of Ruskin.
“We really like our neighbours. We don’t want to upset them,” said Mason.
Rebuilt rotors will be placed into new stators. The rotation of the magnetized coils in the generators will generate enough power for 33,000 homes.
Mason championed B.C. Hydro’s clean power.
“You don’t see coal dust on the windows. We’re all breathing the air without choking.”