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Village of Pemberton preparing for substation expansion in 2024

According to BC Hydro, the upgrade is necessary to replace aging equipment and remove toxic PCBs
The location of BC Hydro's Pemberton substation.

An electrical substation in the heart of Pemberton in service since the 1970s will soon see a thorough expansion. Village of Pemberton (VOP) councillors are working with BC Hydro to ensure that the undertaking goes smoothly, with as little disruption as possible to the daily needs of locals. 

On Feb. 7, elected representatives heard a report from BC Hydro employees about the status of the substation upgrade. Located next to the roundabout on Pemberton Portage Road, the station serves more than 3,600 customers in Pemberton and the Sea to Sky region. To ensure continued safe and reliable operation, BC Hydro intends to replace a substantial amount of equipment nearing the end of its life cycle, beginning with a few aging circuit breakers and poles. 

Other pieces of equipment that contain polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs—a carcinogenic chemical compound the federal government is in the process of phasing out through regulations—will also be replaced.

Additionally, the substation will be made significantly larger in size, and its layout changed to accommodate any future upgrades. This expanded footprint will encroach upon the backyards of a few adjacent residential properties as well as the parking lot of the neighbouring Pemberton Health Centre. As a result, a few parking spaces and some vegetation around the substation will need to be removed.

BC Hydro said it has already initiated a dialogue with the Health Centre and owners of affected properties about how best to proceed. Only three or four parking spaces fall within the new substation’s property line, and it should be possible to mitigate the effects of their removal or relocation. 

Councillors expressed a desire to retain as much vegetation as possible to screen the substation from view of drivers entering town on Pemberton Portage Road. BC Hydro program manager Jas Gill informed them that any vegetation which does not grow tall enough to pose a risk to electrical equipment will most likely be reinstalled. Furthermore, BC Hydro will cover the cost of property owners removing trees in their yards that will otherwise end up too close to power lines.

The expansion was first announced in November 2022, and will be a fairly lengthy process. Construction is not slated to begin until spring 2024, to be completed no earlier than June 2027. 

“I do want to emphasize that we’re still in the planning stages and things could change,” said Gill, who spoke via Zoom at the Feb. 7 council meeting. 

She added that a property survey and archeological impact assessment have already been done, with other studies pertaining to wildlife, vegetation, soil characterization and the geotechnical aspects of the project also now underway until the end of the year.

Elected representatives raised a number of questions regarding the impact of substation construction on local traffic, the possibility of power outages and how the project will affect its immediate surroundings. 

Mayor Mike Richman recalled Pemberton’s Downtown Enhancement Plan from 2019, and how challenging it can be to manage vehicular flow during infrastructural overhaul. Gill assured him that a traffic management plan will be submitted to the VOP for review at a later date. BC Hydro stakeholder engagement advisor Whitney Deane also noted that construction will take place in phases during the spring and summer months, rather than year-round. 

According to the utility company, substation expansion will not necessitate any power outages until 2024, but councillors were concerned about such a disruption taking place during Pemberton’s busy tourist season from mid-May to mid-September. In response, Deane explained that BC Hydro is willing and able to receive community feedback when it comes to planned outages—such as those related to construction. 

Priority consideration is given to the needs of hospitals and schools when scheduling an outage, while other emergency services like fire departments are also given advance notice about power disruptions that may affect them. 

BC Hydro is planning an open house for a currently-undetermined date in March where members of the public can learn more about the substation upgrade and voice their questions. The company’s website also offers email updates and contact information for those who wish to express questions or concerns throughout the year.