BC’s Power Power Up

With increased growth expected to continue across the province, BC Hydro is ramping up efforts to improve and replace British Columbia's electric infrastructure. Melissa Holland, director of major projects for the northern and southern interior, shares how.

Several converging factors have BC Hydro—the provincial Crown corporation that provides electricity to British Columbia—at a crossroads. The BC Energy Act and other key pieces of legislation order BC Hydro to generate, purchase, distribute, and sell electricity. Today, the organization is juggling competing demands to meet that order. A population boom is underway, as British Columbia led all provinces with more than 3 percent growth in 2015. Its resale housing market is the best in the country, and several leading industries are reporting gains. That means more residential, commercial, and industrial users are pulling power from BC Hydro—but the utility built most of its major facilities nearly 40 years ago. To keep up with increasing demand, BC Hydro is reinvesting to upgrade or replace its aging infrastructure. As a regional director of transmission and station projects, Melissa Holland, BC Hydro’s director of major projects for the northern and southern interior, is drawing on experience in earning her MBA, working as a consultant, and meeting with First Nations and municipal officials to help lead BC Hydro and keep British Columbia flourishing.

In 2003, when working as a consultant for Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, Holland helped separate the utility’s line of business known as BC Transmission Corp. When BC Hydro reabsorbed the group in 2010, Holland stayed on as a senior project manager. Today, she oversees the delivery of major infrastructure projects totaling $1.8 billion—but that’s just a portion of what BC Hydro is doing across the province.

“These economies depend on the supply of reliable electricity, so successful delivery is critical.”

Over the next decade, it will spend an average of $2.4 billion per year investing in British Columbia’s electrical infrastructure. Key projects include new generators at the 40-year-old Mica Station, and a total rebuild of John Hart Station, which went live in 1947. In November 2015, BC Hydro finished work to upgrade the province’s largest power generation facility, GM Shrum, which accounts for one-fourth of the power BC Hydro generates each year. The project, which was budgeted at $272 million, was completed about $100 million under.

“We have to have good managers in resources to deliver projects with a single, standard delivery approach, because coming in at or under budget is critical,” says Holland. “This is the largest investment in capital we’ve ever seen.” With the population and economy growing, leaders at BC Hydro expect the demand for power to rise at least 40 percent over the next 20 years and know they must invest now to make sure they can continue to supply a reliable source of power for the area’s residents and businesses.

To say that Holland and her colleagues are busy would be a massive understatement. With new customers coming online and existing customers increasing power demands, Holland’s area in the north and south interior carries some of the largest transmission projects in the province. She’s carrying around 80 projects that are each budgeted at $1 million and above. In the fall of 2015, her teams put three large projects (Merritt Area Transmission, Dawson Creek Transmission, and Interior Lower Mainland) in service with assets topping $1 billion.

“These economies depend on the supply of reliable electricity, so successful delivery is critical,” Holland says. BC Hydro has the third lowest electricity rates in North America and they keep numbers low by prioritizing projects and building in stages so they don’t outpace need.

From 2011 to 2015, Holland and her counterparts in other regions delivered a total of 550 infrastructure projects. Those projects came in $71 million under budget. “Our project managers are held accountable, and they have to get good estimates and then manage well. They’re very skilled at identifying risks as they emerge, and then working around those risks to limit costs and unexpected delays,” says Holland. Her role is to resource managers so they can deliver on all projects in her portfolio on time and under budget.

The more than 200 First Nations groups that exist in British Columbia are important to these project’s execution since BC Hydro’s work often impacts those groups. Holland works with them often and to do so, she draws from her experience on the Lower Mainland Transmission project, which started in 2006 and went live in 2015. In managing the project, she engaged 60 First Nations groups and 7 tribal councils.

“First Nations engagement is a really important piece, and going through these activities is helpful in coaching my teams to successful project delivery today,” she says. Those consultations can alter BC Hydro’s plans. The utility might make a routing change, alter a clearing prescription, or move a tower or access road.

Recently, BC Hydro has started to see joint ventures between First Nations and suppliers as native groups look to participate more in the projects BC Hydro’s work brings to the province. By engaging the groups early, Holland and her teams raise awareness about what kind of work is coming to the area so the First Nations can develop and leverage skills.

The Merritt Area Transmission project perfectly illustrates what BC Hydro is doing all across the province. The $65 million undertaking adds a new station and transmission line to increase capacity and replace an aging substation in the city of Merrit, BC. New hotel development, residential building, and commercial growth led to increased demand for electricity. However, only one 37 km, 69 kV line from Highland Substation served Merritt. A study made in 2010 found that the Merritt system would require significant upgrades. To meet new power demands, BC Hydro completed its Merritt Area Transmission project with a new 35-kilometre above-ground 138-kilovolt transmission line between the Merritt and Highland substations and an upgrade to the existing Merritt substation. The Merritt and Highland substations each received new equipment. Smart routing of the transmission line helped BC Hydro mitigate environmental risks and bring the project live in late 2015.

Additionally, the Lower Nicola Indian Band served as a contracting investor with LNB construction, and other First Nations worked as sub contractors and employees. With these and other projects coming in on time and under budget, Holland and her colleagues have BC Hydro moving in the right direction to support the growing population and economy across British Columbia.