Wecmilcetkwe. “Water comes to life.” That was the Secwepemctsin (Shuswap) name suggested by Simpcw elders and adopted by TransAlta for its new small-scale hydroelectric facility at Bone Creek.
About 90 people – TransAlta staff, contractors, members of Simpcw First Nation and others – attended an official opening ceremony for the facility on Friday, June 3.
The 19 megawatt run-of-the-river facility generates enough electricity to power about 4,500 homes, said Hugo Shaw, TransAlta vice-president for construction and engineering design.
In his opening remarks Shaw recalled that almost nothing was on the site when he had visited the previous April, other than about 1,500 m of the six km penstock having been installed.
He praised the contractors and their employees because in just nine months of work they finished the penstock, built the spillway and powerhouse, and put in the facility’s two turbines and generators.
Despite a severe washout last September they were able to start producing electricity for the grid last December. This was in plenty of time to qualify for a federal Green Energy subsidy, which had a March deadline.
Shaw also paid tribute to B.C. Hydro, which built a power substation to connect the plant to the grid.
“They really went the extra mile,” said the TransAlta vice-president.
Power from Bone Creek is being sold to B.C. Hydro under a long-term agreement.
Following an introduction and blessing by Simpcw youth representative Charli Fortier, band chief Nathan Matthew reminded those present that they were on Simpcw territory.
“We were put here to protect the land and to use the land,” he said. “The resources are here for our people – but the Simpcw also recognize that there are other people who can benefit.”
Shaw presented Matthew with a replica of a bronze plaque that will be placed on a rock near the entry to the Bone Creek facility. Members of the band have already decorated part of the rock with pictographs.
Project manager Jerome Campbell gave visitors a quick tour of the facility before the ceremony.
The six km long penstock is about seven feet in diameter, he said. There is about 600 feet of head (vertical drop), which creates roughly 280 pounds per square inch pressure at the turbines.
The plant is designed to operate from April until December or January most years, with three months closure during winter. This year it was about three weeks getting going due to the late spring.
The two horizontal turbines where made in Slovenia while the generators came from Spain.
The plant took about a quarter-million person-hours to build.
Despite the number of hours that went into construction only one person is anticipated to be employed on a full-time basis to operate it, although others might be hired on a part-time or temporary basis.
Longtime School District 73 employee Byron Anderson has been hired to be the plant operator at Wecmilcetkwe.
TransAlta is a major Alberta-based company that specializes in electrical generation in Canada, the U.S. and Australia. Most of its plants are coal-fired although it has been moving more into hydro, wind-powered and other alternative energy facilities.