seed: Common questions

Seed is our idea to deliver a secure, reliable, clean energy future for residents and businesses of downtown Vancouver, while funding significant community benefits for future generations.

Vancouver is one of the greenest, most livable cities in the world. Our population is growing and so is demand for energy. In fact, demand for electricity in Vancouver is expected to grow by 75% in the next 30 years.

We can provide the clean renewable power that Vancouver needs, but our substations serving downtown Vancouver are aging and need to be upgraded or replaced.

Our traditional way of doing things would be to find and buy a piece of land and build a substation on it. But that means putting a substation on land that could otherwise be used for housing, businesses, schools, or parks.

What if, instead of a traditional approach to building substations, we used money and lands more wisely and built two new electricity substations below ground while using the space above them for new schools, new daycare spaces and improved parks?

As land is both scarce and expensive in downtown Vancouver, our idea would be to develop new electricity substations underground in the West End and Yaletown, while funding community benefits on the land above ground.

At this stage, seed is an idea that we've brought to the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver School Board and
the Vancouver Park Board for their consideration. But we want to hear from you whether this idea is worth pursuing.

Put simply, Vancouver's population is growing and so is demand for energy. With demand for electricity in Vancouver expected to grow by over 75% in the next 30 years, we can provide the clean renewable power that Vancouver needs, but our substations serving downtown Vancouver are aging and need to be upgraded or replaced.

The existing BC Hydro Murrin substation in Chinatown (built in 1947) and Dal Grauer substation on Burrard Street (built in 1953) are aging; they don't have sufficient capacity to serve future electricity demand downtown and so they will be decommissioned in the coming decades. The Cathedral Square substation (built in 1984) requires an upgrade by 2050.

With downtown Vancouver needing two new substations, seed is our idea to do things differently. Instead of building new above ground substations, our traditional approach, we're proposing to build them underground, while funding community benefits like parks and schools.

Seed is an idea that could deliver community benefits over the next 35 years. At a glance, here is how we think it could work:

  • A complete transformation of Cathedral Square Park to make it a more desirable place to visit (2020)
  • Possible added amenities to Emery Barnes Park in Yaletown, if requested by the community (2020)
  • New school in Coal Harbour (2020)
  • New school, daycare spaces and green space in the West End (2025)
  • New underground substation in the West End (2025)
  • Refurbishment of Emery Barnes Park (2039)
  • New underground substation under Emery Barnes Park (2041)
  • Upgrades to the existing underground Cathedral Square substation (2050)
  • Significant funds that the Vancouver Park Board could use to provide other potential benefits, such as a new park or recreational facilities

Our idea for the West End is to build a new underground substation on Vancouver School Board property at Nelson between Thurlow and Bute, next to Nelson Park. In keeping
 with our idea of leaving communities better off, we could invest in new state-of-the-art schools in Coal Harbour and the West End, to support the needs of families in these growing communities. A new school in Coal Harbour could accommodate the relocation of students from Lord Roberts Annex during construction of a new school in the West End. The new substation could be operational by 2025.

This is what seed could bring to the West End. There's lots of time for future planning by the Vancouver School Board and the Ministry of Education to determine exactly how the land above and adjacent to the substation could be used.

Our idea for Yaletown is to build a new underground substation beneath Emery Barnes Park. If desired by the community, we could invest in some additional amenities in the park over the next two to three years.

While the substation is being built, starting in 2036, parts of Emery Barnes Park would be unavailable, and we would work with the Vancouver Park Board and neighbours to provide alternatives in the neighbourhood. Closer to the end of construction of the substation, around 2039, we would restore the entire Emery Barnes Park with new and improved facilities. The substation would be operating by 2041.

In addition, seed could provide significant funds that the Vancouver Park Board could use to create other potential benefits, such as new park or recreational facilities.

This is what seed could bring to Yaletown. There is lots of time for future planning by the Vancouver Park Board to determine how and when Emery Barnes Park could be enhanced.

Our idea for Cathedral Square is to completely transform Cathedral Square Park over the next two or three years to provide a more desirable place for the downtown community and future residents of the area.

We plan to stay underground at Cathedral Square for the long term. It will require upgrades by 2050 so that it can continue to serve downtown Vancouver. When Cathedral Square was completed, the park was brand new. But today, the park space above is outdated and not well used.

This is what seed could bring to Cathedral Square: a beautiful park space in the heart
of downtown Vancouver for all to enjoy.

In addition, seed could provide significant funds that the Vancouver Park Board could use to provide other potential benefits, such as new park or recreational facilities.

At this stage, we've brought this idea to the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver School Board and the Vancouver Park Board for their consideration.

BC Hydro, the Vancouver School Board and the Vancouver Park Board are working towards a decision at the end of March 2017, at which point all parties could enter into agreements that would allow seed to move into further planning, community consultation, and development.

Substations are facilities where electricity is transformed to a lower voltage for distribution to homes and businesses. They're a key link between our electricity transmission system and your light switch.

Substations need to be close as possible to the centre of the area they are serving to operate efficiently and reliably. Downtown Vancouver needs two new substations in the West End and Yaletown, two of the fastest growing and most densely populated areas of downtown Vancouver. Instead of building them above ground, our traditional approach, we're proposing to build them underground, while funding community benefits like parks and schools.

Going down this path won't be without impacts. We recognize that the construction of substations, schools and park improvements would affect those who live, learn, work, and play in these neighbourhoods. We're studying what the impacts of seed may be, so that we can propose ways to avoid or minimize them.

Stantec, an independent engineering, consulting, and design firm is currently studying the following topics related to seed:

  • Current park use
  • Park feature inventory
  • Vancouver Park Board strategies and initiatives
  • Vancouver School Board strategies and initiatives
  • Park aesthetics
  • Air quality management
  • Noise and vibration
  • Public safety
  • Human health
  • Stormwater management
  • Subsurface hydrology (underground water)
  • Urban forestry
  • Environmental and traffic management during construction
  • Environmental and socio-economic benefits of a new school, new daycare and park improvements

Yes - in fact, downtown Vancouver already has a substation under Cathedral Square Park, next to BC Hydro's headquarters and across from Holy Rosary Cathedral. Cathedral Square substation has been safely operating since 1984. Other communities like Anaheim (2007) and Toronto (2017) have recently followed our innovative lead by installing substations underground. We operate and maintain more than 300 substations throughout the province. Each BC Hydro substation is designed and built to rigorous safety and environmental standards. This includes installing monitoring equipment that detects and responds to conditions that might lead to equipment failure, before the failure occurs. An underground substation would be no different.

Any new underground substations in downtown Vancouver would use the most modern technology available.

In a modern underground substation, the use of oil is eliminated through the use of gas-insulated technology for the equipment, including gas-insulated transformers. This type of gas is not flammable so the risk of fire or explosion is virtually eliminated. Our substation facilities are designed to meet the latest building codes and our substation structures are built to withstand a very large earthquake, the kind that would be expected to happen only once in every 2,475 years. There are firm soils under the proposed underground substation locations which are preferred when designing large structures to withstand a large earthquake.

We recognize that there's some public concern about EMF (electric and magnetic fields) and possible health effects. When it comes to matters of health and electricity infrastructure, we rely on the research and findings of independent national and international health authorities including Health Canada and the World Health Organization.

Both Health Canada and World Health Organization have confirmed that there is no evidence of any health risks below the recognized exposure limit of 2000 mG (or 200 uT). At the park above our existing underground substation at Cathedral Square, magnetic field measurements range from 2 mG to 100 mG (or 0.2 to 10 uT), or approximately 0.1% to 5% of these conservative exposure limits.

For comparison, dishwashers and washing machines emit around 20 mG (2 uT), SkyTrain ranges between 10-200 mG (1-20 uT), and hairdryers and portable heaters emit around 300 mG (30 uT).

No, both Health Canada and World Health Organization are clear, whether it's five minutes or five hours, there is no evidence of health impacts from magnetic fields within the guidelines.

During this early phase of consultation, we want to hear your interests and ideas. You can help shape seed and future consultation by participating in our consultation program.

There are several ways for you to get involved:

For more information about how to get involved, please visit bchydro.com/seed.

Should seed proceed to further stages of planning and development, there would be many future community consultation opportunities.