Stories & Features

Winter's coming: how we prep for the worst B.C.'s north can throw at us

6,500 burnt trees were removed from around our equipment in Fort St. John following April wildfires. Show caption
Upgrades at the Fort St. John's substation will improve reliability and load capacity. Show caption
Vegetation around our equipment is actively managed to prevent interference. Show caption
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Arrestors might not look like much, but they can disperse the power of a lightning strike Show caption
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Our teams add lightning arrestors, remove 6,500 fire-damaged trees

Heavy snowfall, high winds and threatening thunderclouds make living in B.C.'s northern region not for the faint of heart. Talk to a northerner about current conditions and they'll often tell you, "if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes."

While you're prepping for the colder, winter weather, we're taking steps to make sure our system in the Peace Region is ready as well. Installing lightning arrestors to guard equipment, proactively removing trees located near power lines and patrolling circuits for potential issues are some of the ways we're working to improve our system's reliability in the north.

Lightning arrestors: small size, big job

Lightning storms are common in the Peace region and our tall transmission poles in the open fields of the northern prairie make for a perfect target. Even just one strike can have devastating effects on our equipment and cause widespread outages, like we saw this past September when a strike interfered with our transmission equipment, knocking out power to approximately 34,000 customers from Hudson's Hope to Pouce Coupe and everywhere in between.

Lighnting arrestors protecting a transformer
Lightning arrestors help protect important equipment,
like this transformer.

To help prevent this type of damage, we're installing surge arrestors on our equipment. These help to disperse the power of a lightning strike and absorb the voltage surge to ground it away from our equipment. We actively install and maintain these pieces on all of our transformers and exposed areas of underground primary lines, especially in areas of high risk for lightning strikes.

These primary lines carry medium voltage electricity from the substation to distribution transformers where it's stepped down to a suitable voltage for use in your household. One line can serve many customers, so keeping these intact is important. Underground lines are helpful in preventing some faults, like trees on lines, but they're problematic when they become damaged.

Finding and repairing a fault on an underground line can be extremely complicated, leading to difficult repairs, longer restoration times and higher costs. Lightning can take a toll if it happens to strike exposed equipment, so we pay special attention to underground lines when prioritizing lightning arrestor installation.

After spring wildfires, burnt trees presented outages potential

Throughout the year, our crews perform proactive patrols along thousands of kilometres of power lines, looking for equipment that needs our attention. Decaying poles, damaged cross arms, cracked insulators and aging cables are all at risk of failing and causing an outage.

It's a lot of driving for our crews, sometimes in tough conditions, but it's important work to help minimize damage to our system during severe weather and associated outages.

The tall trees of B.C. are iconic in our province, but they can also be a major inconvenience if they're too close to our equipment. Our vegetation management team works hard all year round pruning, removing trees in the right of way corridor, and identifying hazard trees which can cause power outages if they fall onto our lines.

Vegetation manager Melissa Prouse works with a team in the Northern region to battle the challenges that come from wind, snow and other winter conditions that can easily topple weakened trees onto our lines.

"Our crews are busy in the field locating and responding to the threat of hazard trees, Melissa says. "We'll make our way through the different areas a little at a time to remove these trees. Work recently wrapped up in Dawson Creek, and we're now moving onto Chetwynd."

April's wildfires in the Fort St. John area took a toll on our equipment, but it also left weakened and damaged trees which can easily fall and cause outages down the road. That's why part of BC Hydro's proactive work to limit power outages this winter included removing about 6,500 fire-damaged trees in the area. In danger of uprooting, they were a threat to fall on nearby lines as snow and high winds arrived. Crews were busy identifying and removing these trees near our lines, forming a "tree-length barrier" around our equipment to limit the chance of future outages.

Along with removing the trees growing too close to distribution lines in the field, we monitor different circuits commonly affected by trees falling on our equipment. These "worst performing circuits" are paid special attention, and we'll increase our vegetation management practices, such as hazard tree identification and removal, in the area to limit the number of outages caused by trees during winter's dark days.

Bigger upgrades improve reliability and power local economy

On top of our everyday maintenance, we're making bigger upgrades in the Peace system to improve local service. These projects will help to improve reliability and drive local economy by bringing large commercial and industrial customers into the south Peace area.

  • The 230 kV Dawson Creek-Chetwynd Area Transmission Line went into service last November.
  • Two new substations and major upgrades at pre-existing stations will support the new line.
  • Renovations, including the addition of a new transformer, are underway at Fort St. John's substation and are expected to wrap up this December.
  • Tumbler Ridge is now home to Meikle Wind's new windfarm which will soon be feeding power into the BC Hydro grid.
Monopoles in the DCAT system support new lines, bringing development opportunities to the South Peace Region.
Monopoles in the DCAT system support new lines, bringing development opportunities to the South Peace Region.

We're prepping for outages and you should too.

Just like how it's essential to bundle up before you brave sub-zero temperatures, it's important to prepare for power outages as we head into storm season. Making sure your family is comfortable and well informed during an outage can make the experience a lot more enjoyable.

Despite our best efforts, unforeseen circumstances can still mean you might find yourself without power at some point this storm season. If you find you're left in the dark, you can visit our website to find the most up-to-date information at bchydro.com/outages. Outage information is also available by phone at 1 888 POWERON (1 888 769 3766) on a corded landline, or *49376 (*HYDRO) on your mobile device. You can also follow along on Twitter at @bchydro as we share the latest updates, answer questions and share shots from the field.