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One of world's largest earthfall dams to add 1,000 MW by 2015

 It wasn't long after Morgan McLennan landed at BC Hydro's remote Mica Dam that two big capital projects started shaking up life at the hydroelectric generating facility and its rustic adjacent township, Mica Creek – affectionately called "camp" by the employees who eat, sleep, and unwind there.

McLennan, an electrician by trade, arrived in March 2009 to manage the plant and its 40-odd full-time employees. Less than a year-and-a-half later, there are more than 100 workers at Mica preparing for and launching the facility's most significant capital work since it was built 33 years ago.

"Mica's a very special facility – it's one of the largest earthfill dams in the world and very isolated, even by B.C. standards," said McLennan, who has spent his 22 BC Hydro years at numerous regional generating facilities in the North and Kootenays. "It was originally designed to hold six units, but construction of the fifth and sixth units was deferred. We are now moving forward with installing two more 500MW units – Mica 5 & 6 – that will increase the generating capacity to 2,805 MW.

Hundreds on the job

And as soon as next summer, 300 personnel – primarily made up of contracted construction crews – are expected to be working at Mica and sleeping at the township. Upgrades are underway there to revamp the septic, water and communication systems in preparation for the addition of more sleeping facilities, another kitchen and more recreational facilities.

The upgrades to the township, however, are minor when compared to the significant construction at the power plant itself.

Construction of 500 KV Gas Insulated Switchgear (GIS) will begin in October and carry on for about two years. The GIS will essentially connect the underground transformers to the switchgear building at the surface 244 metres above. Currently, there are improvements underway at the bottom of the lead shaft for Units 5 and 6 in the transformer chamber and a new lift is also being installed in the shaft. 

The Mica 5 & 6 project passed a major milestone in April this year when it passed its environmental assessment after a two-and-a-half-year review. Now, with the recent passage of the Clean Energy Act, the fifth unit is expected to be in-service by 2014 and the sixth by 2015.

Self-sufficiency, low rates

The addition of these two units supports the big vision of the Clean Energy Act, which includes ensuring electricity self-sufficiency for the province at low rates and harnessing B.C.'s clean power potential to create jobs in every region.

 This spells big gains for the province as a whole. However, those few dozen employees who will remain under McLennan's direction after the mass worker exodus will have experienced personal benefits, too – many memories, new friends, improved township infrastructure, and a great feeling of accomplishment.

 "When you're with the same people for all three meals and from dusk until dawn, everybody has got to get along with everybody," he said. "I work to make sure there's communication between site staff, construction management, project management and all the different contractors that are coming and going. That way, we're all on the same page and know what our goals are. That's going to really help during all these busy times ahead!"

Michelle Martin is a writer/editor with BC Hydro employee communications.

Source: BC Hydro News