John Hart Generating Station: underground tunnelling taking shape

A cavern is being excavated for the John Hart generating station
The new underground powerhouse is getting started with the cavern excavation that's as long as an NFL football field.

Essentially like 'one big mining operation' to build powerhouse cavern

Near Campbell River on Vancouver Island, the aging John Hart generating station is getting a facelift – if you can call massive construction work 60 to 100 metres below ground a facelift.

Construction to build a new underground powerhouse and replace aging pipelines will take about five years. InPower BC, our contractor, is about 18 months into the project, and in the ground beneath the construction site, the cavern for the innovative new powerhouse is taking shape.

For at least the first two years, building the powerhouse is essentially like a large mining operation to carve out all that rock, through drilling and blasting, so we can build the new hydroelectric facilities underground.

One of the machines being used to excavate a cavern for the John Hart generating station
One of the project underground tunnels being developed through a drilling and blasting process

Powerhouse cavern 40 metres deep, as long as an NFL field

There have been a series of milestones along the way. Next up will be the completion of the powerhouse cavern excavation later this spring. The cavern itself will be about as long as an NFL football field, and about 40 metres deep, with the top of the cavern located about 60 metres below the surface.

Other tunnelling work will continue through 2017 to replace the pipelines that supply the existing generating station. Currently, three pipelines, each almost two kilometres long, feed into the above-ground generating station. The project will see these replaced with a single underground tunnel, slightly longer and wider than the old pipelines, to carry water from the reservoir to the underground generating station and then back into the Campbell River.

A construction site at the John Hart generating station
For now, it's a major construction site, but when the generating station is complete, the new underground powerhouse will mean a much smaller footprint on the environment and abetter fit with the surrounding Elk Falls Provincial Park.

Underground powerhouse will 'restore paradise' in Elk Falls Provincial Park

The current generating station has served BC Hydro customers for almost 70 years. But BC Hydro's 250 acres is surrounded by the Elk Falls Provincial Park, and the Campbell River is a designated BC Heritage River. The innovative design will help the community by reducing the environmental footprint.

We also partnered with the Campbell River Rotary Club and BC Parks on Rotary's project to construct a new suspension bridge. It opened in May 2015 and it's expected up to 200,000 visitors will come to the park each year, in part to enjoy incredible Elk Falls.

Replacing aging assets means affordable electricity for decades to come

Across the province, existing facilities and assets such as John Hart are aging or need to be upgraded to meet the growing demand for electricity. Investing in our facilities means that customers can continue to enjoy reliable, clean power from generating stations built decades ago.

And smart investments in our infrastructure also help keep electricity affordable. We can reduce the need to build new infrastructure, and the corresponding costs for new facilities, by investing in and maintaining our existing assets. Even with large investments like the John Hart project, electricity rates in B.C. are some of the lowest in North America.