BC Hydro consulting West Enders on proposed “seed” underground substations: Feb 15, 16, 18, 20, 22

BC Hydro is sharing ideas on a proposal to construct new underground electrical power substations in the West End (Lord Roberts School Annex) and Yaletown and to renovate an existing substation under Cathedral Square downtown. BC Hydro is promoting possible public benefits, such as new schools. Some people have contact WEN asking about this proposal, saying that the media coverage is emphasizing the positive aspects, but what about other concerns? We haven’t developed a position on the proposal, but welcome input from readers. What issues have not yet been discussed publicly enough?

Key points for the West End: Hydro is suggesting it pay for a new school in Coal Harbour and move students from the Lord Roberts Annex there in 2020. The Lord Roberts Annex would be demolished, the property excavated, the underground substation built there and then a new school would be built on top. The estimated completion date is 2025. (Vancouver Sun)

BC Hydro is expecting to make decisions by late March, 2017.

There are many things to consider, and there has been considerable media coverage already (below we provide a few links and excerpts). For extensive information and to give feedback, please visit bchydro.com/seed.

The BC Hydro website contains detailed information (FAQ), a list of consultation events, and information about EMF (electric and magnetic fields), plus a link to provide feedback online. There are several opportunities to learn more and give feedback in person:

Open Houses: 

  • Saturday February 18, 10 am – 1 pm, St. Paul’s Anglican Church, 1130 Jervis Street
  • Monday February 20, 5 pm – 8 pm, St. Paul’s Anglican Church, 1130 Jervis Street
  • Wednesday February 22, 5 pm – 8 pm, Elise Roy Elementary School, 150 Drake Street

Roundtable Discussions: These will also be held (space is limited and registration is required). Email seed@bchydro.com to sign up for…

  • Wednesday February 15 (6 pm to 8 pm) or
  • Thursday February 16 (6 pm to 8 pm).



B.C. Hydro lays plans for two new downtown Vancouver substations, deep underground (by Matt Robinson, Vancouver Sun, January 19, 2017)


  • B.C. Hydro is planning to replace two of its three aging substations in Downtown Vancouver in the next couple of decades to prevent future brownouts and handle expected growth in electricity consumption.
  • But the high cost of real estate and scarcity of suitable locations sent the utility searching for space somewhere unexpected — underground. B.C. Hydro wants to build one new substation deep below the recently completed Emery Barnes Park in Yaletown and the other beneath the Lord Roberts School Annex at 1150 Nelson Street in the West End.
  • Cutaway drawing of B.C. Hydro proposal to put a new substation deep underground beneath the playground of a replacement Lord Roberts school annex and an adjacent park.
  • Jessica McDonald, CEO of B.C. Hydro, called it an “incredible opportunity” that could benefit residents. While she would not say how much cash the city could expect to receive in return for the subsurface lease, she gave a sense of the magnitude of community benefits the utility could fund if its overall plan was approvedAmong them are two new schools, improvements to a pair of parks, and new daycare spaces. Those benefits would all be subject to municipal approval, and they would also come on top of “a very substantial payment.”
  • If the plan went ahead, it would not be the first time an electrical substation — which transforms high voltage power to a lower voltage for domestic and business use — has been built underground. There’s already one at the corner of Richards and Dunsmuir streets under Cathedral Square park.
  • B.C. Hydro’s concept would take until 2039 to be completed.
  • Hydro is suggesting it pay for a new school in Coal Harbour and move students from the Lord Roberts Annex there in 2020.
  •  The Lord Roberts Annex would be demolished, the property excavated, the underground substation built there and then a new school would be built on top. The estimated completion date is 2025.
  • Electric and magnetic fields surround electrical equipment and cause weak electric currents to flow through humans, according to Health Canada.
  • McDonald said that under peak evening demand, the underground substation at Cathedral Square can give off a maximum magnetic field of 100 milligauss (mG) at surface level, McDonald said. By comparison, high voltage transmission lines produce 81 mG, vacuums and hair dryers produce 300 mG and portable heaters produce 100 mG, according to B.C. Hydro.
  • Health Canada has issued a fact sheet on EMF, saying “there is no conclusive evidence of any harm caused by exposures at levels found in Canadian homes and schools, including those located just outside the boundaries of power line corridors.”
  • But the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified magnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic and Health Canada and the World Health Organization say more research is needed.
  • McDonald said substations are “entirely safe,” though there was an explosion in 2003 at the Dal Grauer facility that sent one employee to hospital and caused a power failure. There were also substation explosions in Kamloops in 2008 and Edmonton in 2010. Were the utility “only looking at it from a safety lens,” it would prefer its substations to be underground, McDonald said.
  • More than half of B.C. Hydro’s 300 substations are within 100 and 200 metres of public spaces like schools, parks or shopping areas, according to the utility.
  • B.C. Hydro has presented its idea to the park and school boards and it is expected to launch public consultation on Friday. It is expecting to make decisions by late March.
  • McDonald said the utility’s alternative to this plan is to build two new above ground substations, each of which would demand half a block of high-cost Vancouver real estate.
  • “It’s non-negotiable that we are going to have to have a new substation in Yaletown and a new substation in the West End,” McDonald said.
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