Aerial shot of Waneta Dam in 2015. (Trail Times file photo)

Aerial shot of Waneta Dam in 2015. (Trail Times file photo)

RDKB shares concerns over Waneta Dam sale

The RDKB board supported a letter being send to Premier John Horgan regarding the transaction.

The impending sale of Waneta Dam shares may have fallen out of national headlines, but that doesn’t mean the story has grown cold on the homefront.

Last month, the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) board unanimously agreed to support the East End region in its bid to delay the transaction between Teck Resources and Fortis Inc.

Grace McGregor, RDKB board chair, confirmed the panel’s approval to send a letter to Premier John Horgan as well as the Leader of the Opposition, asking that the processes involved with the sale be delayed until October (2017) to allow for the investigation of options and ramifications of the sale.

“The concern, I think, all the way down the line, is the understanding that Teck is a great big player in the picture of economic development in the whole Trail area,” McGregor told the Trail Times.

“So of course, the East End directors were very concerned about not being part of the process, which is difficult when you are talking about private sales.”

News of the deal caught local leaders and the community off guard, so an immediate reaction was to question the company’s commitment to the longevity of Trail operations.

“We did have a meeting with Teck which went very well and they were very straight forward,” McGregor said. “Teck has assured the East End Committee that they are in it for the long haul.”

However, the undertaking of the sale itself remains unsettling.

“So it’s more the process, I believe, the directors are concerned about,” McGregor emphasized.

“And the East End would like to be included in that type of process when it has this large an impact.”

She pointed out another broad concern over new ownership, which is emotions run high in matters over rich Canadian resources like the Waneta Dam.

“When you are selling anything energy-wise, the other part of the story always is, ‘Who is buying it?’” McGregor said.

The Waneta Dam is located in Area A of the regional district, but selling the utility will have rippling effects to the outlying areas and municipalities.

“A lot of us believe that it would be nice to have Canadians always operating Canadian energy or for that matter, business,” she said.

“I don’t mean that in a negative way to anyone outside the country, what I mean is it’s important to have that close relationship with those who operate (industry) that is so big in our communities that it affects our day-to-day operations,” McGregor concluded.

“When a company of that magnitude is talking about selling a resource within our boundaries, part of the concern is why they (East End directors) are not involved in the process … we are asking large business to keep us in the communication line … it’s an important message to send out to Teck that we appreciate the information you’ve given us and we appreciate that you’re in it for the long haul, but having said that, the way we do business within our borders with something so large, is really important.”

Teck Resources announced the sale of its two thirds share in the Waneta Dam to Fortis Inc. in early May. The $1.2 billion cash transaction is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2017 and net the company about $800 million.

Fortis Inc. is a St. John’s Nfld and Labrador based international diversified electric utility holding company.

“More than 100 years in the making, Fortis Inc. continues to build upon success in the Kootenays,” Fortis Inc. stated in a news release.

“Fortis and Teck have announced an agreement under which Fortis will purchase two-thirds interest in the Waneta Dam from Teck,” the company said.

“Under the terms of the agreement, Teck will be granted a 20-year lease on Waneta to produce power for Trail Operations, with an option for Teck to extend by a further 10 years, providing long-term certainty of their operations.

“Customers in FortisBC’s electric service area will not see any changes to their electricity rates from this agreement, since Fortis’ two-thirds share of this facility is to be a non-regulated asset held by parent company Fortis.”

The company continued: “The acquisition of the Waneta Dam, located in the centre of Fortis subsidiary FortisBC’s territory, demonstrates Fortis’ commitment to and confidence in the Trail and Kootenay region. With a presence in the region spanning more than a century, Fortis knows that the Kootenays are an integral part of its business.

“The acquisition is attractive for Fortis due to its long-standing roots in the Kootenays and the opportunity to invest in renewable energy. Fortis, through its subsidiary FortisBC, employs approximately 350 workers in the region. In addition to operating four of its own generating facilities on the Kootenay River, FortisBC currently maintains Waneta and the Waneta Expansion.”

Fortis is a 51 per cent owner in the recently completed Waneta Expansion Project, with Columbia Power Corporation and the Columbia Basin Trust. The Expansion is operated by FortisBC, which also operates Brilliant, Brilliant Expansion and Arrow Lakes on behalf of other regional power producers.

The West Kootenay Power and Light Company, incorporated in 1897 and acquired by Fortis in 2004, originally supplied power to Teck’s operations. That relationship continues today. Upon acquiring West Kootenay Power from Aquila Networks, Fortis repatriated full business services to the region with the founding of FortisBC. This included opening a Trail customer service contact and information technology centre. In the fall of 2017, FortisBC operations employees will move into a new, $23 million state-of-the-art Kootenay operations centre in Ootischenia.