It has been in the works since 2010 and has employed as many as 400 people at a time but the end is in sight and the $900 million Waneta Expansion Project (WEP) is expected to be completed at or near its target date of spring 2015.
The project, a joint effort by Fortis Inc., Columbia Power, and the Columbia Basin Trust, is one of the largest power projects in the province and has required the services of an array of specialized heavy construction contracting companies employing a small army of engineers, electricians, iron workers, carpenters, teamsters, equipment operators, technicians, and labourers.
The overall management of the construction is handled by the Columbia Power Corporation (CPC), with SNC Lavalin awarded the prime contractor and design duties overseeing the sub-contractors and actual building of the massive project.
“We’ve gone through the majority of the civil projects; the blasting, rock removal, concrete work, and what-not,” said Wally Penner, regional project manager for SNC Lavalin. “Now we’re moving more into the technical part of the work; installing the electrical and mechanical components.”
The construction of the project has been a complicated affair considering that all the blasting, excavating, and tunnelling necessary all takes place right next to the old Waneta Dam.
“The blasting had to be very precise on this project,” Penner said. “When we were blasting for the water intake we were within six meters of the existing Waneta Dam. But we’ve gone through over 200 blasts with no major issues.”
A project of this magnitude can have far-reaching effects on the surrounding communities and, as the designated manager for the project, the CPC was determined to involve those affected as much as possible.
“We have a Community Impact Management Committee that meets monthly,” said Audrey Repin, the director of stakeholder and external relations for CPC. “It’s a group of local municipal and regional elected officials, First Nations, and others.
“They tour the project and are given presentations on the progress. It gives us an opportunity to hear and deal with any community concerns that may arise.”
In addition to community concerns, close attention had to be paid to environmental concerns over the course of the work and environmental monitoring was required on multiple levels.
The Waneta Eddy, adjacent to the new powerhouse, is a known spawning area for the Columbia River white sturgeon, which is an identified “species at risk.”
SNC Lavalin was required to closely monitor the water in the area using an assortment of underwater cameras and equipment and incorporated the use of experimental deployable sturgeon exclusion screen.
The exclusion screens will also be used after the construction has been completed to prevent sturgeon from entering the water intake of the new power plant.
As with any major construction project there has also been a particular focus on safety for the WEP.
“We’ve been really fortunate on this project,” said Repin. “We’ve logged over 2 million person-hours and have only had two relatively minor lost-time accidents. With the majority of injuries we’ve been able to offer workers modified duty so they could keep working and keep getting paid.”
With most of the heavy construction completed the project now moves into the final stages.
“As we’re coming to this point the work gets even more complicated,” said Penner. “Now we’re going into installing the mechanical components, the transmission lines, the instrumentation. Quality assurance is critical.”
Upon completion, the WEP will actually only be producing power from the overflow of water from the existing Waneta Dam during times of high river flow during the spring freshet but will produce 335 megawatts of power for the province. The construction will have provided millions of person hours of employment for people from the area and from around the world and will have injected millions of dollars into the local economy.
“We really want to acknowledge the workers on this project,” Repin said. “It’s their commitment and hard work that has gotten us this far and will see it through to the end.”