FortisBC has found a new location near Fruitvale to consolidate a couple of old electrical substations, but the spot is being panned by a group that feels it would be better used for farming.
The power company says it needs to replace the ageing substations, including one that has been in service since the 1960s, before they start to fail. But neither existing site is large enough to accommodate what they want to do.
In 2021, the company proposed a site off Columbia Gardens Road on village-owned but ran into local opposition over required rezoning.
FortisBC spokeswoman Nicole Brown said they subsequently evaluated 19 other sites, including several suggested by the public. But they ruled all of them out for various reasons, including being too far from infrastructure, flooding concerns, or steep slopes that would have inflated building costs.
Instead, they have a purchase agreement on 2064 Grieve Road, just outside village limits and across from Atco Wood Products.
“The site meets all our needs: it’s central and it’s away from the highway so the sightlines are great,” Brown said.
The current zoning allows utility use and at 10 acres, it’s larger than the three acres they require. Brown said that gives them options for siting the new substation and other opportunities with the remaining property.
She said they are now talking to neighbours and setting up a meeting with them so they can review maps, speak to the project planning team, and share ideas and suggestions. She said they want to incorporate that feedback before the purchase is finalized and planning of the new substation begins in earnest.
However, the site doesn’t please the Beaver Valley Concerned Citizens, who also objected to the Columbia Gardens Road location.
In an open letter to the company and BC Utilities Commission, Kristi MacGillivray wrote that they recognize the need for a new substation in the area and want to continue to work with FortisBC to find something that works for everyone. But they feel the Grieve Road property is not the solution.
MacGillivray said the property, known locally as the Moller/Lifely farm, was formerly home to sheep and chickens, and remains “prime agricultural land.” She said FortisBC’s offer on the property made it unattainable for an interested father and son, or for any other community members who wanted to buy it at market value.
“Deep corporate pockets certainly eliminated the opportunity for a fair local bid,” she wrote.
Although the property isn’t in the agricultural land reserve, she said residents believe it ought to be, given its history and potential for ongoing production. She also pointed to the South Kootenay Agriculture Plan established last year with the intent of increasing farming within the region.
The group insists less impactful alternative locations exist and is asking FortisBC to reconsider.
Asked about the criticism, Brown replied: “I certainly appreciate the sensitivities around that. We tried to find a place in town, but they didn’t want it in a residential area so that leaves us with agricultural areas. It unfortunately has to be one or the other.”