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Waneta Expansion project delayed

Photo: Artist's rendering of the proposed Waneta Expansion project, courtesy Columbia Power Corporation.

The Waneta Expansion project will not be moving forward according to existing plans, according to a press release issued today by the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) and the Columbia Power Corporation (CPC).

Audrey Repin, CPC director of communications, said CPC approaches projects in three stages: design, evaluation and construction.

"We've been at the evaluation stage (up to now), and at this point, the project had difficulty making the pricing targets for the sale of power," Repin said. "It's just not as viable at this time for the partners to invest public dollars in it. ... we're very careful when dealing with public dollars - but also very committed to this project. We just need to get it to a place where it's viable and will serve us, our stakeholders and the community well."

That's not to say, though, that the project is off the books - Repin said the opposite is, in fact, the case.

"We're looking to identify other potential partners to restructure the project and improve viability," she said. "This is not a stopped project - we've done this with other projects as well (such as the Arrow Lakes generating station)."

Neil Muth, CBT president and CEO, concurred with Repin's assessment.

"The message I really want to get across is that we, along with our partners, are committed to doing all we can to move this project forward," he said. "We're not moving on to other projects - we're immediately moving on to discussions about how we advance this project."

He said the reconfiguration could be time consuming, but it's important due diligence to secure a power purchase agreement before moving ahead - which they have, so far, been unable to do.

“Given the cost of the project, the cost of financing, and the size of the project, we were not able to get the price where we need it to be,” he said, explaining this may be due to a number of factors, including the global economic crisis and subsequent market downturns, although specific causes are difficult to pinpoint. "We were hopefully going to begin construction this fall, right now. We don't, at this stage (have sense of how long the delay might be). “

They do, however, have a proponent bid in place for construction, the preferred bid coming from SNC-Lavalin, and Muth and Repin agree that all parties consider project reconfiguration a top priority, so construction can begin.

Due to the commercially-sensitive situation of the project right now, representatives were unable to attach a dollar figure to the facility or its construction, but Repin said the project will employ up to 450 people at construction's peak, and noneo f the partners have lost sight of the project's importance to the regional economy.

“We met with labour organizations, city leaders and other key people to explain what's going on,” Repin said.

Impacts to the community are estimated by owners (CPC) at $178 million in local expenditures for local goods and services, and $162 million in wages.

Construction could continue for as long as four years, generating an estimated 1,770 direct-person-years of employment.

The Waneta Expansion project is a proposed second powerhouse located adjacent to Teck Cominco’s existing Waneta Dam on the Pend d’Oreille River south of Trail. The province acquired expansion rights to the Waneta Dam in 1994 from Teck Cominco. The rights were transferred to Columbia Power Corporation in 1995 and are now held by Waneta Expansion Power Corporation.