KMP: where are we now part II

Taking up where we left off last week, how much Kemano power is Rio Tinto Alcan selling to BC Hydro these days?

Taking up where we left off last week, how much Kemano power is Rio Tinto Alcan selling to BC Hydro these days?

“I’m not going to be shy, more than we’ve ever done,” says RTA VP Paul Henning. “That’s the reality we closed (Lines) 7 and 8 and that energy has to go somewhere.”

However, he pointed out sales are limited by the capacity of the transmission line out of town.

Generally the maximum is 380 megawatts but RTA has permission from BC Hydro to send out 420mw in specific circumstances.

Henning said power sales range now from above 400 mw during Winter months, ease to 380 mw in the Spring and then drop to 250 mw in the summer.

He explained the much lower number in the summer reflected the impact the warmer weather has on the carrying capacity of the line and the fact Hydro’s need for power is less.

So while the peak may have changed, the average sold has not.

Henning said that typically 410 mw means Kemano energy is supplying communities as far as south of Prince George.

But once KMP is up and running, power sales will drop dramatically to about 100 mw in the winter going as low as 30-50 mw in the summer.

“That essentially is going to get us Smithers/Houston,” he said, but adding that just where the power goes once BC Hydro picks it up at the Minette Bay substation is its decision.

And if there is a lot of development going on in Kitimat, any power sold to BC Hydro may not even get out of Kitimat because of the increased demand here.

Henning said he is often asked whether RTA intends to go ahead with Kemano Completion, finishing the twin tunnel from the reservoir to the powerhouse.

“The short answer is ‘no’,” he said so they had to ensure that Kemano is “the best it can be” for another 50 years.

Given the facility will by then be 110-years-old, “there’s lots to do.”

Right now they are doing upgrading and modernizing of, “but that’s small and steady, that’s just routine.

But KMP is opening a window that will allow access to the hydraulic systems, work that wouldn’t get done otherwise.

Turning to the tunnel, Henning said RTA had brought in a submersible which had taken a look at the first 2.5 kilometres from the reservoir side and he had been “thrilled” by the condition of the tunnel.

It had then been put in the surge shaft and checked out 250 metres there. Again, “the condition was awesome.”

This year a 3 metre long submarine – unmanned – will be brought in to look at the rest of the tunnel.

“We have the ability to do that today that we didn’t have before,” Henning said, explaining that was as a result of being part of RTA.

“So we can inspect where we couldn’t inspect before…and understand what we are seeing.”

X  X  X  X  X

What about that elusive board approval KMP needs to go full ahead?

Henning repeated what he had already said publicly, it will come this year, though he wasn’t forecasting which month.

Looking back to the crash in 2009, he pointed out, “It would have been very easy to just sit back and let it ride.”

Instead, the project had been getting a few hundred million here and there as a result of which upwards of $600 million had been committed without board approval.

“They want to keep this project moving forward,” Henning said. “We don’t want to delay the metal scheduled to come on line any later than we have to – right now that is 2014-2015.”

He also noted how much things had changed from the days KMP was first announced in 2006.

“All we announced is we’re going to try to do a project and we think it’s going to cost $1.8 billion.”

At that time there was a “smorgasbord” of other aluminum projects vying for RTA dollars.

Today, the focus had narrowed to just two: a world class full smelter project in Kitimat and the AP60 technology pilot project in Quebec.

Part of the reason Kitimat had emerged top of the pack was the availability of cheap power from Kemano.

Elsewhere it might be possible to build smelters faster and cheaper than here, but Henning pointed out they would have to either buy power from the grid – “difficult for the long term” – or build their  own power plant.

Kemano therefore made the Kitimat smelter “extremely competitive for a long, long time.

Noting he had been asked why not AP30 here, he explained that technology is not yet ready for application in a full plant.

So trying that here would have just resulted in a demonstration plant that would not maximize the use of power from Kemano.

X  X  X  X  X

Looking to the day the project is complete and operational, Henning said KMP will be a showroom because it is a technology that will be sold by RTA.

“We have to assume prospective customers will come, we have to assume that when they walk in they see not only the technology, but also a world class asset.”

Which means the plant will have to be on the top of its game.

And he has no worries on that score: “No question, we have the people.”

(Editor’s note: There was a typo in  last week’s KMP story. Where it had Henning saying that 2001 would be the most complex year to date, it should of course have read 2011.)