BC Hydro abandons plans to build underground substations in Vancouver

BC Hydro has abandoned a plan to build two underground substations in downtown Vancouver saying the city wanted too much money.

However, Vancouver's city manager has provided a different take on the disintegration of BC Hydro's proposal to build two downtown underground hydro substations.

Sadhu Johnston described the plan as "innovative," but said BC Hydro's March 31 deadline was too tight.

Hydro's plan called for the construction of one new underground substation near Lord Roberts School Annex in the West End. The other was to be constructed beneath Emery Barnes Park in Yaletown.

In an interview, Johnston said the city needed more time to consider the implications of construction and noise while building a substation below Emery Barnes Park.

On Wednesday, city council met in private and asked BC Hydro for more time, he said.

The city also provided a counter offer to the one provided by BC Hydro for lease of the space below the park.

Sought more time

"This will be a major transaction and we ultimately needed more time to be able to land on what we both felt was a fair price," Johnston said.

"So we provided a counter offer to them, and we just didn't have time to work through that to land on something that we were both comfortable with."

Hydro first pitched the plan in January to build the two underground hydro substations. In exchange, it promised to pay for two new downtown schools, daycare spaces and upgrades to the Yaletown park.

Vancouver already has an underground substation beneath Cathedral Square park at the corner of Richards and Dunsmuir streets.The proposed hydro plan would also expand that substation.

No one at BC Hydro was available for an interview, but in a statement, CEO Jessica McDonald said the utility hoped it could lease the space beneath Emery Barnes Park from the City of Vancouver.

Hydro said it was looking for a lease similar to the one it negotiated to build the underground substation at Cathedral Square Park.

The statement said the city wanted BC Hydro to pay a price based on what it would cost to buy that land outright, driving up costs..

Price too high, says BC Hydro

"This shift makes the extra costs of building underground prohibitive," McDonald said.

"This means our proposal is no longer possible," she said.

Neither BC Hydro nor Johnston would disclose the amount of money offered.

Park Board Chair Michael Wiebe said he was taken aback at the collapse of BC Hydro's proposal. Wiebe said the plan contained obvious benefits for the city.

But he said the board respects BC Hydro's decision.

In an earlier interview, a BC Hydro spokesperson said the plan was proposed because it needs more substations to meet the city's growing power needs. The current power stations are nearing the end of their lifespans.

BC Hydro also argued that downtown Vancouver land — above ground — is pricey and hard to find.

The utility was looking for approval by the end of March, which caused some concern among parents at the Lord Roberts School Annex.

Some complained the plan was happening too fast.