Repairs to hydro infrastructure following the January 13 windstorm have cost close to $400,000, according to Nelson Hydro’s general manager.
“It lasted 15 minutes and caused significant damage,” Scott Spencer told Nelson council at its Feb. 5 meeting. “People are saying that is one of the worst we have had.”
Nelson Hydro’s budget for storm repair this year was $100,000.
Spencer said the utility has only recently started budgeting for major storms because they are becoming more frequent.
“When I look back,” Spencer said, “the only year in the last 10 that we exceeded $100,000 was 2015, which was a major storm that everyone probably remembers, and in that year we incurred over half a million in costs, so we have this trend that is clearly starting to ramp up.”
He said in 2013 and 2014 the city spent less than $2,000 on storm repairs, and in the past 12 months there have been three major storms.
“The science is clear that every year is warming,” said Councillor Jesse Woodward, “and the last five years are the warmest as of yet and that trend will continue, and I think it is on us to start preparing for that, getting budgets up to snuff.”
Spencer said most of the repair costs are incurred in the rural areas outside the city limits that are served by Nelson Hydro: Highway 6 south to beyond Perrier Road, Taghum, Blewett and the North Shore to Coffee Creek.
That’s one of the reasons the city wants to charge those customers more for their hydro than it charges city residents, and it is applying to the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) for permission to do so.
This comes after the BCUC refused to accept Nelson Hydro’s application in 2019 to raise rates in the rural areas higher than the rates in the city, saying the utility did not provide adequate justification for the increase.
The city is in the process of applying again, asking for permission to increase rural rates by 5.72 per cent on Sept. 1 in 2021, 2022 and 2023, a rate much higher than the urban increase. The application documentation can be found here.
The city says part of this increase would be to cover the cost of rural storm repairs.
Councillor Cal Renwick, who lives in a rural area served by Nelson Hydro, said there is push-back in the rural areas to the proposed increase.
“Power goes out quite frequently,” he said, “and in our area people seem to be militant about the increase … they are asking why are our rates are going up when there are so many outages. People are saying we would have no problem paying if you could provide better service.”
City manager Kevin Cormack said council has approved expenses of $2.5 million over the last three years to do vegetation management, 90 per cent of which was done in rural areas.
“We are not even recovering our costs out there,” he said. “But council has shown good will to go ahead and do the right thing.”
Spencer said much of the damage in windstorms is caused by downed trees from Crown land or private property, not from trees on the Nelson Hydro right-of-way.
Councillor Keith Page suggested private landowners could be held responsible for the costs of their trees that topple into hydro lines.
“Is it worth keeping these customers?” asked Councillor Rik Logtenberg. “Should we get expressions of interest from Fortis?”
Mayor John Dooley offered a comparison to wildfire mitigation. Much of the most wildfire-risky forest around Nelson is on private land and it has taken years for local governments to make landowners aware of their responsibility to clean up dry fuel on their properties, for their own sake and their neighbours’.
“In some cases, their power is out because trees came down on their own land and cut off the power,” Dooley said. “Sometimes it is not Nelson Hydro but your next door neighbour.”
He suggested that Nelson Hydro, FortisBC and BC Hydro could work with private landowners to asses their properties to let them know the potential risk to them, their neighbours and the hydro system.