Old structures making way for underground vaults
Vancouver to lose iconic BC Hydro towers, except a few for the movie industry.
Since the 1940s, Vancouver’s ubiquitous H-frame power poles have been a gritty fixture in downtown back lanes.
Banged up by garbage and delivery trucks, blackened by the soot of coal furnaces now long gone and towered over by skyscrapers they were never meant to service, the H-frames are the electrical lifeline to thousands of businesses and homes.
Soon the poles with their elevated transformers and hundreds of kilometres of power lines will be a thing of the past.
Over the next five years, BC Hydro will remove 350 of the frames and install services underground. The $ 75-million retrofit will improve the reliability of BC Hydro’s distribution system.
Only a handful will be left standing in Chinatown and Gastown to preserve ambience for back alley movie shoots, complete with dummy overhead wires.
“ The film industry likes the rustic look of some of these alleys to film in,” said Marcel Reghelini, the program manager for BC Hydro’s Downtown Vancouver Electrical Reliability Program.
BC Hydro’s predecessor, the B. C. Electric Co., began installing the H-frames in 1940, the same year colour television was invented. Power lines from the Dal Grauer and Murrin substations fed electricity to the area.
Over the next three decades, BC Hydro moved power poles from the streets into the lanes, cleaning up the city’s sight lines and making electrical access to buildings easier.
In recent years BC Hydro changed out many of the aerial transformers first cooled with polychlorinated biphenyls ( PCBs) with ones containing more environmentally friendly cooling oil. Now BC Hydro is modernizing again, burying it all underground in easy-access vaults.
“ What this is about is improving reliability and putting in facilities that will meet modern day’s codes and standards,” Reghelini said.
Reghelini said the H-frameremoval project has already started with the construction of some underground facilities. An example of the new vault can be seen on Howe Street near Hastings Street. Hundreds of vaults will be built on side streets and in the lanes themselves. In some cases, that will mean businesses or building owners will have to modernize their own connections to the grid. But Reghelini said all of those costs are being covered by BC Hydro.
There’s a side benefit to the modernization program; an entirely new set of sight lines are being created for the city, opening up views of buildings, mountains and other places as the poles are taken down.
Reghelini said the removal project is part of a sweeping 20-year modernization plan BC Hydro is undertaking in the downtown. By 2017, it plans to build a new substation somewhere near the West End, allowing the Dal Grauer, located at BC Hydro’s former office tower at Burrard and Nelson, to be modernized.
“ We’re evolving the distribution system from its current one to one that has more redundancy in it and will have a natural resilience so that when we do have outages on the system, it will be much easier to restore it quickly.”
The intent is to install in downtown Vancouver an “ open loop” power system that will allow for electricity to be fed from multiple substations. Right now, the area works on a closed loop, meaning that when the power goes out at one substation, BC Hydro can’t reroute power from a different substation.
That was a significant problem in July 2008, when an underground electrical fire and explosion downtown knocked out power to a vast swath of the business district. It took nearly four days to fully restore power.