Strange Delay in Pipeline Upgrade Project

The BC Utilities Commission is asking FortisBC’s gas utility and interveners whether FortisBC’s application to build the Okanagan Capacity Upgrade Project should be adjourned or ended without being approved.

At issue is the construction of some 30 kilometers of new 16” pipeline and ancillary facilities along an existing right-of-way between Penticton and Kelowna.

FortisBC applied in November 2020 for permission to build this capacity upgrade, arguing emphatically that more capacity is needed to deliver gas to the central and north Okanagan regions, to address winter cold snaps, when demand for gas peaks. FortisBC cites population growth as the main driver of increasing demand in the region.

When questioned by BCSEA and other interveners, FortisBC insisted that energy conservation measures do not have the ability to reduce peak loads sufficiently, and only a pipeline upgrade (or a new LNG storage facility) could meet the increasing peak loads.

FortisBC also sought a prompt regulatory timetable on the grounds that it needed to complete construction of the upgrade before the winter of 2023-2024.

However, in November 2021, after almost a year of regulatory review, FortisBC asked the BCUC to postpone the hearing schedule, pending the outcome of negotiations with the Penticton Indian Band, who claim the land where the pipeline would run.

The proceeding has now been suspended for over a year, waiting for FortisBC to file an evidentiary update to restart the process.

Meanwhile, the proceeding has attracted the attention of environmentally-minded members of the public. About a hundred letters of comment have been submitted, overwhelmingly condemning the upgrade as being out of step with the urgent need for society to decarbonize.

FortisBC will make submissions on the appropriate next steps by 31 March, after which BCSEA and other interveners may provide their own comments.

BCSEA will wait to see what FortisBC says before taking a position. BCSEA does not generally favour expanding the gas system in BC, but we do recognize the significant challenges to achieving a clean energy transition, while also keeping everyone warm in the winter. BCSEA is also sensitive to First Nations reconciliation issues, which are triggered in this case.

By:    Tom Hackney, Policy Advisor for BCSEA 

March 22, 2023