Monday, March 31, 2008

Northwest Transmission Line may yet get some juice

A project that seemed dead less than six months ago is suddenly back on a burner, simmering a bit, while local stakeholders try to determine if there's a case to be made to bring it back to life.

The Northern Transmission Line which would run a transmission line from the Skeena substation near Terrace north to Bob Quinn lake met its first demise when Teck Cominco and Nova Gold pulled out of their Galore Creek Mine project.

However, local groups in the NOrthwest have formed a coalition to try and bring the electrification of Highway 37 North back on line and are seeking to compile a study to give them an idea as to its feasibility without a major project like Galore to underwrite it.

The Macquarie Bank, an Australian based, international bank which is experienced in studying large infrastructure projects has been tasked to compile the report to deterime if there is a business case for the massive and costly half billion dollar project.

The Daily News featured details of the project in Monday's paper.

Powerful interests still mulling project
Interested parties still hopeful transmission line may become a reality
By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Monday, March 31, 2008
Page one

A half a billion-dollar transmission line project in northern B.C. that fizzled out last fall is sparking a new study and new hope for the electrification of Highway 37.

Byng Giraud, vice president of policy and communications for the Mining Association of B.C., said a coalition of interested parties has gathered close to a quarter of a million dollars in order to hire a world leader in infrastructure analysis to study the business case for the Northwest Transmission Line (NTL.)

"We want to have a world-class bank that does this kind of stuff have a serious look at this and say is there a serious opportunity here," said Giraud.

The project, that would see a transmission line run from the Skeena sub-station near Terrace north to Bob Quinn Lake, was killed last November after Teck Cominco and NovaGold shelved their Galore Creek mine. The two companies had committed $150 million toward the $400-million transmission line in order to power their new gold, silver and copper mine.

The NTL has been a dream of Northwest communities, First Nations, the mining and independent power sector for many years as it would open up a whole new region of the Northwest for development and provide power to communities currently living off the grid. Even the state of Alaska has expressed interest; the line could link up companies in the northern state with the North American transmission network. Currently, companies in that state are stranded from the rest of the continent.

Up until this point, the NTL has always been contingent upon specific projects, such as the Galore Creek mine or Red Chris mine, going ahead. Giraud said they want to move away from that kind of thinking.

"What we are trying to do is ... fund a study that assembles an inventory of what the upside opportunity for the line would be, what's the potential and what is the threshold that would make it viable," he said. "That way, we can assess the viability of the line, regardless of distance and regardless of size ... with or without a specific project.

"We want to be able to say there's a lot opportunity here, the threshold is high so let's have a look at it."

With the funding, including a $30,000 grant from the Northern Trust, the coalition has hired Macquarie Bank, a well known international bank with expertise in large infrastructure financing, to assess the business case for the NTL.

They hope to have the study on hand for the Minerals North convention in April, however there are no firm timelines in place because they do not want to limit the analysts' work, said Giraud.
"They aren't going to tell us what we want to hear, they will tell us what we need to hear," he said. "We need this to be done right."

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