It’s what defines Nelson Hydro’s rich past, its present-day opportunities and those of tomorrow. Built in 1896, Nelson’s hydro-generation system established the city as a leader among BC’s urban centers. Now, 125 years later, the pioneering utility is one of British Columbia’s few vertically integrated, municipally-owned and operated electric utilities, generating power for more than 11,000 customers throughout Greater Nelson, Taghum, Blewett, Sproule and Grohman Creek, Harrop, Proctor and Balfour. Nelson Hydro’s affordability and reliability are rooted in deep knowledge, frontline experience and a commitment to the future energy needs of our customers and communities.
- The Early Days
- Generating Unit 1
- Generating Unit 2
- Generating Unit 3
- Generating Unit 4
- Generating Unit 5
In December 1900 City Engineer Andrew L. McCulloch (not the McCulloch of the Kettle Valley Railway) and Mayor Houston made a trip to Bonnington Falls, exploring a site on the south side of the river above the West Kootenay number 1 plant. The City of Nelson was deeded 40 acres on the south side of the river at Bonnington as a power site. With this came a token water licence of 1000 miners’ inches of water or 28 cubic feet per second, much to the chagrin of Lorne Campbell and the West Kootenay Power and Light Company. On March 6th 1904 Mayor Jim Hamilton applies for and is granted a licence at upper Bonnington Falls for 50,000 miners inches, or 1400 cubic feet per second. This brings the total licence to 1428 cubic feet per second, at least three times the capacity of the Cottonwood Falls plant. The municipal council in January, 1905, engaged Mr. Clemens Herschel of New York to design the Power House and the construction was supervised by City Engineer A.L. McCulloch, commencing on April 3, 1905. This original design was to accommodate a total of four units.January 27, 1907 the new City Power Plant with Generating Unit 1 (750 kW), successfully started operations. All the city lights, except those on Baker Street not previously on the West Kootenay Power and Light Company, came from the City Plant. The remainder was cut in the next day, except for the tramway which was held over until the plant was in perfect running condition.
In 36 years of operation of city-owned power plants, $2,776,191 had come to into the city coffers, allowing for such “luxuries” as cheap electricity, the Civic Centre, and the stability of the city finances. By the end of the Second World War, the city was again at the limit of its power generation, and a by-law was passed in 1946 to add a fourth unit of 6,500 horsepower.
The new unit was opened by Mayor Thomas Waters on December 7, 1949. Earlier in 1949, the controller of water rights of B.C. had written to the City suggesting that in view of the possible effects of developments on the Columbia River, Nelson might want to consider the usefulness of an additional 1,400 cubic feet of water over and above its existing license. The City replied that indeed it would like to apply for the additional water, but was advised that the fee for such an application would be about $2,500 and that a refresher fee would be required every six months until the license was issued. Furthermore, a licence could not actually be issued until the water came available some years later.
The City agreed to leave the matter in abeyance. In 1956, the City applied again and was told that an Order in Council in 1955 had put a reserve on all available water, but needs would be noted for the future. Applying again in 1962, Nelson received the devastating news that a license had now been issued to B.C. Hydro, giving the corporation the rights to store water at the Duncan River, and receive all the downstream benefits. Now, no new licence could be issued to Nelson without consultation with other licences. To cut a long story short the city came close to losing the Plant in the early 1970s because of the construction of BC Hydro Kootenay Canal Project. Land expropriation and loss of water use were the main issues, thanks to the hard work of opposition parties in Victoria and at home, a settlement was made and the City Plant continued to operate at a reduced capacity once the Kootenay Canal Project was completed in 1975. In 1988 the City plant received an additional 265 cubic feet per second of extra water on their license, which would allow Unit 2 to run again. This unit had been shut down since the Kootenay Canal Project was completed.