Supply Post Western Canada Edition · Our Readers Are Your Buyers
BC Hydro’s President Looks Back At Bennett Dam, And Ahead To BC’s Future Originally from Nova Scotia, Chris O’Riley arrived in B.C. at age seven, in part because his dad – retiring from the navy and looking for new prospects – had heard that B.C. was the land of opportunity. “The navy would send my dad anywhere in the country and he picked here, which is pretty much as far away from Halifax you could go,” recalls O’Riley, BC Hydro’s new president, but now in his 27th year with BC Hydro. “He told me about reading about B.C. in a Time magazine story and all the things being built, including the dams. He thought it was a chance to have a better future for our family, and it turned out to be just that.” At the top of B.C.’s 1960s construction list was the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, which turns 50 on September 12. The dam on the Peace River in northeast B.C. remains our biggest asset, which was consid-
ered an amazing engineering feat when it was built between 1963 and 1967. And the water in its reservoir still accounts for a quarter of all power being generated by BC Hydro. Not only does the dam’s anniversary coincide with O’Riley’s early days as president of BC Hydro, it comes at a time when a third dam on the Peace River, the Site C Clean Energy project, is under construction. Most significantly, the dam is facing a review by the British Columbia Utilities Commission that will inform the new BC Government in its decision whether or not to continue construction of the dam. Rob Kovance, editor of bchydro.com recently sat down with O’Riley for a wide-ranging Q & A that not only looks back at the mixed legacy of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, but at how differently BC Hydro works with First Nations and environmental best prac-
tices today, and at the role hydroelectricity plays in B.C.’s future. Rob Klovance: You’ve been a member of BC Hydro’s executive since 2007, and in your 27 years here you’ve been involved in everything from upgrades to our generating facilities, to customer care, and even our corporate risk department. How did you get your start here? Chris O’Riley: “A week after graduating from UBC, I started as an engineer-intraining at John Hart Generating Station at Campbell River. And it’s the best move I’ve ever made. When I was in school I had a summer job in pulp and paper, in Port Alberni at what was then the MacMillan Bloedel mill, and is still one of our biggest customers. And I was thinking about going into that industry. But even back in 1990, they were experiencing a downturn and weren’t hiring anybody that year.
Huge 100-tonne belly dump trucks were used to haul materials to the dam site in May 1965.
So as an electrical engineer, BC Hydro seemed to be an obvious option. It seemed like a great place to go, and my dad thought it was great, fantastic that I was going to work for BC Hydro.” The scale of the ambition was remarkable. It’s hard to compare to today. RK: And now you’re BC Hydro President at a pivotal time for the utility. What excites you about your new position? CO: “I think what we do is so important to people’s lives in B.C. The service we provide and the choices
we make affect the lives of people in the province, and not just today, but for generations in the future. “I’ve been fortunate in the last 10 years to be involved in a lot of building,
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November 2017 Supply Post Newspaper Western Canada edition