Workers at Mica Dam atop a platform used in the construction of a draft tube.

Mica Dam retrofit marks first anniversary

The five-year, $900 million Mica Dam Units 5 & 6 project marks its first construction anniversary this month.

It’s been a year since work on the $900 million Mica Units 5 & 6 project got underway.

Just like the Revelstoke Dam, when the Mica Dam was first built, designers left empty spaces for additional generators. The Mica Units 5 & 6 project adds two new generators.

BC Hydro spokesperson Jennifer Walker Larsen provided the Times Review with an update on progress so far.

“During the first year of construction, Mica project workers focused on preparing the concrete and steel water passages that will channel water from the new turbines into the Revelstoke Reservoir below Mica dam,” Walker-Larsen siad. “In the second year, the project workers will complete the water passages and begin installing electrical and mechanical equipment including the two 145-tonne turbines needed to power the generating units.”

A steel draft tube liner (pictured above and below) is being installed. When complete, the seven-meter wide draft tube will channel water through and release it below the dam.

Mica Dam draft tube

PHOTO: ‘J-hooks’ on the outside of the draft tube. The hooks will anchor the the tube once it is encased in concrete.

At the start of May there were 183 workers on site. Walker-Larsen said about half of them were Columbia Basin residents. Workers are hired through the Columbia Hydro Constructors Agreement, which gives preference to residents of the Columbia Basin.

Hydro has just posted a contract on BC Bid for the next stages of construction, including hooking up the new generators.

The project is scheduled to take five years.

Click here for a photo gallery of the Mica Dam taken by the Revelstoke Times Review in late 2010.

See below for a story from our visit there in 2010.

Billion-dollar projects ramping up at Mica Dam

Nov. 2, 2010

By Aaron Orlando

The Mica Creek townsite just south of the Mica Dam was abuzz with construction activity in October. The day I visited, half a dozen pieces of heavy equipment and trucks clawed at the earth in preparation for new, temporary housing for up to 300 workers who will start on the three-year, $900-million Unit 5 and 6 projects in the spring of 2011.

Already underway this fall at Mica Dam is the $200 million Mica Switchgear Project. It replaces the equipment that transfers electricity from the generators to transmission lines, including adding new capacity to allow for Units 5 and 6.

Mica 5 and 6 will add two new generators (including new penstocks and associated equipment) to the existing four, and is very similar to upgrades nearing completion at the Revelstoke Dam.

When Mica Dam was completed in 1973, space was left for two additional generators, which are now being added.

The final approval of the Mica 5 and 6 projects came without the usual fanfare of such big project announcements. Mica 5 and 6 got its Environmental Assessment Certificate in early April, following a two-year review process. It was awaiting approval from the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) when the B.C. Clean Energy Act was introduced later that month. The act included a clause that excluded the Mica 5 and 6 from the BCUC approval, essentially green-lighting the project.

Mica Dam is at the end of a lonely 90-minute drive up Highway 23, which, on the morning I drove there, was lightly peppered with a few logging trucks, some Hydro pickups, the odd camper and deer.

For those who’ve never seen it, the dam is a sloping wall of boulders laced with a ring of functional concrete appendages such as the spillway and the switchgear enclosure.

Local Hydro spokesperson Jennifer Walker-Larsen leads me past the entranceway into the subterranean facility through a massive tunnel carved through solid rock.

Heavy equipment moves through the tunnels and modified golf carts ferry workers about. 1970s decorating accents — such as an earth-tone stripe motif on the elevators — lend the hive of activity the feel of a Bond villain’s lair.

I expect to round the corner into a room to meet Dr. Evil and Mini-Me, but instead I meet Construction Manager Graham Fenwick and Plant Manager Morgan McLennan — no resemblance.

Fenwick is also the manager of the Revelstoke Unit 5 project. With all the intensity you’d expect from an engineer managing a billion-dollar hydro project, the forty-something salt-and-pepper-haired supervisor explains the rules of our short tour before I sign a form, slap on a bunch of safety equipment and we head off.

The tour was — pardon the adjective — awesome: cavernous rooms lined with massive-scale generators and electrical infrastructure.

Fenwick credits the engineers who built the dam with foresight. Much of the basic preparatory work for the two new generators was completed at the time of construction.

Fenwick lights up as he explains the challenges of the ongoing switchgear project. He shows me a diagonal shaft they bored through rock, and a specially-constructed diagonal elevator that will help them install the equipment. It’s just one of the many highlights of the short tour.

Walker-Larsen leads me back into daylight, and eventually to the Mica townsite.

The new worker housing is being built to house workers close to the site, and will also help offset the usual housing crunch in Revelstoke caused by Hydro mega-projects.

I drive back above the dam to take more photos. A worker in a Hydro truck drives by, stops to see what I am doing, then warns me of an avalanche path. The snow line is hundreds of metres up the hill.

The solitude that makes a lone passer-by at Mica Dam remarkable will likely fade away when construction hits its stride starting in 2011.

 

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