Doug Wright always knows when his power goes off.
“The alarm system on the house, when the power goes, it beeps to tell you,” he said, sitting at his kitchen table in his home off Morris Valley Road. “So it wakes you up, and when the power comes back on it beeps again.”
Wright’s power had gone off that night, starting from 2:15 a.m. to 4:45 a.m. It’s not an uncommon occurrence for Wright and the fellow residents of Eagle’s Point, and in fact has become a bit of a joke among the neighbours.
“We laugh about it actually,” Wright said. “When we know there’s adverse weather coming, we jokingly say we all walk around with flashlights, because we know it’s going to happen.
“We know it’s going to happen and it hasn’t let us down yet.”
The jokes make a difficult truth seem easier to handle: that residents living along Morris Valley Road see around one and a half power outages a month, ranging in length from half an hour to 54 hours.
“Every organization has a mission statement,” Wright said. “Their mission statement is … to safely provide reliable, affordable, clean electricity throughout B.C.”
“My argument is, you’re not fulfilling that mission statement in our situation.”
Although Wright moved into his home 12 years ago, it was only in the February of 2018 that he decided to look into the seemingly excessive number of power outages plaguing his area. He called BC Hydro and asked for a database of outages on Morris Valley Road from February 2016 on.
According to Wright’s data, between February 2016 and December 2016, there were 15 outages, with an average of about 3.4 hours per incident. From January 2017 to December 2017, there were 16 outages, with an average of nearly six hours per incident.
More than half of the outages were caused by foliage — trees falling on the lines mostly — and about 20 per cent were caused by motor vehicle accidents.
“I suppose we become blasé to it, that’s the issue,” he said. “But then you actually analyze how many there are and you go, hold on. This isn’t as it should be.”
Together with five other residents of nearby subdivisions — River’s Reach, Harrison Landing and Tapadera Estates — Wright reached out to BC Hydro to figure out what could be done.
Wright is always quick to note that this group of concerned citizens is not a representative body — and that the problem of the power outages goes beyond these four subdivisions.
The line that powers the homes on Morris Valley Road stretches from Mission, through Deroche, Morris Valley Road and the Sts’ailes First Nation up to Sasquatch Mountain Resort.
“I don’t have any other places in my riding where this happens,” Chilliwack-Kent MLA Laurie Throness said. “I never hear this happening in other places that are even more remote than a place that’s three or four kilometres north of Chilliwack as a crow flies.”
“It’s not just a lifestyle issue,” he added. “You might even say it’s an impediment to growth in the area. When people hear that they have regular power outages and no reliable source of electricity, do they really want to live there?”
With no plan of lobbying, Wright and his fellow “dissatisfied customers” met with BC Hydro in May of 2018 to talk about the power along Morris Valley Road.
According to Wright, the staff members at Hydro presented four potential options to improve the reliability of power: maintaining trees, protecting power poles from vehicle accidents, installing new types of lines that are better insulated and connecting the power line to an alternative feed that would provide backup power in the case of an outage.
Wright left pleased with what he had heard.
“I can’t put words into their mouth, but they seemed to put a lot of sympathy to our situation,” he said.
Hydro had plans to conduct some tree maintenance — and they did, removing 205 hazardous trees from near the lines. They looked into using some Telus-owned culverts to connect power across the Harrison River. (Telus declined; Throness said he is writing a letter to the communications company to appeal to their “good corporate citizenship” and convince them to allow Hydro to lease their culverts.)
But, despite Hydro’s apparent efforts, outages still continued. Wright recorded 12 power outages in 2018, including one 54 hour outage because of a tree on the line.
(BC Hydro said Morris Valley Road residents experience about nine outages a year, averaged between 2016 and 2018, but did not provide more detailed data before the Observer’s press time.)
On Monday, March 18, Wright, Throness and other residents met with Hydro once again.
“I don’t want to be sinister and say talk is cheap, but it is,” Wright said. “Action has to be made.”
He said he doesn’t blame BC Hydro for adverse weather that effects power lines across the region, and was appreciative of Hydro employee Steve Higginbottom’s efforts to help, but felt more needed to be done to solve the problems Hydro had in their control.
“Basically it was, we will go away and restudy … on all of those four points”: tree maintenance, pole protection, new lines and an alternative feed,” Wright said.
BC Hydro spokesperson Kevin Aquino told the Observer in an emailed statement that the company is “committed to continuing to explore options for the area and working with the community to address their concerns.”
He noted some of the options discussed during the meetings — such as using underground lines, Hendrix cables and building a second line — were “deemed infeasible, raised safety concerns or were cost-prohibitive.”
For Wright, that answer isn’t good enough.
“We may have to consider adopting other strategies,” he said. “We probably have to go the political route” and lobby the government.
“We haven’t decided, we haven’t talked about it, but we may have to consider going down the political line,” he added. “I don’t know what that looks like … but that’s where we think we are.”