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Brilliant Expansion overhaul benefits people in region

Major maintenance done at the Brilliant Expansion located on the Kootenay River east of Castlegar keeps a Trust investment strong. — Submitted photos

They like to call it “the brain.”

That’s because this complex piece of equipment provides much of the control at Brilliant Expansion Generating Station — swiftly adjusting, for example, how many megawatts the facility generates.

However, this type of brain only lasts so long and to keep the station working at tip-top shape, Brilliant Expansion’s complex control system was recently replaced.

Owned by the Trust and Columbia Power Corporation, the station is located on the east bank of Kootenay River downstream from Brilliant Dam. Using water that would otherwise be spilled, it generates enough power to supply 50,000 homes.

“At 15 years of age, it was ready for this overhaul,” says Brandon Haney, Executive Director of Power Operations at the Trust.

“The different components that are there will only last so long. As part of our reliability-centred maintenance program— which optimizes operations and maintenance costs, and increases the amount of time the station is available to generate power and make money— it was critical for us to prioritize this to keep the facility running.”

It wasn’t a simple process, as it’s not a simple piece of machinery. There are the Programmable Logic Controllers, computers that receive data from places like instrumentation in the field or FortisBC’s system control centre, which relays direction from BC Hydro (which optimizes hydropower production in the province).

The computers then use logic to decide what to do about this information, and then send instructions to the rest of the facility. There are also physical components, like the numerous wires that transfer info in and out.

Just preparing to replace all this took in-depth planning. Then the facility shut down for over a month in early 2022, with people working hard to do the task as quickly as possible: labelling the wires carefully, taking out the old equipment, putting in the new, rewiring it properly and then testing it to make sure it ran well.

The team involved Trust staff, staff from FortisBC, which runs the day-to-day operations of Brilliant Expansion, and a contractor, L&S Electric. The skilled tradespeople from FortisBC who worked on the project — like electricians, mechanics and technicians — were largely from the area, demonstrating how the long history of hydropower in the region has resulted in local expertise.

“It was a really strong, collaborative effort,” Haney says. “It was an impressive feat that this work was completed in as short a time period as it was.”

Even though the station couldn’t generate power during that time, it was worth it. “To have reliable equipment, we have to maintain it.”

Now, Brilliant Expansion’s generating capabilities should be ready for another 15 years or more of making smart decisions — and earning money to support the region.

Crews recently completed replacing the complex control system at (see building on right) Brilliant Expansion. — Submitted