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New life for century-old power plant

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by Nicole Bogdanovic
July 25, 2018

Electricity, Projects



When Dorian Craft began his career as a temporary worker at the Upper Bonnington Generation Plant in 1998, it took a long time to stop calling his co-workers “Mr.” and “Mrs.”

Dorian is a third generation FortisBC employee and now a Red Seal Millwright. He grew up in one of the company homes that used to grace the Kootenay River just outside the gates of the plant. Many of his co-workers were his parents’ friends and his friends’ parents.

With generations of history dating back to the early 1900’s, Craft is one of the many to be enamoured by Upper Bonnington’s old-meets-new experience. A tour through the plant is a walk through history with its small archways, narrow spiral staircase and 110-year old power generation units operating next to modern, automated equipment.

“For people who join FortisBC from other hydro companies, it’s often their first time seeing original equipment still in operation,” said Dorian.


This spiral stairway is one of the many remnants of Upper Bonnington’s long history.
It’s also an example of the rescue and recovery challenges that skilled crews have
addressed as safety standards improved.

Continuous operation for 100 years

Through careful maintenance over the years, four of the 110-year old unit still operate annually during the spring freshet, with many of their original components and auxiliary equipment. This is a manual process that takes three skilled tradespeople about two hours following a 50-step checklist.

This careful maintenance of Upper Bonnington has earned the plant induction into the Hydro Hall of Fame this year, by Hydro Review, a leading hydro magazine in North America. This award recognizes extraordinary hydro achievement throughout the world, with a special emphasis on long-lasting facilities.

Refurbishing 100-year old equipment

Despite the success of having these original generation units in operation for 100 years, many of the components are near end-of-life. To continue operating in a safe, reliable and environmentally responsible manner, FortisBC has a $30 million refurbishment project underway to bring these units to modern-day standards by 2021.

And FortisBC’s own in-house generation crews are doing the majority of the work:

“This project provides our crews a rare chance to work on 100 year-old technology,” said Steve Hope, regional manager, generation. “Our crews will know intimately how our units are put together and we’ll keep this knowledge in-house which is a huge benefit to us in maintaining our facilities going forward.”


Steve Hope, regional manager, generation, FortisBC, leads the team that is responsible for the safe operation of FortisBC’s hydroelectric generation.


Even after this update, many of the century-old core components like the original turbines, rotors and shafts, will remain in service. That means these built-to-last components will still be generating clean electricity for provide FortisBC’s customers for years to come.

These are the last of FortisBC’s 15 units to be upgraded—the other 11 units, including the newer units at Upper Bonnington, went through an extensive unit-life extension project between 1998 and 2011.

Upper Bonnington quick facts:

  • Located about 17 kilometres (10 miles) downstream of Nelson, between two other FortisBC generation facilities—the Corra Linn Dam and the Lower Bonnington Plant
  • One of four hydro-generation plants that FortisBC owns and operates
  • Home to six of FortisBC’s 15 hydroelectric units
  • 15 metre (50 foot) high concrete-gravity dam with both a gated and overflow spillway
  • Total rated capacity of 65 MW (87,000 HP) at a rated head of 21 metres (70 feet)
  • Reservoir is approximately 2 km (1.3 miles) long and extends to the tailrace of Corra Linn Dam
  • It’s a run-of-the-river facility with no live storage. Control over spillway gate operations is maintained from a centralized System Control Centre
  • It was originally built in 1907 with two units. Two units were added in 1916 and the last two of the six units were built in 1939.
  • Combined, FortisBC’s four plants provide about 45 per cent of the annual electricity needs of its customers


This year, FortisBC’s Upper Bonnington Generation Plant was one of five plants selected out of a pool of 100 plants worldwide for this year’s
Hydro Hall of Fame at the HydroVision International 2018 held in Charlotte, N.C.



Crews hoist the original rotor from the second unit.



A specialized contractor crew expertly completes the generator’s stator rewind as part of a $30 million refurbishment project of our 100-year old units.

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