One month after BC Hydro apologized for the failures that caused an underground electrical vault on a busy downtown Vancouver street to suddenly explode, the province’s energy utility regulator has ordered the Crown corporation to submit a third-party report, addressing its culture of safety and compliance.
On July 21, the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) directed BC Hydro to initiate an independent third-party investigation examining the root cause of the explosion and fire outside the iconic Marine Building on Burrard Street on Feb. 24, 2023.
“We are very concerned about the incident that took place and we take safety matters seriously,” Krissy Van Loon with the BCUC told Global News in an interview.
“It’s part of our mandate to make sure that utilities deliver safe and reliable service to their customers.”
Witnesses told Global News it was a miracle no one was killed.
Owner of business damaged by BC Hydro explosion calls for more accountability
Two people were injured while several businesses were damaged and forced to close for months as repairs are completed.
At a press conference on June 22, BC Hydro’s president and CEO told media the incident “should never have happened.”
The explosion caused by a buildup of combustible gases from a leaking gasket was preventable, said Chris O’Riley, who admitted BC Hydro had been warned in 2016 — when a report flagged 14 underground vaults as being high risks of causing severe injury or death if not properly maintained or replaced.
Equipment was replaced in 13 of the vaults — but not vault No. 73 in the 300 block of Burrard Street.
When asked on June 22 why nothing was done until the vault exploded in February 2023 when it was identified as a serious safety risk seven years earlier, O’Riley answered: “The vault was identified as a risk and that information was provided to management. It was not escalated within the organization.”
“The BCUC wasn’t appropriately notified that that 2016 report had been produced and of the the risk to begin with,” said Van Loon.
As part of its probe into the explosion, BC Hydro retained a third party, Senez Consulting Ltd., to conduct an investigation into the incident.
That “Post-Incident Report” was filed with the BCUC on June 22 and on June 29, the BCUC requested further information pertaining to BC Hydro’s investigation.
BC Hydro then filed its response “Supplemental Information” with the BCUC on July 6.
According to the BCUC, both raise “serious concerns” regarding BC Hydro’s safety practices and culture.
As a result, the BCUC’s order directs BC Hydro to address its culture of safety and compliance, asset management practices, work procedures and quality control processes in the independent third-party report — which is due by Nov. 30.
‘Increasing demand’ for secondary units as homebuyers grapple with rate hikes
4 people missing, dozens displaced from devastating flooding across N.S.
BC Hydro knew about problems with electrical vault years before Vancouver explosion
In a statement, O’Riley said BC Hydro is “fully supportive of this direction and [the] work will be overseen by our Board of Directors who are independent from management and appointed by our Shareholder, the Government of BC.”
“Ultimately, it’s Hydro’s fault that this happened and an accountability issue is what caused this,” said JJ Bean owner John Neate.
Neate said he’s pleased to hear of the BCUC’s order for BC Hydro.
His busy café location in the iconic Marine Building is still closed for repairs after the February fire erupted under his sidewalk patio, and he doesn’t expect he’ll be able to reopen until Sept. 1 at the earliest.
Neate said he received $60,000 from BC Hydro as a goodwill gesture after it admitted responsibility last month — but he said it’s a fraction of what he suspects his damage claim will be.
“Maybe it was a one-time thing, maybe it’s never going to happen again, but if this is the way that accountability works throughout a whole bunch of different issues with Hydro, then many of us could be in danger,” said Neate.
BC Hydro began a technical review of its underground street vault equipment earlier this month with the results expected to be filed with the BCUC in March 2024.
As of April 1, the Crown corporation has also decommissioned the type of equipment used in the exploding vault across its system.
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.