Canadian Consulting Engineer

BC Hydro proposes underground substation for Vancouver

January 23, 2017

Building energy infrastructure underground leaves room for parks and schools on the valuable downtown Vancouver land.


BC Hydro’s seed proposal

With its existing downtown Vancouver substations nearing their end of life capabilities, BC Hydro has introduced a new electricity infrastructure concept it’s calling “seed”, a proposal to build underground while also funding new community amenities like new schools, daycare spaces and park upgrades.

According to the organization, demand for electricity in downtown Vancouver is expected to grow by over 75 per cent in the next 30 years due to population and densification. BC Hydro currently has three substations in the downtown core: Cathedral Square which will be upgraded; Murrin substation in Chinatown (built in 1947); and Dal Grauer substation on Burrard Street (built in 1953).

Traditionally, building substations requires finding and buying a piece of land, and building a substation. In downtown Vancouver,it would mean taking up almost half a city block for each new site in a city where land is scarce and valuable.

With “seed”, BC Hydro is proposing to build two new substations underground in the West End and Yaletown, so the space above them can be used for new schools, new daycare spaces and improved parks.


“Having to build for the future in a city where land is scarce and expensive, challenged BC Hydro to find a new approach,” said Jessica McDonald, president and CEO of BC Hydro, in a company release. “By literally planting our substations underground, the available budgets and the land above can be used to grow community benefits, whether that is a school, a park or a playing field. We think the ‘seed’ concept is an innovation that makes this livable city even more leading on a global scale.”

BC Hydro’s Cathedral Square Park in downtown Vancouver was the first underground substation built in North America, and it has been operating since 1984. Toronto Hydro is building its Copeland Transformer Station on excavated land at the historic John Street Roundhouse, beneath tourist attractions deep in the business and entertainment core of Toronto.


BC Hydro seed overview map

BC Hydro says that along with new and upgraded electrical infrastructure, “seed” could fund the development of community benefits, including:

  • a complete transformation of Cathedral Square Park to make it a desirable place to visit (2020);
  • possible added amenities to Emery Barnes Park in Yaletown, if requested by the community (2020);
  • a new school in Coal Harbour (2020);
  • a new school, daycare spaces and green space in the West End (2025);
  • a new underground substation in the West End (2025);
  • a refurbishment of Emery Barnes Park (2039);
  • a new underground substation under Emery Barnes Park (2041);
  • upgrades to the existing underground Cathedral Square substation (2050); and
  • significant funds that the Vancouver Park Board could use to provide other potential benefits, such as a new park or recreational facilities.

The concept has been shared with the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver School Board and Vancouver Park Board. BC Hydro is also seeking feedback from the public until the end of February through an online feedback form, open houses and roundtable discussions.

The feedback will be considered along with technical and financial information, and a decision on whether or not to proceed with the idea is expected to be made by the end of March.

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