BC Hydro is expected to connect power to a 55-unit transitional housing project on Mission Flats Road within two weeks.
Mission Flats Manor has been powered via diesel generator since opening last fall. Diesel power has been criticized for being costly, noisy and bad for the environment.
“Frankly, we had no other option,” Ask Wellness executive director Bob Hughes told KTW.
“What other source of power do we get, other than being on the grid? It was and still remains a housing emergency, so do we sacrifice the well-being of individuals because we’re not willing to burn fuel? It’s an unfortunate reality that we have found ourselves in after a decade of being somewhat negligent around the needs of affordable and supportive housing in our community.”
Mission Flats Manor was built by the province and city (with the city leasing the land to Victoria for $1 per year). BC Housing is covering day-to-day costs and ASK Wellness is in charge of operating the living units.
BC Housing spokesperson Tracy Wells said from October 2018 to end of this past April, BC Housing paid $158,047 in diesel costs to operate Mission Flats Manor.
Residents moved in on Nov. 12, 2018.
“Preparations for BC Hydro power to the building were stalled due to cold weather conditions which froze the ground, making hookup inaccessible for crews,” Wells said.
“Because there was an immediate need to house individuals, all partners agreed to open the housing in November 2018 and use a generator to power the building. Hydro preparations had to wait until this spring once the ground thawed.”
Hughes said the former workforce camp went from concept to delivery at an “incredibly rapid pace” of 11 weeks.
At the time of its opening, BC Housing regional director Ann Howard told KTW it came together in record time, with no other project in B.C. being completed so quickly.
What has stalled the project from getting on BC Hydro’s grid is a lack of power supply. Hughes said re-engineering was needed to accommodate an extra 400 amps of service to power wall air conditioners.
He said ground work is being done and Mission Flats Manor should be powered by BC Hydro within 10 and 14 days.
Meanwhile, the diesel generator continues to run and has been operating for seven months,
Two sources familiar with such systems told KTW northern and rural communities depend on diesel for power, though even in those communities the trend has shifted to renewable energy.
In places like Kamloops, diesel power is unusual and comes with negative trade-off. The carbon-fuelled systems create exhaust and carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas emissions).
While not speaking directly to the Mission Flats Manor operation, director of engineering services at Thompson Rivers University, said a diesel generator running since last November would be similar to having a semi-truck idling during that time period.
Thompson Rivers University environmental studies professor Michael Mehta said diesel exhaust is a known human carcinogen with short-term and long-term health implications, from aggravating asthma to cancer.
“These are relatively low-income, vulnerable people being exposed to an environmental pollutant, which is really unacceptable,” Mehta said.
Hughes conceded it is disappointing and unfortunate to have had to use diesel power, but underlined the importance of the housing to the people who live there.
Currently, he said, 55 vulnerable people live on site, paying subsidized rent of $375 per month, with three meals per day, areas for socialization, health care and laundry.
“They’re thriving,” Hughes said. “It’s an incredible community of people there.
“They’ve got a horseshoe pit at the back that they’ve built. They do their own barbecues. One guy went out and bought a barbecue.
“People are getting better and that’s the part that I go, it’s a terrible sacrifice we’ve made around the consumption of fossil fuels, but what the outcome has been is 55 people now have a home.”