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Fortis CEO Stan Marshall

Paul Daly/paul daly/The Globe and Mail

Canada's largest private-sector power company plans to build a $900-million hydroelectric plant in southern British Columbia with two provincial agencies as partners.

Fortis Inc. of St. John's will own 51 per cent of the hydro plant, known as the Waneta Expansion, which will supply British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority and sell surplus electricity to an unregulated market.

The project near Trail, B.C., is being led by Fortis in partnership with the government-owned Columbia Power Corp. and Columbia Basin Trust.

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The project will bring about 400 jobs and $200-million in wages and benefits to the region, according to B.C. Energy Minister Bill Bennett, who represents a riding in the region.

"This agreement is the result of a tremendous amount of hard work and co-operation from all the parties involved," Mr. Bennett said in a statement Thursday.

Other companies interested in the project will have until Sept. 13 to submit alternatives to the Fortis plan, through BC Bid.

The Waneta Expansion project has been discussed for several years.

Montreal-based engineering and construction services giant SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. was chosen as the preferred candidate to be the project's contractor in May, 2009.

At the time, Waneta Expansion Power Corp. - a subsidiary of Columbia Power Corp. and Columbia Basin Trust - said construction could begin as early as last fall But the project was put on hold in November, when the provincial agencies announced the power plant plan had to be restructured.

They said Thursday that SNC Lavalin continues to be the preferred construction contractor.

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Fortis, which owns Newfoundland Power and other utilities in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and P.E.I., said that each of the expansion project's partners will be responsible for funding their portion of the cost.

"Fortis is excited about this opportunity to grow our non-regulated hydroelectric generation business in British Columbia, where we have well-established regulated utility operations at FortisBC and Terasen Gas," Fortis president and chief executive officer Stan Marshall said in a statement.

"British Columbia and the [U.S.]Pacific Northwest region provide good potential to pursue additional hydroelectric generation assets that complement the utility operations of Fortis in western Canada and deliver value to our customers and shareholders."

The Waneta Expansion project is envisioned as a second powerhouse located at the Waneta Dam near Trail, B.C.. The current plant supplies power to the zinc smelter operation owned by Teck Resources Ltd., with surplus power sold.

In 1994, B.C. acquired expansion rights to the Waneta Dam from Teck. They were then transferred to Columbia Power, a Crown corporation with a mandate to invest in clean and renewable power projects in conjunction with the trust.

Last year, Teck sold a one-third interest in the Waneta Dam to BC Hydro, another provincial Crown corporation, for $825-million. That move was part of Teck's efforts to reduce debt.

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The Canadian Press

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