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Run-of-river hydroelectric project clears hurdles

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Narrows Inlet Hydro Holding Corp. has received approval from the B.C. government to construct a run-of-river hydroelectric project, but an environmental group argues these types of generation facilities should be halted.

Narrows Inlet Hydro Holding Corp. has received approval from the B.C. government to construct a run-of-river hydroelectric project, but an environmental group argues these types of generation facilities should be halted.

“EAO (the environmental assessment office) is satisfied that the 26 recommended conditions and project design aspects specified in the Certified Project Description will prevent or reduce potential adverse environmental, social, economic, heritage or health impacts of the Project, such that no significant adverse effects are expected,” said Environment Minister Mary Polak and Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett in their reasons for decision.

The Narrows Inlet Hydro Project, which is about 75 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, involves the construction of three hydro-electric generating stations, a collector substation and related transmission lines.

The generating stations are all run-of-river with a combined design capacity of 33 megawatts (MW).

Two of the generating stations will make use of a lake for storage.

In response to the decision, the Wilderness Committee said the project is problematic, because it will be allowed to draw down on an alpine lake, by as much as 45 metres to produce electricity.

“BC Hydro just cancelled 10 IPP (Independent Power Producers’) contracts and deferred another nine to lower costs for British Columbians, so why would they turn around and green-light this contentious project?” said Gwen Barlee, policy director with the Wilderness Committee.

“River diversion projects not only ruin wild rivers, they produce expensive surplus electricity that we don’t need. We need to keep wild rivers out of pipes and stop throwing good money after bad on these projects.”

Bennett announced in August 2013 that BC Hydro is cancelling as many as 10 electricity purchase contracts with independent power producers and deferring delivery dates on nine more, as part of the province’s mandate to reduce the utility’s cost.

He said Hydro had cancelled four contracts already, where project proponents had failed to meet terms of their purchase deals and agreed to their termination or delay.

The Wilderness Committee is calling for an immediate moratorium on run-of-river IPPs in B.C., due to the negative impacts these projects have on the environment and on the financial viability of BC Hydro.

Freedom of Information documents obtained by the Wilderness Committee revealed 749 instances of non-compliance at 16 operating IPPs in 2010, and numerous problems with projects operating in fish habitat.

In response to these concerns, the project was issued a conditional Environmental Assessment which includes 26 conditions.

For example, a study must be conducted to determine the levels of methyl mercury in sediment/soils at Ramona Lake and potential effects on the release of methyl mercury into Ramona Lake.

The project must only draw down Ramona Lake in accordance with conservative conditions specified in the certificate.

A water quality and lake level monitoring program must be developed and implemented at Ramona Lake to monitor water temperature, total solid sediments and nutrients.

During operations, the in-stream flow rates and diversion rates specified in the certificate must be maintained.

The main components of the project are:

Chickwat Creek - A conventional run-of-river hydro-electric generating station with a design capacity of 19 MW;

Upper Ramona Creek - A run-of-river hydro-electric generating station which uses Ramona Lake as its water source with a design capacity of seven MW;

Lower Ramona Creek - A run-of-river hydro-electric generating station which uses water from Ramona Creek and the outflow from the Upper Ramona Creek component as its water sources with a design capacity of seven MW;

The 25 kilovolt (kV) transmission lines from each of the three proposed powerhouses and the existing Tyson Creek powerhouse would all feed into a new collector sub-station located near the Tzoonie River.

The substation would consist of a three phase step-up transformer, about 100 MW in capacity, cooling heat exchangers, three phase breakers, disconnect switches as well as manual and automatic controls.

Electricity would be transmitted from the collector sub-station to the point of interconnection with BC Hydro’s transmission grid via a 138 kV transmission line. A combination of existing access roads and newly constructed roads and trails would be required to access project locations.

Laydown areas will be used to temporarily store construction material and equipment. Borrow pits will be used to source the aggregate required during construction. Aggregate is used for road construction, pipe bedding, fill and other construction needs.

A temporary camp designed to house up to 99 workers would be built at the staging area at the head of Narrows Inlet.

by Richard Gilbert

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