Chief Darryl Peters was in Lillooet when he received the call last week that B.C. Hydro had approved six run-of-river power projects in Douglas First Nation (Xaxtsa) territory in the Lower Lillooet valley. He quickly sent the message out on his Blackberry to community members that the projects, worth $420 million, were a go.
"We have more hard work to do, lots of finalizing of licenses, tenures and financing," Peters said, "but this is awesome, I tell ya."
Contacted in the midst of a celebratory lunch in Vancouver with Cloudworks executives, their development partner, Peters is nevertheless cautious about what kind of changes the projects will mean for the 80-member isolated community.
In addition to a reliable source of power for the community that has been relying on pricey, rented diesel generators for years, the six projects will mean jobs for Douglas and other nearby First Nations communities.
It also means development. Deciding on what kind of development has had Peters touring other B.C. native communities for lessons learned the past few months. But he admits there are certain immediate amenities on a wish list for his community.
A multiplex community centre that would include a gathering place for elders, upgraded campsites with showers and public washrooms would be a start.
"When you look at right now as we get closer to 2010, would having a service station be of more benefit to us than a hotel or lodges," Peters said. "These are the things we have to consider."
Peters said there will be spin-offs for other First Nations communities in the Lower Lillooet valley other than jobs, such as tying into hydro power grids.
"We identified in negotiations with Cloudworks that we didnt want to see any cost to get Skatin or Samaquaham being hooked up to the grid," Peters said, "because theyve been encountering the same problems we have with unreliable and unstable sources of electricity."
But Peters said the financial revenue from the six projects that will be located at Douglas, Fire, Stokke, Tipella, Upper Stave and Lamont creeks, will rest with Douglas First Nations.
"They had the opportunity through In-SHUCK-ch (the group name for the three First Nations communities of Samaquaham [Baptiste-Smith], Skatin [Skookumchuk] and Douglas) but they werent ready at the time and direction was given to me by my members on a regular basis that if In-SHUCK-ch werent ready wed negotiate this on our own. So the wealth is Douglas First Nations," he said.
Peters negotiated with Vancouver-based Cloudworks for seven years for a 40-year sub-lease of some of Douglass reserve lands. The six projects include powerhouses and a substation that will connect to existing nearby power lines. Power produced by the micro projects will be sold to B.C. Hydro.
Run-of-river projects that divert water through turbines and return water to rivers are a mixed blessing, according to scientists. While providing much cleaner power than coal-burning projects (also approved by B.C. Hydro last week), Bill Wareham of the David Suzuki Foundation said there are still concerns.
Location, scale, impact on salmon-bearing stream and degree of stream dewatering are all issues to consider, the foundations acting director of marine conservation said. Wareham says climate change may decrease water levels and affect the projects abilities to maintain levels of production.
"If we have some dry years or if the increased warming trend and river flow reduction continues and the power producer has a kind of license to take a certain volume out then the loser is the remaining river flow." Wareham said the key is having a base level of flow that will allow fish to survive.
"An additional concern is water rights could be sold for other things down the road and who knows what might happen," he said.
Cloudworks president David Andrews said thats not likely with the six Douglas projects.
"Those who put the money up will have the lions share of ownership but we intend to maintain not far off from 50 per cent ownership," he said.
Cloudworks, who managed the Rutherford and Miller Creek IPP construction in Pemberton, did sell their interest in Rutherford to Quebec-based Innerjex but Andrews said Douglas First Nation has first option to buy these projects if and when Cloudworks sells out.
Peters is adamant about keeping the projects local.
"Thats one of the things weve kept on the table," he said. "If theres ever an opportunity for them to sell, we have the option to buy the whole project. We have first rights."