Innergex Renewable Energy Inc. offered barbecued smokies and technical expertise at its open house for the proposed Upper Lillooet run-of-river hydroelectric project on Tuesday, July 10.
Some 130 people gobbled down the food and the information, with 50 entering the hall at the Pemberton Community Centre to read the company's displays in the first 45 minutes. They asked representatives from Innergex, the province's environmental assessment (EA) office and the scientists hired by Innergex to gather data for the 7,400-page EA about the project, which the company hopes to have up and running by 2016.
Nathan Hagan-Braun, the government project assessment manager for the EA process, said Innergex's EA was submitted on May 28, and would likely go to the minister for a decision by November 28, with a final decision due early in 2013.
"Every project has its challenging areas to look at, as a project, and issues to address. The proponent's application from what we have seen is complete and has everything we need to conduct the assessment, so that's all we're really looking for at this stage," Hagan-Braun said.
He added that the public was interested in many aspects of the project. "One question we get is about process, and other people expressed questions about fish, so we directed them to the experts the proponent has provided here. They're largely the consultants who have done the studies," he said.
"There are also questions around Keyhole Falls (a stunning local landmark on the river which would be between a proposed water intake system and powerhouse) and visual impacts around the hydro lines. And others have questions about IPPs (independent power projects) or run-of-river projects."
Hagan-Braun said around 50 people visited Innergex's open house at the Mount Currie Reserve the evening before.
The proposed IPP is made up of three plant sites along the Lillooet River and tributaries — the Upper Lillooet plant is roughly 70 kilometres northwest of Pemberton, and the Boulder Creek and the North Creek plants are 56km and 38km north-west of the village, respectively. The trio will produce 121MW.
Innergex hopes to be operating a 40-year contract to sell energy to BC Hydro by 2016. It owns 66.6 per cent of the Upper Lillooet project, while Ledcor Power Group Ltd. owns 33.3 per cent.Richard Blanchet, Innergex's senior vice-president for Western Canada, said he was pleased with the turnout.
"It is very important for us to ensure that we are in the community with these projects," he said. "We've had a lot of good questions."
When asked if the public were better informed after a decade of IPPs than they were when the company was going through the process to establish their Rutherford Creek IPP south of Pemberton, Blanchet said they changed their format for the open house to a series of displays about the project rather than a formal question and answer period.
"It's new every time, these projects are custom made. People are concerned about the cumulative impact. One project is one thing, two is something different. They bring different questions," he said.
Pemberton farmer Chuck Deman and his wife Beth slowly toured the displays.
"It was very professionally done. We got some good information, one particular guy knew everything. He'd done his homework," Deman said.
"Do I like it? It's what's going to happen, isn't it?"
Pemberton residents Erin Worrod and Kristian Fischer-Jenssen looked at the displays together. Fischer-Jenssen was looking for job posting for the project on behalf of his brother-in-law, who was thinking of moving to B.C. in search of work.
"I don't mind the project. It's not like a massive dam," he said. "As long as they're not destroying mountainsides and they're being careful about it. It's better than a pipeline."
Worrod said that she felt any questions she had during the process she could direct to Innergex's office in the village.
"It's great that they have these open houses so you can come and learn about it," she said.
Members of Pemberton's Women's Institute (WI) stood outside the open house, handing out copies of letters they had sent to the media this week that voiced their concerns about the Upper Lillooet and other run-of-river projects (See page 9). They described themselves as a "bunch of concerned citizens who live in the Valley."
"I'm worried where it's going to end. They've already got two projects in the valley, now they're talking three more... When's it going to end?" said WI president Linda Ronayne.
"We don't need it. We don't need this power... Basically we're just saying there's another side to it."
Public comments on the project are currently being gathered. Tuesday's open house was the final community event, but comments are being accepted until July 30 at http://www.eao.gov.bc.ca/pcp/forms/Upper_Lillooet_form.html.