Construction of a run-of-river hydro project on Fitzsimmons Creek began six weeks ago and is scheduled to be producing power by December 2009.
The $20 million project, which is being developed by Fitzsimmons Creek Hydro Limited Partnership, a joint venture between Innergex Renewable Energy and Ledcor Power Group, will produce 33.5 gigawatt hours of electricity per year — the equivalent of Whistler-Blackcomb’s total annual energy consumption.
“This is the most significant step we will make” in terms of green energy and fighting climate change, Whistler-Blackcomb’s Arthur DeJong said.
“Climate change is our number one threat, and our efforts to address this issue can be categorized under the headings conservation and renewable energy generation. While we have a solid track record on conservation, this is our first major renewable energy project and we are thrilled to see it come to fruition after six years of project assessments, careful planning, and stakeholder discussions.”
While the electricity generated by the project will feed into B.C. Hydro’s power grid, rather than go directly to Whistler-Blackcomb, DeJong said the project would not have gotten off the ground if Whistler-Blackcomb hadn’t been involved.
“Whistler-Blackcomb is a strategic partner in the project, their efforts to facilitate the water rights licensing and coordinate the various stakeholders allowed the project to move ahead,” said Jamie Horner, Project Manager for the Fitzsimmons Creek Hydro Project. Whistler-Blackcomb is directly involved in the construction and environmental stewardship of the project.
The 7.5 megawatt facility is located entirely within Whistler-Blackcomb’s operating area.
DeJong, Whistler-Blackcomb’s Planning and Environmental Resource Manager, said the company has looked for renewable energy opportunities and called the Fitzsimmons Creek project “the aorta of those opportunities,” because the Fitzsimmons flows right between the two mountains. It’s also the most economically viable renewable energy project.
“There are impacts, but relative to a number of other projects, this fits well,” DeJong said.
The Fitzsimmons is Whistler-Blackcomb’s main source of water for snowmaking. The intake for the hydro project will be at the Little Spearhead Bridge, so no new road is required to built it. Seventy per cent of the pipe will be built along existing roadway. The turbine sits just above Whistler-Blackcomb’s snowmaking pond, so the turbine will help with pond management.
DeJong says some fish have been found as high up the creek as the snowmaking pond, but no fish have been found in the hydro project’s footprint.
While the project has been six years in the making, now that it’s approved it must be built quickly. For Olympic security reasons, the lower section of the hydro project must be finished by the middle of next summer. The whole project is scheduled to be completed by December 2009 so it can be shown off during the 2010 Olympics. With construction impossible during winter months, it’s a tight timeline.
Innergex is the majority owner of the project, in partnership with Ledcor. The partnership has been granted a 40-year water licence on Fitzsimmons Creek, which correlates with the expected lifespan of the project.
DeJong said Whistler-Blackcomb is looking for other ways to generate renewable energy, including using its existing snowmaking systems. More efforts to utilize wind power are also being explored.