Later this month, Innergex hopes to commence building the one part of the Upper Lillooet Power Project that they have full permission to construct.
This would be the transmission lines that will carry electricity from the run-of-river project 72 kilometres over mountainous terrain to the nearest substation. Construction on this could begin by the end of July.
The company received three project permits in the last week from the British Columbian government, one for the transmission lines, and two others for the Upper Lillooet Hydro Project and the Boulder Creek Hydro Project.
This comes a week after the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) voted against allowing temporary use permits for the construction of the plants. Three SLRD directors voted in favour of granting the TUPs at the SLRD board's monthly meeting in Lillooet on Monday, June 24. Six voted against, mainly over the absence of provincial land tenures to the plant sites but also because of issues with community amenities and the potential impact on tourism.
"But for the transmission lines, the Crown lands tenure, that means there are no further obstacles to construction. This is different from the other projects, which require the temporary use permits," said Bas Brusche of Innergex.
"We are preparing to start construction on the transmission line most likely at the end of the month."
A fourth permit for the North Creek Project has been issued but has a special status because Innergex has asked BC Hydro to cancel that project with no current plans to develop it.
The IPP sites are located in SLRD Area C, around 60km northwest of Pemberton.
"If BC Hydro refuses to cancel the project we are formally obliged to use the permit and continue with the project," Brusche said.
Now that Innergex has the provincial permits in hand they are "already discussing with SLRD at staff level but also with the directors involved, what is the best way forward."
Meanwhile, Chief Lucinda Phillips of the Lil'wat Nation said in an interview that with over 50 per cent unemployment in her community, the Upper Lillooet IPP is important to them — not least, she says, because they have investigated and then supported the project for over five years.
The Lil'wat estimate that they stand to benefit by "hundreds of millions of dollars" over the 60-year course of Innergex's power agreement from employment, including royalty payments and contracting opportunities which they would need to bid for. They will also have an ownership stake in the project after the end of the 60-year term.
"It's a bit frustrating to have the TUPs denied at this stage, but we'll continue to work with Innergex and with the SLRD and try and get through some of the issues they have brought forward," Phillips said.
"We already have three or four IPPs built and running but this project is definitely more significant. It does definitely stand apart, we had built that relationship and it's definitely unique."
Her colleague, David Dorrans, the director of land resources and infrastructure for the band, said they had made a presentation at the SLRD meeting in June in support of the Upper Lillooet IPP, prior to the SLRD voting against the TUPs.
"We had heard from Innergex that prior to that meeting there had been another meeting of directors where the temporary use permits were not supported, so we wanted to go to the board and speak about the importance of the project to Lil'wat, as well as some of the process we had gone through to evaluate the project and the relationship we had with Innergex," Dorrans said.
He said he felt the board meeting was attempting to re-evaluate the project entirely.
Objections raised at the SLRD meeting included snowmobiling tenures negatively impacted, grizzly bear habitat, the tone and approach of Innergex as proponent, and the fact that the final provincial permissions had not yet been received by the company.
Dorrans said that compared to other projects in the region over which they had little say, such as open gravel pits and even recreational use, Innergex consulted the Lil'wat on archaeological and traditional use concerns, for example.
"The Nation is getting its seat at the table and does have the power and the constitutionally protected rights that lead to these sorts of benefit agreements. In weighing the costs and benefits we came to believe this was a benefit to the community," he said.