The issue of private power is primed to become an election issue come May, a speaker from the Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC) told a Whistler meeting Jan. 7.
Gwen Barlee, the WCWC’s policy director, told a meeting of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment that concerns around independent power producers (IPPs) are becoming an election issue at the provincial level.
“In a period before an election, there’s a real opportunity to stand up and make your voice heard, especially when those parties are so close in the polls,” she said. “(Governments) don’t want to upset the apple cart, so it’s a tremendous opportunity to get concessions or to get progressive promises made or policy drafted and put in place.”
Her words came in the midst of a talk about IPPs that touched on various projects within the Sea to Sky corridor, including one at the Ryan River just north of Pemberton.
Regional Power Inc., a Toronto-based subsidiary of Manulife Financial, wants to build a 145-megawatt (mW) run of river project on the Ryan that will use the flow of the river to generate electricity.
The electricity will feed into the Western Interconnection, a power grid that extends from B.C. to Alberta and south to Baja California in Mexico.
Building the plant will require burrowing a 10-km tunnel through Sugarloaf Mountain and the power will be carried through a 26.5-km transmission line that ends at a substation near the Rutherford Creek Hydro Project powerhouse, just south of the Village of Pemberton (VOP).
The power generated will be sold to B.C. Hydro, but Regional Power, a private company, will produce the electricity.
Regional Power has already built a 16 mW run-of-river project at Sechelt Creek on the Sunshine Coast, a project for which the company won a UNESCO Blue Planet Prize — a fact that Barlee didn’t mention in her presentation.
Though the WCWC is supportive of green power, Barlee’s organization is opposing the project, saying that the current energy policy of the B.C. government could force the province to compete with places such as California for energy developed at home.
“Oftentimes we’ll have up to 90 per cent of mean annual discharge of a river diverted into a penstock, and that’s in a tunnel,” she said. “Sometimes it’s bored through a mountain and penstocks often go on for kilometres and kilometres and that leaves off a trickle in the river.”
With regard to the Ryan River, Barlee said the project is being situated in a grizzly bear recovery area and that a recent public meeting at the old Pemberton Community Centre drew a crowd where around 80 per cent of attendants were opposed to the project.
The entire Sea to Sky corridor is identified as a key grizzly bear recovery area as part of the Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP), a strategy that provides direction for managing public lands within the region.
However Alan McEwan, secretary for the Pemberton Wildlife Association (PWA), said that the Ryan has been pigeonholed as an “important nursery for bear production” and that it’s used as a bear linkage area for grizzlies to migrate south.
Nigel Protter, a Pemberton-based proponent of the Ryan River project, couldn’t respond to the PWA’s position on the Ryan River project, but he said that grizzly bear recovery is a priority for Regional Power. The company plans to do this by restoring a salmon run within the river — also a fact that Barlee did not mention in her presentation.
When asked whether IPPs could be an election issue, Protter
said that groups such as the WCWC have turned IPPs into a “wedge issue.”
“They have politicized what is essentially a science-based
process,” he said. “It’s expected and, in a way, essential in a democratic system
for there to be groups that will raise questions constantly, sometimes good
questions, sometimes not so good.
“We welcome those challenges because it gives us an opportunity to explain what B.C. and the rest of the world is trying to do to repair the enormous damage of climate change.”