The Lil'wat Nation has begun a feasibility study into the viability of their proposed run-of-river power project at Wedge Creek, near Whistler's Green Lake.
The Mount Currie Band received $86,000 from the federal Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to cover the cost of the study as part of the Harper government's support for renewable projects in B.C. First Nation communities. The amount is on top of the $40,000 Mt. Currie received last November from the B.C. government for the same purpose.
The grant was made public in early July but was actually awarded last December, said Kerry Mehaffey, the community's director of economic development and Lil'wat business. He added that the community is currently working on the project without an industry partner. The Lil'wat Nation purchased the license from Ledcor in 2006 and efforts to build the project have picked up in the last year.
"It is just us at the moment, and we will seek a partner at some point," he said.
"One of the major goals for the Mount Currie project is to create a revenue stream for us. It allows us to reinvest the proceeds from this into other business opportunities."
While Independent Power Project (IPP) proponents setting up in their traditional territories have consulted the Lil'wat Nation in the past, this is the first time this kind of project will at least partially belong to the community.
"The difference with this one is that, opposed to a licensee coming to us to consult with us, we are actually the proponent of the project, and we'll probably go back to some of those people who we have good working relationships with and see what their interest level is in working with us," he said.
Mehaffey said the proposed intake for the IPP will be located on Crown Land near the site of the Al Grey Memorial Bridge, which links sections of the Comfortably Numb trail. The powerhouse will be located on Wedge Creek near its confluence with the Green River, several kilometres north of Green Lake. While recreation is important to the area and the area includes one of Whistler's most prominent mountain bike trails, Mehaffey said they hadn't "identified any huge impacts in that area." He said the project is smaller than average, and will likely produce around six megawatts.
"There's some crossover with the community forest, and certainly I think they're aware of the project," he said.
"(The feasibility study) will look at all these issues. Primarily they are looking at technical issues and economics at this point. There is certainly going to be stakeholder involvement, there's the resort... we'll have to get in touch with the Squamish Nation about it, as well as deal with our own internal processes."
Currently, environmental engineers from Cascade Environmental are conducting in-stream water monitoring at the site, Mehaffey said.
In terms of what the IPP could potentially earn for Mount Currie, Mehaffey said it was too early to say, but added that any project on Wedge Creek would likely be signed to BC Hydro to supply energy to the provincial grid for a 40-year term.
"That will be informed by the flow and construction costs, so I can't give you anything (about revenues) with any degree of accuracy, that's why we are completing the (feasibility study) project," he said.
A spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs said a First Nations community can apply for up to $250,000 each year from the ecoENERGY program. A total investment of $1.2 million will support 16 projects in First Nations communities in B.C. in the most recent round of grants from the federal government for 2012.
Mehaffey said the Lil'wat Nation has applied for a second round of funding "for a comparable amount" to continue their feasibility research and hopes to hear if they have succeeded by the end of August.