B.C. Hydro is handing electricity purchase agreements (EPA) to clean power projects before they pass environmental assessments, its spokesman said Thursday.
The Crown corporation announced on March 11 that 19 projects would be receiving electricity purchase agreements as part of the Clean Power Call.
Three of the projects are located near Pemberton and one of them, Creek Power's Upper Lillooet River hydroelectric project, will be required to do an environmental assessment. The assessment hasn't been done yet but Creek Power has nevertheless been awarded an electricity purchase agreement for the Upper Lillooet and its projects on Boulder Creek and North Creek.
In addition to the environmental assessment, the electricity purchase agreement still has to be approved by the B.C. Utilities Commission.
Dag Sharman, spokesman for B.C. Hydro, confirmed in an e-mail last week that Creek Power, which is a joint venture between Innergex and Ledcor, has not yet begun its review as part of the process overseen by the Environmental Assessment Office.
The Upper Lillooet project would be situated about 70 kilometres northwest of Pemberton on the Lillooet River. The project is expected to have a generating capacity of 74 megawatts, with a total energy production of about 143 gigawatt hours per year.
A memo from B.C. Hydro said the project will divert partial flows from the river through an intake and into a tunnel, followed by a penstock and a downstream powerhouse. The water then returns to the river.
Richard Blanchet, the vice-president, western region for Innergex, said the company is very happy that B.C. Hydro is considering its project and that the purchase rate for its power would likely be similar to other independent power projects. He didn't say how much the rate would be for reasons of confidentiality.
"That's information we can't say," he said in an interview. "They still need to go through (the B.C. Utilities Commission) for approvals of these EPA's, so we're still under the confidentiality agreement of the Clean Power Call."
Asked why the company is being awarded a purchase agreement before its project has gone through an environmental assessment, Blanchet said that provides certainty to the company that there will be a market for its power.
"That's a big threshold, a big milestone for us," he said. "If you go through the full environmental process and you obtain all the permits, you get a window of five years of building a project. You still don't know what type of window you might get with the public facility.
"You may end up with a fully permitted project and no customer to buy your energy. It's a bit like the chicken and the egg, which one will come first? We prefer that we have an EPA so we get some certainty that we'll be able to sell the energy to the public facility."
The Environmental Assessment Office oversees a lengthy process before awarding a certificate to a project and allowing it to go ahead. The process includes two public comment periods: one to finalize a project's terms of reference and another to review its application for a certificate.
Susie Gimse, a councillor with the Village of Pemberton and director of Area C for the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, said at a Pemberton meeting on March 16 that there's been "absolutely no discussion" with the district on the projects despite the fact that they fall within its jurisdiction.
She later e-mailed Pique and said the district has no information on Creek Power's projects, but was "confident" that the proponent recognizes the value of consultation with local government and the community.
"The sooner that dialogue is initiated... the better," she wrote.
Creek Power will have to hold public meetings, at least for the Upper Lillooet Hydroelectric project, during the environmental assessment process. It merely has to consult with the local government. The provincial government makes the final decision to approve a hydroelectric project.