The provincial government has confirmed that a letter sent by The Pemberton Wildlife Association and other groups to Minister of the Environment Terry Lake and Minster of Energy Rich Coleman could be part of ministerial deliberations over the merits of the Upper Lillooet Hydroelectric Project (ULHP).
The six-page letter, dated Dec. 7, outlines concerns about the impact of the hydroelectric lines connected to the independent power project (IPP) on four grizzly bear populations living in the region. The letter was signed by seven conservation groups, including the PWA and the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment.
Proponent Innergex submitted its 900-page environmental assessment of the 113 MW project to the Environmental Assessment Office in the early fall, it went to the ministers on Nov. 26, and a decision is expected in January.
Innergex hopes to be generating power from the Upper Lillooet by 2016.
"Our organizations are especially concerned that Innergex is proposing to build a power line for the ULHP that has the ability to carry significantly more power than would be produced by the proposed project. If 230kV is the minimum size or increment of power line that is required for the ULHP, it does not change the concern about how that excess power line capacity will be filled," the letter states.
As well, "the routing of the power line through the Ryan River Valley — the area's single most important area for grizzly bears — is of great concern."
A spokesman for the province's Environmental Assessment Office said in an email to Pique that through the Environmental Assessment Act ministers can take into consideration the assessment report, any recommendations from the executive director of the Environmental Assessment Office and "any other matters that they consider relevant to the public interest in making their decision on the application."
This, the spokesman added, means that, if they choose to, the ministers "can take the letter into account in making their decision."
Johnny Mikes of the Pemberton Wildlife Association said that the electricity capacity of the power lines caught the attention of those concerned more than the size of the hydroelectric connection.
"The Ryan (watershed), if it is not the most important grizzly piece of habitat in the Sea to Sky (region) because of the connectivity out of it to a whole bunch of other places, it's certainly one of the top ones," Mikes said.
He noted that Innergex had included grizzlies in its environmental assessment work, but "we're not confident that the work that they've done is adequate to create a baseline to know what the effects are going to be on bears."
They were especially worried about the cumulative effects, Mikes said.
"Nobody could say exactly what's going to happen, but I think it's logical to have a concern that if you're building a power line that has excess capacity to (what) your project needs, that others... will look to fill it... We don't know to what degree the environmental assessment office looked into cumulative effects," he said.
Innergex responded with a letter of its own, dated Dec. 18, by Richard Blanchet, the senior vice president — western region.
In the letter, addressed to the signatories of the letter to the ministers, Blanchet said most points of concern were addressed in the environmental assessment process and during the project's open houses.
"We are confident that the impact of the Project on the environment and wildlife species (including grizzly bears) will be greatly minimized," he said.
"Apart from grizzly bears you draw attention to the voltage of the transmission line for the Project... (it) was selected by Innergex to match the voltage at the point of interconnection with the BC Hydro electricity grid."
"Innergex is not permitted to provide transmission services to third parties without obtaining an exemption under the Utility Act," Blanchet noted.