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The environmental science behind a run-of-river project

Innergex opens up about its field work



The scientists had been expecting to see mountain goats but got wolverines instead.

Last winter, researchers brought in by Innergex Renewable Energy Inc. rigged four infrared cameras near the proposed site of the Upper Lillooet run-of-river power project because previously collected Ministry of Environment data said the area was mountain goat winter territory.

But no mountain goats tripped the shutters on the cameras — they had apparently moved on. Instead, surprisingly, the researchers got wolverine mugshots — images of the normally reclusive animals sniffing and even licking the cameras. The scientists wanted to know more.

It was decided to place bait high up tree trunks with barbed wire around it at different points in the region. The aim was to snag hair in order to carry out genetic analysis. This low-tech approach worked and the data is currently being assessed.

"There aren't (provincial) guidelines to follow the study of wolverines, and we were doing more than was necessary," said Innergex's project manager Natalie Closs.

The wolverine hair analysis will be added to the already compiled 7,000 pages of studies and analysis that is Innergex's environmental assessment application, carried out for submission to the British Columbian government for the Upper Lillooet Project.

The proposed IPP is made up of three plant sites along the river — the Upper Lillooet plant is roughly 70 kilometres north-west of Pemberton, and the Boulder Creek and the North Creek plants are 56 km and 38 km north-west of the village, respectively. The trio will produce 121MW. Innergex hopes to be operating a 40-year contract to sell energy to BC Hydro from them by 2016.

Added to the intakes and hydro-electric plant on the river is the need to build 72 km of power lines to move the electricity from the Upper Lillooet.

Independent power projects have been around for the last decade, gathering an ever-more complex amount of scientific data. While subjected to criticism by environmentalists and members of the public concerned by the impacts of the technology, especially on fish and river flows, nevertheless reams of information on flora, fauna, riparian areas and geology are gathered, often in areas and on topics where little existed before.

"The large value component of the project is really the environment component," Closs said.

Value component categories that need to be covered in the environmental assessment (EA) include environmental, heritage, health, social impact, and economic impact. These are areas considered important by any or all of the following: the proponent, government agencies involved in the EA process, the public, First Nations, and scientists.

Within these categories are lists of subsections. Visual integrity, part of social impact, is illustrated by the spectacular Keyhole Falls, a 23-metre punchbowl falls on the Lillooet River. It is downstream from the water intake for one plant but upstream from the powerhouse itself. Innergex provided photographs of the falls in its current state and how deep it is estimated to be afterwards, when water levels will drop with the plant in operation.

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