The Upper Lillooet Hydro independent power project has been granted environmental assessment approval by the B.C. government, albeit with 37 conditions.
The announcement, made on Jan. 10 by the provincial Environmental Assessment Office (EAO), stated that Environment Minister Terry Lake and Energy, Mines and Natural Gas Minister Rich Coleman came to their decision following the EAO's review of proponent Creek Power Inc.'s 900-plus page environment assessment, submitted last fall.
Bas Brusche of Innergex, who along with Ledcor owns Creek Power Inc., said the next step is to apply for several federal and provincial licenses, including land tenure and water tenure licenses. He estimated it could take two months to secure the necessary permits, adding that the company hoped to begin construction later this year with power being generated starting in 2015.
"The environmental assessment approval is an important milestone," he said. "There is still some permitting work to be done. However, this is a big one."
The Upper Lillooet project is comprised of three run-of-river sites, Upper Lillooet River, Boulder Creek and North Creek, around 60 km northwest of Pemberton. The three facilities will be developed as a single hydroelectric project with a combined capacity of 121 megawatts.
The project also includes a 72km, 230-kilovolt transmission line to send power to BC Hydro's transmission line near Rutherford Creek. The cost of construction of the project is pegged at $420 million, with operation costs of $8.9 million per year.
Brusche said: "Obviously, the work doesn't start with construction. There is a new phase, we have a big responsibility in ensuring that we do the project and take all the obligations that we have and ensure that we comply completely, and ensure that we build this project to the highest standards that have been set... we're very much aware of our responsibility."
The 37 conditions for the Upper Lillooet Hydro project that the proponents must meet include: implementing and maintain a minimum in-stream flow requirement for the three sites; establishing and maintaining a public available project website to ensure public awareness of ongoing activities and construction schedules; making all monitoring reports prepared during operations available to the public on the project website; monitoring temperature and ice conditions for the life of the project; and developing a grizzly bear and wildlife management program.
Brusche said the number of conditions was not unusual. "This follows our work. We have committed to do some things and B.C. has said this is a binding commitment and we will monitor you closely to see you are delivering on that," he said.
A spokesman for the Ministry of the Environment said by way of comparison that the Shovel Creek Waterpower project (near Harrison Lake) certificate has 20 conditions, while the McLymont Creek Hydroelectric project (northwest of Stewart) has 44 conditions. He added that punitive measures, should the conditions be breached, could include the issuing of a stop work order or the cancellation of the Environmental Assessment Certificate.
The ministry spokesman said they had received 460 comments during the public consultation period that are posted online and were considered in the assessment.
The Upper Lillooet IPP was subject to late-hour attempts by opponents, including residents and the Pemberton Valley Wildlife Association (PVWA), to convince the ministers via letters to reject the environmental assessment or implement changes. The PVWA was particularly concerned about the impact of the power lines on grizzly habitat.
Johnny Mikes of the PVWA said: "Some of the mitigation measures, I'm glad they are there rather than nothing at all. But I am disappointed that the letters that went forward from a variety of groups didn't really have much traction. I think that if the government was interested in this project going ahead, I think they could have done more for grizzly bears. A concern also still remains that the power lines will have extra capacity and questions are still there about how that would be used."
Meanwhile, the Lil'wat Nation announced on Jan. 14 that it had signed a participation agreement for the Upper Lillooet Hydroelectric Project. The terms of the agreement cover the lifespan of the project and include revenue sharing, procurement and employment opportunities, and ongoing environmental compliance monitoring.