Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Run of the River in BC

This issue is being distorted so badly in BC at the moment. There is a movement of people that are seeking to stop run of the river for a host of reasons that have nothing to do with the environment, though they hide things in a patina of illogical environmental reasons.

The opposition to run of the river power projects is tarring anyone with environmental beliefs as being short sighted.

I realized there would be problems in BC with run of the river hydro projects when some years back the Squamish Lillooet Regional District created criteria that they would apply to decide if they would approve run of the river hydro. The criteria vis a vis environmental impacts were fine and did not present significant hurdles to development. I believe that because virtually all run of the river projects would be able to comfortably pass through the environmental reviews that they created a completely arbitray one. The SLRD could turn down a project based on the asthetics - if they decided they did not like the look of it, they could turn it down.

The SLRD wanted to be able to turn down projects that would benefit the environment because someone thought they might look ugly.

Bute Inlet and Plutonic Power
The frenzy around the Bute Inlet projects of Plutonic Power is stunning. There seems to be this sense that the project will destroy a pristine wilderness. That the region will be massively industrialized. All of this is rhetoric without basis in fact.

The area has been roaded and has been actively logged for many years. The road up the Homathko goes past where the power projects are. The Homathko has been heavily logged over the years. The area has an airstrip.

There is also an existing run of the river hydro system in the area, it is used to power the needs of the Homathko camp four tourists.

The Teaquahan has an existing road going as far as the location of the project, the same with the Southgate. The lower Southgate is also staked through mineral claims and has a potential for a copper mine.

The Orford river has a proposed resort development on it.

This is area is not a pristine wilderness. It has not been set aside as a protected area. The project may be rated for the same number power level as Site C, but the big difference is that the Bute Inlet projects have a tiny footprint on the ground in comparison.

So what are the possible impact of these power projects?
Negative impact on salmon spawning - if Plutonic can not design their stuff to have no impact on the fish, then I am not sure why they are in business. There are standards they need to achieve. This assumes that one could even measure their impact when compared to the impact of exsiting uses such as forestry. There is a fish hatchery in the area operated by First Nations.

Habitat fragmentation - this has already occured through forestry.

Impact on grizzly bears - the bears seem to manage to deal with forestry activities and with the tourists coming into the area.

Increased human presence in the area - I seriously doubt that the number of people will be enough for anyone to measure a change over time.

The project is going through the BC Environmental Assessment process. This process will consider even the most minor potential impacts of the project and will require many modifications to the plans and a detailed environmental monitoring plan. I am 100% certain that the EA process will require Plutonic to gather more information on the wildlife in the Bute inlet area than has ever been done before. I am also certain that Plutonic will be required to monitor wildlife in Bute inlet long term and enact mitigation strategies if there is an impact.

If your issue with Plutonic Power's Bute Inlet project is wildlife, then the EA process will end up addressing all your issues.

Why Oppose Run of the River?
It seems to be that the primary opposition to run of the river in BC is not for environmental reasons, but because it is being done by the private sector. Certainly that seems to be the main thrust behind Citizens for Public Power and IPP Watch.

In this Georgia Straight article, Gwen Barlee of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee calls for a moratorium.
The Wilderness Committee is calling for an immediate moratorium on the development of private power projects. In an era of climate change and diminishing oil reserves, it makes no sense for us to lose control of public production of hydroelectricity. Our publicly owned power system already has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world, and as we move forward to address climate change we can do so in a way that is democratic, properly planned, protects the environment, and benefits our province.
Her argument makes no logical sense. Note, she is not saying there should be no run of the river, there should simply be no private power projects.

BC has had private power generation and delivery in place since we first switched on a light. BC Hydro has purchased power from private producers for decades.

Private developers of projects benefit us in numerous ways, the first one that comes to mind is that it is the developer that has to borrow the money to build the project and not the public. The private developer has a very high interest in being efficient, the staff are rewarded for doing things better than before. The private developer will pay property taxes and corporate income taxes, neither of which would be paid by a public development.

The fact that a private company is developing the project has no relevance to the environmental issues being considered.

What is important to see is that business is willing to spend a lot of money on green projects. There are businesses out there you can invest in that are committed to dealing with climate change. People invest a lot of money each year, the general public owns most of the publically traded companies in Canada through their RRSPs and pension funds. A company like Plutonic Power offers a place for those investment dollars to go to other than something like GM or Ford. Though most people do not pay attention to what they are investing in.

Think about it, private businesses want to spend tens of billions of dollars on projects that will reduce CO2. There is no government that could even concieve of the solution the private sector is offering us at no cost.

If Climate Change Matters to You
If this is an issue that you care about, opposing run of the river projects in BC is not going to move things forward. BC is uniquely set up to provide huge amounts of run of the river green power to North America. We have numerous steep small rivers along the coast of BC, the perfect set up for run of the river power production, the bigger the drop the more power you can produce. Few other areas in North America have the ideal streams for this power.

Each KWh that can be produced will make it easier for fossil fuel power plants to produce less power.

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