Thursday, January 6, 2011

Independent Power Production Run-of-River Projects

The elephant in the room, Independent Power Production (IPP) Run-of-River (ROR) Projects (often just referred to as IPP's). First off here I'm going to explain to non-paddlers who might stumble upon this article why they should care about this issue, then I'm going to get more in depth into the subject, maybe, just maybe I can drag some people to the point of spreading the word or taking some kind of action. That is the difficulty.

What are IPP's?

IPP's are the privately owned projects mandated in BC since around 2002 when Gordon Campbell's government put into law a program preventing further expansion by the publicly owned BC Hydro except with regards to massive projects. Basically any new smaller than a single massive dam on the Fraser River type power projects will be privatized with power purchase agreements with BC Hydro. That's right, your public dollars are being used to fund private, for profit power projects in BC instead of government owned and run ones which would not be for the profit of private corporations.

Not only that, but often the rates which are agreed to in a 40 year term fixed purchase contract on these are not even disclosed to the public, even though public funds are used to buy the power. The companies don't even need to be Canadian. Your tax dollars are being used to purchase power at a rate often 3-4 times what we normally pay through BC Hydro from large corporations that are making huge profits and are often linked to the politicians that are entrenching this act, sounds a bit like Enron right?

This has created a 'gold rush' of sorts with companies snatching up all the water rights to BC rivers and creeks that are steep enough to generate power so that they can maximize profits off of our tax dollars.

 An older map showing many of the proposed 800+ diversion projects

Aren't run-of-river projects 'green' power?

No, they are not. In fact California, the greenest state, considers it illegal, dirty, and unfeasible to build and operate these projects, and also will not buy power generated by them. Hundreds of kilometers of powerlines and transformers are needed, massive construction projects including tunneling through mountains, rivers are basically dewatered leading to destruction of fish breeding habitat or lack or sedimentary flow to create downstream fish breeding habitat, a lack of water and natural barrier created by rivers for animals, loss of natural water created erosion. Waterfalls are literally destroyed, natural beauty is removed from the area, places once accessible to people become inaccessible.

There is very little environment consideration or assessment for these projects as the only mandatory step for a project under 50 MegaWatts, which most are or claim to be (though some seem a lot bigger), is to have a federal environmental officer oversee the project. Provincially an environmental assessment isn't even required. Some groups of projects also can have a single environmental assessment even though there have been up to 4 projects under this single assessment.

The worst part is that the energy cannot be stored, there is no or very little backlog unlike a full scale dam, and the only time these projects generate enough power to be viable is during spring runoff, for about a 4 month period of the year.

Also the track record for construction and operation on these projects is horrible environmentally, with very little people to monitor companies basically have a green light to do whatever they want environmentally once the project is approved. Also situations like 'why legally get rid of this pollution which would cost a million dollars, when I could just dump it and pay a 10000$ fine' can potentially arise. The only thing we can do is try to hold them accountable as citizens, a tall order.

In fact, none of the power is being used in BC, and not many people want to buy it at this point, the price it is being bought from BC Hydro at is a lot lower than what taxpayers are under contract to buy it from the IPP for.

Another hurdle faced is recent changes to the federal Navigable Waters Act, which basically don't classify kayaks as vessels, so even though you can navigate a waterway, they can omit that fact based on the new rules. It is very important to look at the recreational loss, also on tourism of dewatering BC's world class steep creeks.

What if a municipality doesn't want one of these projects in their backyard?

Well, they better make a LOT of noise about it...and even then, the BC government, thanks to Bill C-30, can go ahead and put one in anyway...or 14, like are proposed in the Chilliwack River Valley alone. There was massive opposition to the project on Ashlu River from all the surrounding municipalities (excluding after a certain point the First Nations which reversed their view after they came to an 'agreement' with Ledcor, the company operating the project), and the provincial government went ahead with it anyway.

Basically with Bill C-30, passed in 2006, just before the Ashlu project was approved, the provincial government isn't required to consult municipalities for projects like these, but it also extends to other projects such as the gravel pit they are seeking to put in by Chilliwack River currently.

Another interesting fact is that these only create on average 6 sustained jobs for up to 6 projects as they are run remotely.

What can I do to seek facts and voice my opinion?

There are many links under 'links' on the right side of the page which you can look at, also at the bottom of this post. There are a few things a person can do. Talk to your members of government about it at all levels, the more they hear from concerned citizens the better, and find out parties positions on the issue, make it a factor when you are voting. When projects are being evaluated, there are periods of public commentary on the issue, place comments, this cannot be stressed enough, comments can be through the BC Environmental Assessment Office and/or the federal officer assigned to the project.

Spread the word! Let people know how they are being swindled, if nobody knows, and unfortunately it seems not enough people care about these waterways or realize what's happening with their tax dollars, nothing will happen.

If you see a project, protest it. There are a few examples of projects in the Kootenays which have been stopped because thousands of local residents have protested at once time, garnered media attention, and the pressure has forced the public representatives to actually DO WHAT THEIR CONSTITUENTS WANT! What a concept.

As paddlers, we can paddle these rivers and document it. At the very least we can seek mitigation on the projects in the form of mandatory recreational releases, gauges, and better access IF the projects go forward. We cannot be silent. As a paddler and someone who now cares about the environment, my blood boils every time the subject comes up or I even think of it..and I'm the last person you'd think would care as a red-blooded Albertan raised in the industrial heartland of Fort Saskatchewan where most production from the oilsands goes to be refined I grew up thinking nothing of the environment.

BC Environment Network
BC Creek Protection Society
Save Our Rivers Society
IPP Watch
Vancouver Sun Article
Vancouver Sun Article relating to Keyhole Falls
Good editorial 'Mad as hell'

 Dewatering The Ashlu
Keyhole Falls on The Upper Lillooet, one of the next proposed diversions

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