Several provincial conservation groups have penned a letter expressing new concerns for what they consider to be significant issues regarding the proposed Innergex/Creek Power Upper Lillooet Hydro power project.
The group’s letter to the minister of environment and the minister energy, mines and natural gas, recognized they are past the official public comment period, but a spokesperson for the groups said the cumulative future effects of the project may not be fully understood and will have significant consequences for the Sea to Sky region’s threatened grizzly bear populations.
In particular, the group wanted the ministers to realize that the power line proposed to be built as part of the independent power project (IPP) has a carrying capacity of 230kV, which far exceeds the 113MW needed by the three facilities associated with the project.
“One of the big concerns is that the power line has the ability to carry several times the amount of electricity that would be generated by the three power houses in the Upper Lillooet Hydropower Project,” said conservationist Johnny Mikes. “The concern is how will that extra capacity be filled and by which projects?
“With a power line larger than required for (the project’s) purposes, we are concerned about the spin off cumulative effects it would have on grizzly bears.”
The letter outlining those concerns was signed by the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, BC Spaces for Nature, the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society, Conservation Northwest, Sierra Club B.C., Wildsight and the Pemberton Wildlife Association (PWA).
PWA secretary Allen McEwan said grizzly bears are unique and iconic species that belong on the landscape of the Sea to Sky corridor. Key areas of habitat for the four threatened populations units of grizzly bears in the region, which are considered to be an umbrella species indicative of the health of the overall ecosystem, would be affected by Innergex’s project and future projects that could result from the added capacity of the power line.
“We believe that the proposed Innergex Hydro Project on the Upper Lillooet — if constructed as currently proposed — will negatively impact all aspects of the grizzly bear’s existence,” said McEwan in an email to The Question. “What is being proposed is a huge industrial development, which has an enormous ‘footprint.’ The grizzly bear’s feeding patterns, migration and breeding are sure to be disturbed if this project is allowed to proceed.
“Equally troubling is the fact that the proposed Innergex transmission line has extra capacity — this seems to be an open invitation from the province to the IPP industry to build more projects in the Upper Lillooet.”
That capacity could directly result in additional power projects in the area on South Creek, Salal Creek and three additional sites on Boulder Creek according to conservation groups. The power line location allows access to the Ryan River Valley, which is critical grizzly bear habitat. Mikes said it is generally considered to be the most important valley for the species survival and recovery in this portion of southwest B.C. and is recognized by the Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan developed in 2008.
Innergex spokesperson Bas Bruche said the company is aware the capacity of the power line could result in future development, but that is not the reason they chose a 230kV line.
Bruche said the voltage allows Innergex to connect to BC Hydro’s infrastructure without having to build a large transformer station at the point of interconnection, which is in a vulnerable area. He said that was considered to be less intrusive for wildlife and the higher voltage allows for a more efficient generation of electricity at the hydro stations.
“It is true that theoretically this line could also be used to carry more projects, however we are not allowed to do that … we have no intention to do that,” Bruche said, adding any new project in the area would have to go through the same environmental assessment process.
In an email, junior public affairs officer Stuart Bertrand with the ministry of environment indicated the ministers responsible for making a decision on the Innergex project can still take the conservation groups letter into consideration.
“It is the Environmental Assessment Office’s view that many of the issues raised in the letter were considered during the environmental assessment of the proposed project,” he added.
But for the conservation groups it is about comprehensive planning for all possible future energy and hydro projects, not a piecemeal approach, which they argue fails to fully assess cumulative ecological impacts.
“The PWA, along with local government (SLRD), have been asking the province for years to put all IPP development on hold until a comprehensive ‘energy’ plan for the Pemberton Valley has been developed,” McEwan said. “We cannot continue to stumble through the EAO process one project at a time. We need to stop, step back and look at the big picture. Some drainages in the area might be suitable for development. Other drainages — in our opinion — are most certainly not suitable for development.
“The Ryan River — for example — has been identified over and over again as a drainage which we believe would be better left for other purposes — especially grizzly bears. Sadly, the Innergex proposal for the Upper Lillooet could increase the chances of the Ryan being developed.”