The province announced Thursday (Jan. 10) that proponents of the Upper Lillooet Hydro Project, proposed for an area northwest of Pemberton, have been granted a conditional Environmental Assessment Certificate.
A press release announcing the project’s approval said that a review conducted by the Environmental Assessment Office “concluded that the project is not expected to result in any significant adverse effects, based on the mitigation measures and conditions of the Environmental Assessment Certificate.”
The project calls for three run-of-river hydro facilities to be built on the Upper Lillooet River, North Creek and Boulder Creek with a combined capacity of 121 megawatts. It will also require 72 kilometres of transmission lines that will connect to the facility at Rutherford Creek operated by the proponent.
The province also released a report containing reasoning behind the decision made by Minister of Environment Terry Lake and Minister of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas Rich Coleman. The ministers address feedback received during public comment periods on the project, much of which was negative and came from Pemberton-area residents.
“We understand the concerns raised by the public,” said the report. “It is our view that all relevant project-related concerns were adequately considered and addressed during (the) Environmental Assessment process.”
The certificate includes 37 legally-binding conditions that Creek Power Inc. — the majority of which is owned by Innergex Renewable Energy Inc. — is required to meet to be in compliance, said the release.
Some of the conditions of the certificate include maintenance of a minimum in-stream flow requirement on the affected bodies of water; adherance to environmental management and protection plans; contributions to the province’s grizzly bear monitoring program; undertaking construction work outside of sensitive periods for wildlife species, and more.
The estimated construction cost is $420 million, said the release, while construction activity will create an estimated 382 person-years of employment.
Innergex officials had been anticipating a decision on the certificate from the province this month. The company has a 40-year power purchase agreement in place for all three facilities with B.C. Hydro. An Innergex release from Friday (Jan. 11) said construction will likely take place on the Upper Lillooet and Boulder Creek facilities this year, while the company expects to break ground on the North Creek facility in 2014. Timelines posted to the project’s website indicate construction could begin in May, while operations could commence as early as the summer of 2015.
“We are proud that the Upper Lillooet Hydro project has achieved this important milestone,” said Michel Letellier, president and CEO of Innergex, in the release. “We continue to advance the development of this project, seeking to obtain all necessary permits and licences, as well as long-term project financing.”
The Lil’wat Nation and Innergex issued a joint press release on Tuesday (Jan. 15) that confirmed a Participation Agreement between the two parties. The agreement will last for the lifespan of the project, with revenue sharing, procurement and employment opportunities and environmental monitoring as part of the deal. The Lil’wat will also give input on the project’s design “to ensure that it reflects its cultural values.”
“This is an important and strategic renewable energy project for Lil’wat Nation,” said Chief Lucinda Phillips in the release. “It will provide opportunities for employment, contracting and economic development in our Nation for the next generation.
“(Creek Power has) invested a considerable amount of time in understanding and managing the environmental and archaeological impacts in our traditional territory.”
Pemberton resident Louise Taylor has been actively campaigning against the Upper Lillooet and other run-of-river hydro projects over the last few months over concerns about environmental impact. She said she found the conditions placed upon the certificate to be “flimsy” and that she isn’t finished advocating against the project despite last week’s approval.
“I think it’s criminal that … the government doesn’t even listen to its own technical experts who said that impacts to grizzly bears, for example, couldn’t be meaningfully mitigated,” she said. “We’re thinking of other options to see if there’s a way of delaying or stopping this project. We’re not going to give up.”