A planned river power project on the east side Glacier National Park is drawing fire from citizens, our local MLA and environmental groups.
Nelson, B.C.-based Selkirk Power Limited’s plans to build a river diversion project in a pristine river drainage on Ventego, Cupola and Alder Creeks near Golden has resulted in a petition and protests in Golden, B.C.
While there are many proposed ‘independent power projects’ (IPPs) in the region, the timing of the protests hinge on two key developments. The first is that Selkirk Power has already obtained an energy purchase agreement from BC Hydro. This contract is a key first step for IPP developers, elevating the concept beyond many similar placeholder claims into a viable concern. It’s also a key step to securing investment.
The second is an ongoing application for a water license for the project, which is sometimes known collectively as the ‘Beaver River’ project. The public comment period for Selkirk Power’s water license application runs through until April 1, and opponents are aiming to drum up as much opposition as possible.
“The residents of Golden have been pretty clear on this issue,” said Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald in a statement. “They do not support these projects. They do not want our rivers to be given away to private interests without our consent.” Macdonald presented a petition with more than 600 signatures to the provincial Legislature on Feb. 16.
In a telephone interview with the Times Review, Macdonald emphasized several key reasons he’s opposed to the project and existing policies that have created IPP proposals across B.C.
He says residents have been clear in their opposition to the Beaver River project.
“A lot of people also tell me they don’t feel that there’s any public benefit in the privatization of our rivers, or of our electricity system,” Macdonald said. “The strongest argument for me is the removal of the local voice, and I think we should never accept that happening to us, otherwise we become more and more marginalized out in rural B.C.” Macdonald refers to Bill 30, legislation from 2006 that stripped local governments of the ability to block proposed IPP projects.
Macdonald also said there was now evidence the costs of BC Hydro energy purchase agreements were “adding a tremendous burden to BC Hydro and that’s reflected in additional costs to us,” he said. “These projects are hugely costly.”
North Columbia Environmental Society member Michael Watson heads up a committee exploring independent power projects.
He says the NCES has been largely dormant on the IPP file in the past couple of years, but they’re hoping to regroup and revitalize their policies on the issues and also foster greater public awareness.
Opposition to IPPs in B.C. have focused on several high profile projects, including the Pitt River project in the Lower Mainland, or the Glacier-Howser project north of Kaslo, B.C., to name two.
Watson believes Selkirk Power’s Beaver River proposal has the potential to raise similar opposition locally. He notes the project is just outside Glacier National Park. “That really hit a note with a lot of people,” Watson said. “It’s a poster child because of the proximity to the park.”
Watson says the NCES opposes the project for several reasons, many of them focusing on government policy that allows IPPs to develop as they do. “The NCES recognizes that the system in place to bring forth these projects is incredibly flawed,” Watson said. “We propose that each project adhere to certain guidelines, and [that] would include that they’re regionally planned, acceptable to first nations and local governments, built with high environmental standards and … projects like the Cupola, Ventego and Alder Creek are publicly owned — large projects like that.”
Environmental group Wildsight has led opposition to the project, especially in Golden. Their criticism of the environmental impact of the project focuses on disturbing fish and amphibian habitat, the impact of new access roads and hydro lines, and the general erosion of wild spaces.
Another focus was on fish translocation. Basically, the proponent has moved fish from one river to the other in order to study the possibility of compensating for the damage to fish habitat large reservoirs will require.
Critics have also attacked the transparency of the water license review process, noting for example that the application is not available for review online, but only in hard copy at government offices in Golden and Revelstoke.
While the Beaver River issue has captured public attention in Golden, where a Mar. 15 protest was planned, when I visited the ServiceBC office in Revelstoke to flip through the two huge binders that make up the water license application, staff there told me I was the very first person to come by and take a look.
Reports in the application that were prepared by contractors hired by Selkirk Power note many environmental impacts. A report notes risk of extirpation of Westslope Cuthroat Trout in Cupola Creek.
Another report in the package notes effects on grizzly foraging habitat and wolverine denning habitat.
The project will require 52 kilometres of power lines. About 19 kilometres of the rivers will be diverted through pipes, which will be buried.
Watson is organizing petitions locally, making them available at Valhalla Pure and Mountain Meals in Revelstoke. Wildsight is also organizing online petitions, which can be easily found by a Web search.