Regional environmental groups are celebrating after TransAlta Corporation announced Nov. 14 that they are dropping plans to build a 45-megawatt river power project in the Incomappleux Valley.
TransAlta spokesperson Stacey Hatcher confirmed for the Times Review that TransAlta notified B.C. government regulators on Nov. 14 that they were withdrawing their investigative and water licence applications for their independent power producer (IPP) project.
The plan to build a 45-megawatt power plant and 75 kilometres of transmission line down the valley to Beaton drew opposition from a spectrum of environmental groups in the region, including the West Kootenay EcoSociety, Valhalla Wilderness Society and the Revelstoke-based North Columbia Environmental Society. They cited the unique environmental and ecological values of the low-level, inland, old growth rainforest in the Incomappleux Valley.
Hatcher told the Times Review the decision to cancel was based on a number of factors. The Calgary-based energy company inherited the project through a takeover, then found it was not viable. Hatcher said it was due to, “a whole bunch of different reasons, some of them geotechnical in nature. We balanced a lot of the economic and environmental research [with] stakeholder concerns.
“Obviously we’d heard from some stakeholders with regards to the project. It’s a whole balance for us, to make sure that when we look at operating somewhere that we’re doing that in the best interests of all concerned.”
She emphasized the studies done by TransAlta were all “desktop” and no physical work had been done on the site.
“We had an awareness that this was a piece of land that was very special to a lot of people,” Hatcher added.
West Kootenay EcoSociety executive director David Reid welcomed the news. He said his organization and its members sent dozens of letters and submissions opposing the project to TransAlta and provincial regulators.
“We realize that some of these companies that are coming in from Calgary may not realize the depth of feeling that people in our region have about these last remaining resources of old growth,” Reid said. “We wanted to let them know, essentially, what they were walking into.”
“I think the message from the public got through,” he told the Times Review, saying the proposal was “completely out of the question” from the outset.
Reid noted the Incomappleux has limited protection at this point and said his group continues to support the Valhalla Wilderness Society’s plans for a caribou park in the area. The current old growth protection is policy-based and not enshrined in law, he said.
The New Denver-based Valhalla Wilderness Society’s Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park proposal calls for the creation of a park that would link Glacier National Park with Goat Range Provincial Park via the Incomappleux River and Duncan River valleys.
Spokesperson Anne Sherrod was happy with the news of TransAlta’s withdrawal, but cautious about the potential for other proponents to try again later. “That owner may be able to put together a different application,” Sherrod noted.
“I was very glad that they moved quickly,” Sherrod said of TransAlta’s response to a lobby effort started early in the fall. “They saved us all a lot of trouble.”
“If it had gone to the investigative stage there could have been damage done to the forest,” Sherrod said.
The controversy about the IPP project has been beneficial for the drive to create a park in the area, Sherrod noted: “The public profile is rising enormously.”
Revelstoke-based North Columbia Environmental Society spokesperson Michael Watson applauded Trans-Alta’s announcement. “I’m very excited. It feels like a victory for the little guys,” he said. “It’s still one of many. This one was definitely brought to the limelight due to the area and the sensitivity of the ecosystem in there. It’s great to see it being pulled back.”
Watson noted TransAlta has many IPP applications in the Revelstoke region and is a large, well-resourced energy company. He’s doubtful another proponent would attempt to develop a project in the Incomappleux given that TransAlta deemed it not viable.
For background on recent B.C. government regulatory changes to the IPP system, see this August 8 story: Premier Christy Clark bullish on IPP projects amid bureaucratic shake-up.