By Roy L Hales
I’ve heard negative stories about run-of -river hydro projects. Most of them were told by people whose opinion I respect. Very little of what they said may be applicable to the Jimmie Creek run-of-river hydro project.
This site is being developed by Alterra Power, in partnership with the Klahoose Nation, and scheduled to come online in August 2016. It will tie in to the existing 155 km, 230 kV, Toba Montrose transmission line to Saltery Bay (east of Powell River).
“Unlike traditional hydroelectric facilities, which flood large areas of land, run-of-river projects divert a portion of the flow from a river into a pipe called a penstock. The penstock transmits the water downhill to a generating station. The natural force of gravity creates the energy required to spin the turbines that in turn, generate electricity. The water leaves the generating station and is returned to the river.” – Alterra Power website.
“We locate projects on areas where there is no fish. We built Jimmy creek specifically so that it returns water to the top of the waterfall. There is no fish anywhere in the diversion,” said Sutton.
The only criticism that “stuck,” by the time we were through, is that run-of-river produces more electricity during the spring and summer than winter months.
“There is no reservoir, so we do not store energy like the big hydro dams do. These projects are called run-of-the-river because they can only generate when the river is running. This type of project relies on the rainfall and snow melt. They don’t run a lot in the winter. When the snow melt, in the Spring, these plants generate a lot of electricity,” said Sutton.
He did not have the statistics for maximum and minimum output, but said it will generate about 170 GWh a year. This is enough to power roughly 17,000 homes.
“That’s over the course of a year. It generates much more in the summer and much less in the winter,” said Sutton.
The cost, per megawatt, is roughly 40% of what is projected for the Site C Dam (about $4 million per MW vs $10 million per MW), but Sutton added the supply from the big dams will be more constant.
“There is a broader perspective on how these projects benefit BC, or BC Hydro, rather than specifically looking at the costs. These projects create a lot of local employment. Rather than having one focused project, they spread projects across the province. We have a significant First Nations and community involvement,” said Sutton.
Jimmy Creek is the third project they are building on Klahoose Nation, the other two being Toba Montrose (2007 & 2010).
“The transmission line also passes through Sliammon and Sechelt territory. We have agreements in place with all three First Nations,” said Sutton.
The Klahoose have a significant number of the contracts, including road construction, building and operating the camp.
“They also provide fuel for us and barging back and forth to Vancouver,” said Sutton.
Nanaimo based Hazelwood Construction Services Inc. installed the penstock.
Revelstoke based VVI Construction built the intake and powerhouse structures.
Alterra Power is based in Powell River.
“We try to minimize our impact. Our power houses are very small plants and our head pond is very small. (On Jimmy Creek) we return the water to the top of the falls and then everything continues as it did previously,” said Sutton.
“At the end of the project, when we do our remediation, there will be a small power house, a road up to the intake that you will see and a small head pond. The penstock will be buried and there will be trees growing on top of it. The footprint and environmental impact will be very low.”
There are no CO2 emissions or ugly smokestacks, such as you see with coal or gas plants.
Technically speaking, Alterra is only building 50 meters of transmission line for this project.
However they built the Toba Montrose transmission line it will be tying into.
Sutton said Alterra’s right away is 40 meters wide, which could be half of what BC Hydro .
“That puts us at higher risk of trees falling on them, but also minimizes the (environmental) impact,” he said.
Alterra also prefers to trim bushes by hand, rather than using chemical herbicides. There are two crews currently doing this and they will be in the field for a month and a half to two months.
BC Is A Net Electricity Importer
One of the criticisms I have heard, of run-of-river projects, is that BC does not need the electricity.
To the contrary, last January the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC) told me last January, BC is a net importer of electricity. A chart on their website indicated that as 10% of our electricity mix can come from Alberta, where coal is the primarily source of generation.
I have asked BC Hydro about this ratio, but they did not answer.
Sutton confirmed SPEC’s basic statement, “When we have a surplus, BC Hydro exports electricity, but they import as well. I know that Alberta is a significant generator using coal. They balance the amount of power that is available in British Columbia.”
He added, “Overall, BC is a net electricity importer.”
All photos were obtained from Alterra Power and taken during the construction phase of Jimmie Creek run-of-river hydro project.