Economy won't halt B.C.'s run-of-river hydroelectric projects

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      The CEO of one of the province’s largest private-power companies is “absolutely” confident it can finance its run-of-river hydroelectric projects in spite of the economic slowdown.

      Donald McInnes, CEO of Plutonic Power Corporation, told the Georgia Straight that General Electric has invested $100 million in equity in his company’s 196-megawatt East Toba and Montrose project. That has allowed Plutonic to borrow $470 million to build the two-facility development north of Powell River.

      “Manulife and this group of life-insurance companies lent us $470 million 18 months ago,” McInnes said by phone from the Okanagan. “Because of our sales contract with B.C. Hydro and because of our partner in GE, they felt we would be a really good credit risk. Therefore, if we were able to get a contract again in this next call for tender, they have said, ”˜Yes, the world is falling apart, but every month we still get all these cheques from people that have life-insurance policies; we would love to lend you some more money in the same manner that we did last time.’ ”

      Although Plutonic’s finances may be in order, opponents could be lining up to speak out against the company’s much larger planned project at Bute Inlet, also located north of Powell River.

      At open houses on Tuesday (January 27) in Powell River and Wednesday (January 28) in Sechelt, the public will be able to provide input on the project’s draft environmental-impact statement and the terms of reference for a potential federal review panel.

      According to the company’s December 2008 description of the Bute Inlet project, it is expected to produce 1,027 megawatts of electricity from 17 generating facilities and require the construction of 443 kilometres of transmission lines and about 100 bridges along the Southgate, Orford, and Homathko rivers. Plutonic hopes to begin building the facilities in 2011 and producing power in 2014.

      “I got it confirmed from the environmental-assessment office that it’s even bigger than the supposed Site C [dam],” Nicholas Simons, NDP MLA for Powell River–Sunshine Coast, told the Straight. “So it will probably be something that will become a debate for the entire province, as opposed to simply the residents of the Sunshine Coast.”

      Marvin Rosenau, a fisheries instructor at BCIT, said he didn’t have enough information to assess whether or not fish will die as a result of the planned development. However, Rosenau told the Straight that he is concerned about the cumulative impact of the numerous independent power projects under way across the province.

      “What you’re looking at here is not one project but an amalgam of projects,” he said. “These become more viable through economies of scale. So it’s kind of like divide and conquer—picking off the enemy one by one with snipers sitting there in the bushes. Then at the end of the day, you sit back and you realize that the central coast has been industrialized.”

      Plutonic’s McInnes bristled at being labelled a sniper.

      “The big opposition is by the vocal few,” he said. “The B.C. Hydro employees’ union is fervently against development by the private sector. It is reported that they have funded the Western Canada Wilderness Committee to the tune of half a million dollars to fight the existence of private-sector power”¦.They are scaremongering and using environmental impacts in a very negative way, as opposed to being honest about what the debates are about.”

      Gwen Barlee, policy director at the Wilderness Committee, called McInnes’s allegations “laughable”.

      The nonprofit organization’s revenues in 2008 totalled $2.26 million, with 66 percent of that coming through donations, Barlee told the Straight. She claimed that McInnes was trying to minimize the size of the opposition to independent power producers.

      “You are going to see a dramatically broad cross section of people,” Barlee said of the open houses. “I think what you will see is that 90 percent of the room will be made up from local people who are tremendously concerned about this rush to stake and privatize streams and rivers across the province.”




      Jan 22, 2009 at 3:27pm

      So the BC Hydro union has paid the Wilderness Committee, the so-called "environmental" activist club, $500,000?

      This is a scandal.

      No wonder Wildeness Committe supports the environmentally disasterous BC Hydro Site C damming project that will flood 85 kilometers of the peace river and produce power at 3 times the cost of private run of river!

      Also, with BC Hydro paying $100,000 in average salaries per employee from taxpayer money , no wonder COPE has such a huge war chest.

      They are using taxpayer money to fight what is good for the taxpayer.


      Jan 22, 2009 at 6:40pm

      Maybe the economic downturn won't stop run-of-the-river, but a change of government will (assuming of course, that the same conditions that render the new Vancouver government "helpless" over the Olympic Village funding don't apply).

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      Jan 23, 2009 at 2:22am

      Not sure why anybody would want to stop run-of-river?

      BC Hydro is building one by the name of Aberfeldie in the Kootnays. Howcome the enviro radicals never complain about Abrfeldie if its so bad for the environment?

      Besides BC Hydro's new generation plants like Site-C will produce power at twice the cost of run-of-river. So if NDP bans run-of-river for whatever reason, the cost of electricity will double and NDP will be kicked out. Does not make sense.


      Jan 23, 2009 at 6:06pm

      I'm sure that Mr. Yagin read the entire article, and saw that Gwen Barlee of the Wilderness Committee indicated that Mr. McInnes was actually quite wrong about his assertion. If Mr. Yagin did not believe what Ms. Barlee said, he could check the WC's audited financial statements, as available on their website (pg. 14 at, which would back up her claim.

      Also, both Gwen Barlee and Joe Foy have said that the Wilderness Committee opposes Site C in public a good many times. Their opposition can be seen here:

      Mr. Yagin, it doesn't take a tireless fact-checker to substantiate these claims.

      I happen to be a member of the Wilderness Committee, and while I don't hang on their every word, I found this out in about 30 seconds of googling.

      If I find another 30 seconds, I'm sure his claims that BC Hydro pays an average salary of $100,000, and that electricity prices would double under a no-private power scenario would prove to be just as accurate.

      A google of "DavidYagin" yielded no results. So, Mr. Yagin, who's paying your salary?

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      Jan 23, 2009 at 9:52pm

      Mr. Yagin's cost accounting over what costs more than others, is so "yesterday". Run of the River costs must necessarily take into account the LONG TERM environmental impact, and put aside a contingency fund to remedy the impact (if that is even possible). But as it stands, his cost structure would be akin to the forestry industry not taking into account the destruction of the salmon streams, nor the costs of remediation (if that is at all possible).


      Feb 12, 2009 at 6:29pm

      RickW - maybe you can tell us what the "long term cost" is of a water pipe underground?

      Do you have numbers? Or do you just make stuff up as you go?

      How come you guys dont oppose logging, if you are so concerened?


      Feb 12, 2009 at 6:32pm

      Mr. PTAK604 - if you go to that document that you have sourced, it says $250,000 received for grants. WHO IS PAYING this money to WCWC?

      It says $1,200,000 paid by "individual donations". How do I know that this could be 10 people from COPE 378 paying $50,000 each to Wilderness Committee?

      Why are they hiding their large donor list?

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      Florian Graner / Sealife Productions

      Oct 20, 2009 at 1:08pm

      The fact that so far pristine salmon rivers, some of them attracting even Grizzly Bears to come down from the mountains, are being impacted by the hydroelectric power plans renders these projects detremental and distructive to the environment.
      It really is very obvious. When you destroy prime habitat - whether you intention are so called "Green Energy" or not - your project is NOT ecologically-friendly. Today we need to talk about stopping habitat destruction and preserving the few intact salmon runs which are left. Who in their right mind would take out pristine salmon rivers and stop the last Grizzly Bears to be seen in the Salish Sea watershed to come down to the estuaries? Only someone who really doesn't care. It is mind blowing to me that those, who for decades denied the very existence of global warming now try to make a buck with it exploiting the "Green Energy" label. Anything that involves the destruction of prime habitat is NOT "Green Energy".
      And what about the First Nations? The Orford river in Bute Inlet for example, which would be subject to part of one of the "Power Grabs" is traditional territory of the Homalco tribe. They have been great stuarts of the estuary region, introducing well managed Eco-turism including a very unique bear watching operation and investing into modernizing a large salmon hatchery to help the local salmon. Are we really just going to pull the carpet form underneath them and drain their river upstream. Have they been asked?

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