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.”