Maude Barlow: Run-of-river projects: Not green, not public, not for us

By Maude Barlow

With the arrival of spring, and as the B.C. coastal mountains begin to thaw, many will be watching rivers and creeks with more than just concern for swelling banks. With the rights to hundreds of rivers ”˜out to tender’, private power corporations are submitting applications for a stake in the biggest resource pillage since the 1850s’ gold rush.

But these are not the souls who put faith in one lucky strike to reward them with riches. Those applying to divert B.C.’s rivers through private electricity projects have a slam dunk promise from the B.C. Energy Plan to reap millions from the back door privatization of B.C. Hydro—with untold cost to the environment.

The B.C. government claims this private power gold rush is necessary to achieve electricity ”˜self-sufficiency’. But British Columbia has been a net exporter of electricity for seven of the last 11 years. And power from run-of-the-river projects will only be reliable and plentiful during the spring freshet. Something other than self-sufficiency must be the real objective—something like the profit potential of private electricity exports to the U.S.

A simple Web search for Bute Inlet produces poetic language on the region’s beauty: “The remote and pristine Bute Inlet is a deep fjord located amongst the narrow tidal passages at the northern end of the Strait of Georgia. Carved deep into the mountains of mainland British Columbia’s west coast, the wilderness and mist-shrouded inlet boasts magnificent coastal scenery and abundant wildlife.” It is on Bute Inlet that Plutonic Power (along with General Electric, which will have a 60 percent controlling interest) has applied to develop a $4 billion run-of-river project—it would be the single largest private power project in Canada.

The scale of Plutonic’s proposed development are staggering—17 dammed creeks, 265 kilometres of roads, 428 kilometres of power lines, 100 bridges, and 45,000 hectares of Crown land granted. But with an annual output of 2,980 gigawatt hours, it has been estimated Plutonic may reap as much as $350 million per year. With a 40-year contract, they stand to make $15 billion. In this same area the Integrated Land Management Bureau is considering at least seven applications to bottle water from the Bute watershed.

Granting hundreds of multidecade contracts and 40-year water licenses to private corporations to divert rivers and run roughshod over B.C.’s pristine wilderness simply cannot be called ”˜green’. Environmental organizations such as the Western Canada Wilderness Committee have made this point repeatedly. Dozens of other outdoor enthusiast clubs, nature stewardship organizations, tourism operators, and other businesses that showcase ”˜The Best Place On Earth’ have joined the call for an immediate moratorium on all private power projects until cumulative impacts can be properly assessed. Even the California senate has determined that private run-of–river power from B.C. will not qualify as “green” under the terms of their renewable energy bill.

In March, David Suzuki and Faisal Moola cautioned that, “Panic (to address climate change) shouldn’t guide policy,” and called for solid legislation and monitoring to evaluate environmental impacts in order, “”¦ to ensure that our solutions don’t lead to the destruction of the very thing we’re trying to protect.”

Addressing climate change is of utmost importance. But the current B.C. government has prohibited B.C. Hydro from generating any new energy itself, including alternative energy. If we’re serious about climate change, we need to free up B.C. Hydro so it can develop new green energy (like solar and tidal) itself directly. We must not base our electricity policy on private projects which put hundreds of rivers and streams at risk and whose profit plans assume electricity exports. Instead, we need to permit B.C. Hydro to work within the public realm to meet social and environmental goals and with local communities and First Nations to build and operate truly green energy alternatives.

Don’t be fooled or confused; the run-of-river projects should more aptly be called ”˜ruin-of-river’. They are not green, not public, and not for us.

Maude Barlow is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and Senior Advisor on Water to the President of the United Nations General Assembly.



Roy Eappen

May 13, 2009 at 5:51am

Do you never tire of being wrong? Do you never tire of always being defeated? You are a shrill voice from the 80's that long ago lost any relevance.


May 13, 2009 at 10:00am

Durward had a few things right. Suzuki is an absolute joke, and an embarrassment. His foundation is so fuckin huge and behaves more like a corporation than anything else. He was actually AGAINST the NDP and is part of the reason these projects are going forward, all in support of the "gas tax". I've spent alot of time in nature, learning the processes of life and becoming more aware of how this world works. People who believe that the BC energy plan is anything other than a massive heist of our future are "out to lunch"! I could not make you see what I see in nature, I cannot install RESPECT in your narrow minds. Who gives us humans the right to destroy the world we've been born into?


May 13, 2009 at 10:51am

I grew up in the wilderness of BC and Hydro is the least destructive form of reliable power there is, nobody is going to destroy BC's "pristine wilderness" except governments turning nature into un-natural parks with trails, camp sites and garbage.
80 % of this province is inaccessible to humans so cut the drama, it will remain pristine because it is inaccessible.
Hydro power is a resource we should have been useing more of a long time ago instead of burning garbage, gas or coal.
Clean power, no pollution.
If your really concerned about BC's pristine wilderness being exploited, Call for a stop to the over immigration of people to a nation with high un-employment where the pristine wilderness becomes building sites for homes.
Industry we need, more people we don't.


May 13, 2009 at 12:32pm

Gordon Campbell has sleazed away as much as 50 billion dollars in taxpayer dollars - four convention centre cost overruns per annum for the next 40 years, to his pals in the pirate power business.

Pirate Powers Bute inlet project costing $4 billion produces 3000 Gwh annually at an average annual cost of to ratepayers of 400 million dollars or 13.3 cents a kwh. This type of project has a negligible ongoing maintenance cost so running that $4 billion through a simple mortgage calculator at the BC Governments 4% 30 year bond issue rate comes out to 200 million a year - half the cost. An eight billion dollar loss to the ratepayer over the forty years of the project simply because Plutonic's Wall street hedge fund financiers are a hurtin' these days.

Compare Bute to BCHydro's Site C which for $5 billion produces approximately 4,600 GWh a year. That comes to 5.4 cents a kwh less than half Plutonics price. Site C produces high value baseload power available year round unlike Butes low value freshette power that BCHydro has to sell on the spot market for a fraction of its cost. Under Gordo's innovative new fast track environmental assessment scheme Bute breezed thru in a months. Site C not being eligible will spend years looking for approval.

Westinghouse just started construction on 4 gigawatt class nuclear reactors it sold to China with a 2013 in service date. Those reactors at about the same cost as site C will produce 35000 gwh's of baseload capacity ever year - 9 times the electricity at the same cost.


Brenton Head

May 13, 2009 at 8:47pm

Another Canadian election , another defeat for democracy. It is time Canada came into the 21st century and added proportional representation to its electoral system. The whole country is a farce! What about your useless Senate not even voted for by the people. Millions of people denied their votes to be counted and distributed by antiquated 'Greed (First) Past the vote electoral laws! Appaling!


May 13, 2009 at 9:46pm

Maybe if you would like a more fact based take on Plutonic and ROR power(and a great site) you might refer to
This article and the ensuing comments have a lot of the facts and myths regarding run of river brought out and proven or debunked.Be informed.A lot of the opposition to this very green power is ideologically based ie public (union) vs private(non union)....ring any bells??


May 14, 2009 at 9:50am

Ms. Barlow,

To paint all run of the river projects based on a single megaproject is simply incorrect. The vast majority of these projects are relatively small and will provide much-needed power to outlying communities. Small run of the river projects will also reduce the need for enhanced transmission lines and when designed correctly are environmentally benign. I sat at a conference next to a professional biologist involved in one of these projects and he discussed design features that will ensure that fish are not harmed and that power can be obtained in a clean carbon neutral manner. Scare mongering from uninformed outsiders should not be allowed to stop these projects, they are a much needed boost to our power grid and will ensure that we not be forced to use other carbon intensive sources to meet our energy needs.

David Wilson

Aug 6, 2009 at 7:13am

everything is complicated eh? seems to me that hydro is preferrable to nuclear, no? yes?


Aug 26, 2009 at 6:43pm

I'm not an environmentalist but I do strongly believe that my lifestyle is at stake. I sustain my family from the fish in the river & no, I don't sell it, we eat it. There are times during the year where fish is all we have to eat for days because of the lack of jobs in this country and no! Run of the river projects will not employ all those who have lost their jobs....try maybe one half of one percent if your lucky. The only thing green about these projects is the money they will generate for major corporations and our pathetic Government who care not about the long term existence of human kind.

Rick Kay

Sep 22, 2009 at 3:34pm

It doesn't bother me to have new power projects but, what the hell are we giving these projects to private corporations for? I can only think the politicians who are responsible are getting a huge amount of bribes. Why else would they sell out their own country and people?