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Proposed power project at Nascall River

Proposed power project at Nascall River to provide hydroelectric power to Bella Coola and Anahim Lake

 

By Caitlin Thompson
Coast Mountain News

A proposed power project at Nascall River is set to provide hydroelectric power to Bella Coola and Anahim Lake. The project, located on the Central Coast approximately 54 km west of Bella Coola, utilizes two sites on the Nascall River. The official project overview describes the project as consisting of two major hydro power sites; one in the lower reach of the Nascall River (Lower Nascall site – the intake will be located at the outlet of Nascall Lake) and the other in the middle reach of the Nascall River (Upper Nascall site – the intake will be located at the outlet of Ikesumkah Lake). It will also include the construction of two major power transmission lines: one from the project site to Bella Coola and the second between Bella Coola and Anahim Lake.

The company responsible for the project is Primex Investments Ltd., a family owned Vancouver based investment company that was incorporated in 1972. The company’s founder, Art Rennison, was an experienced pilot who was killed in a plane crash at the Nascall site in June 2006. The company’s work has been continued by his daughter, Lee Rennison. The company is anticipating selling the power to BC Hydro (to replace the diesel generation used in Bella Coola and Anahim Lake) and to other potential future users such as private industry. Long term plans are to eventually connect with the main BC Hydro grid.
Independent power projects (IPP’s) such as the one slated for Nascall have increased all over the province as the BC Liberal government privatizes new electricity generation. There are currently over 400 applications for IPP’s all over BC, many of which are facing stiff opposition from local residents and environmental groups. In the 2002 Energy Plan, BC Hydro is prevented from building new generation assets and instead must purchase virtually all new electricity generation from the private sector. Critics of independent power projects cite lack of public accountability, environmental degradation, increased electricity rates, and a loss of public control over BC rivers and waterways as just a few of the many concerns.
Proponents of IPP’s are quick to point out that many of their projects will meet BC’s new ‘green’ standards: in the 2007 Energy Plan the BC government has declared that all new electricity projects developed in BC must have zero net greenhouse gas emissions and clean or renewable electricity generation will have to account for at least 90 per cent of total generation. In addition, the government has set an ambitious target to acquire 50 per cent of BC Hydro’s incremental resource needs through conservation by 2020 and has committed that the province will be electricity self-sufficient by 2016.

Many of the proposed IPP’s are classified as ‘micro-hydro’ or ‘run-of-river’ projects which are considered by many to be the ‘greenest’ source of power possible. Independent power generation is also quite profitable. As a local example, according to IPPwatch.com, BC Hydro paid out $13,880,542 to Central Coast Power (who also has an IPP proposal in the works for a run-of-river project in the Noosgulch River) over the past five years for their supply of power to Ocean Falls and Bella Bella.

The Nascall project is extensive and involves three main parts. The first is a proposed 28 megawatt project on Nascall Lake that is not considered to be ‘run-of-river’. There will be a dam on the lake to accommodate up to three days of water storage which will result in 43 hectares of flooding. Lee Rennison cites Nascall Lakes’ extremely steep walls as a crucial component to accommodating the flooding and water storage.

The second part will be built later and is proposed to be a 40 megawatt run-of-river project on Ikesumkah Lake. It will utilize the naturally occurring flows from the Nascall River and storage available at Ikesumkah Lake. The third component consists of the three chunks of powerline. There will be about 10km of powerline connecting the two lakes, 57km of powerline to Bella Coola, and an additional 49km connecting the end of the Bella Coola grid to Anahim Lake. The third portion of the powerline, if approved, also consists of approximately 33km that will run along Highway 20 through Tweedsmuir Park.

The project is expected to cost between $100-200 million and will generate numerous construction jobs, several full time operator jobs, and plenty of maintenance and repair contracts. However, it is fairly obvious that a project costing well over $100 million could be expected to just service the small communities of Bella Coola and Anahim Lake.

“The first priority is to get Bella Coola and Anahim Lake off diesel reliance,” Rennison confirmed. “But obviously the project is many times bigger than Bella Coola’s electricity needs – the only way it serves our interest is to connect the project with the BC Hydro grid.” There are several reasons why Primex Investments believes that this is an excellent opportunity. “There’s a bunch of reasons for the project,” said Rennison. “Besides connecting Bella Coola and Anahim to the grid, Bella Coola is one of just three gateways to the Pacific on the Coast and we think there is enough potential in the area to justify this investment. It will benefit everyone in BC.” However, Rennison was quick to stress that her company will not be solely responsible for connecting Bella Coola to the BC Hydro power grid. “We’re hoping that there will be other IPP’s along the highway corridor to Williams Lake that will fill in the gaps in the transmission line,” she said.

The project is still very much in its infancy and, if the numerous assessments and consultation processes are completed and approved in a timely fashion, it is still not expected to start construction until 2010. A fisheries study is still ongoing and a wildlife and vegetation assessment is slated to begin this year. The project is also located on both Nuxalk and Heiltsuk traditional territory and encompasses some parts of a proposed conservancy.
Spencer Siwallace, Chief Councilor of the Nuxalk Nation, expressed serious concerns over the proposed project at this time, citing the Nuxalk Nation assertion of aboriginal rights and title over the area of the proposed project and the lack of consultation thus far. “The Nuxalk Nation, at this time, cannot support this Project proceeding,” said Siwallace. “Our position may only change if we see an appropriate consultation process, leading to accommodation of the significant impacts that we see this project having on our aboriginal rights and title interests.”

The Parks Act was amended in 2006 to create a ‘conservancy’ designation that allowed for ‘local’ run-of-river hydro projects. According to Rennison, Ministry of Environment representatives indicated that the proposed conservancy has not proceeded through legislation for two key reasons: there is no current agreement with local First Nations regarding the location and scope of the proposed area and there are proposed projects (including the Nascall project) that are in conflict with the proposed conservancy. Bella Coola residents will also most likely be concerned with the aesthetic and environmental issues surrounding the location of the proposed powerlines. Rennision confirmed that lines will have to cross the Bella Coola River at some point, but that exact location has not yet been determined.

Bella Coola residents can expect to hear more about the Nascall project in the very near future. Part of the company’s mandate is to conduct a rigorous series of community communication to gather feedback and present their plans and the first set of those meetings is scheduled for November 7 at Lobelco Hall. See their ad on the Community Page for details and watch this paper for project updates.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 06 November 2020 )
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