'Green' projects cry for analysis
This year's list of British Columbia's 10 most threatened rivers is a warning. A review of the boom in private power projects on rivers and creeks is overdue.
Five of the rivers are on the list, says the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C., because they are threatened by so-called "run-of-river power projects." That suggests a real concern about the rush to stake claims and develop power projects in wilderness watersheds across the province.
The boom began with provincial government encouragement. The B.C.
They are green, at least in terms of emissions. Their relatively small scale keeps capital costs down. They are also cheap to run for the 40 years B.C. Hydro was prepared to guarantee purchase at good rates.
The projects are appealing. Even with the best conservation efforts, B.C.
Especially as sold to the public. A typical newspaper report, from June 2001, enthused that "the projects don't look like what you might expect."
The article described an inflatable rubber dam about the size of a small pickup truck that diverted part of the stream back toward a side channel.
No reservoir was needed and the valley had already been logged.
The reality has been much different. Bute Inlet rivers and streams were ranked No. 8 on this year's threatened river list because of a proposed run-of-river development.
The area, on the mainland across from Campbell River, is the site for a proposed $3.5-billion development that would produce more than 1,000 megawatts. It would involve the diversion of 17 streams, more than 300 kilometres of new roads, 445 kilometres of new transmission lines and 16 power plants.
The development, given the size of the area and the disadvantages of the alternatives, could still be the best option, particularly with a strict approval process that considered ways to minimize environmental and public impact. It is going through the environmental assessment process.
But the highly credible council -- and other groups -- have raised legitimate concerns about the review process. The council notes that the combined effect of the proposals could be "industrialization of the coast."
It's time for a review of the projects proposed and developed so far, from both an economic and environmental perspective. Their size and number are beyond anything anticipated when the policy changes were introduced in 2002.
After seven years, a review -- perhaps by the auditor general, supported with the necessary additional funding -- would be a welcome sign of openness and managerial competence.