Photo of Castle Creek courtesy Jacqueline Allan

After close to 10 years of work, three McBride entrepreneurs may see their 6MW run-of-river IPP project in operation as early as fall 2013.

The project could provide McBride with reliable power during most of the year, says John Wheeler of Castle Mountain Hydro Ltd. To deal with frequent blackouts, since 2010 McBride has relied on diesel generators supplied by BC Hydro to pick up the slack, but even with the generators, certain problems with power quality persist.

Now Harold Edwards, Peter Caputo and Wheeler will get their chance to be the first IPP bigger than 4MW in the McBride area.

Since 2003, the men have invested thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of their own money into the project.

In June 2010, they signed a contract with BC Hydro, under the 2010 Clean Power Call.

While the final design is not completed, pending more permitting and licensing, Wheeler says they anticipate supplying power to McBride whenever BC Hydro can’t. The village does not use more than their 6MW operation would produce except during a few low-flow winter months, he says.

The rest of the power will simply go into the grid. Wheeler says the 6MW will top off the remaining space currently available for exporting power on the 85km distribution line that connects McBride to the transmission line near Valemount.

Wheeler says their project will improve both the power quality and its reliability in the area from the Holmes River to Lamming Mills, at the very least (about 10km on either side of McBride).

The industrious men are doing most of the groundwork and design themselves, each of them bringing different qualifications. Wheeler is doing much of the electric design; Caputo is also an electrical specialist as well as a general contractor, Edwards is looking after hydrology, field work, bush work, with experience as a logger and geologist.

“When we first formed the company, it was just a bunch of guys who were keen on doing something clean and green and we saw the government was encouraging this,” Wheeler says.

The men have done extensive studying of fish both above and below the proposed site, which is on a tributary they’ve dubbed Rosine Creek, after local logger Emile Rosine.

“We want to understand what fish are there, where they’ve living what their habitat is,” Wheeler says.

There is only one species of fish in the vicinity – Mountain White Fish – an isolated population largely above their proposed diversion.

“We strived from the very beginning to design this with the minimum impact,”

Wheeler says. “The whole point of this project is to provide clean energy – it’s not clean if you destroy habitat.”

They have also done further hydrology measurements to get an accurate measure of the natural flow. The season will run from roughly mid-April to mid-May to Sept/Oct with full power.

He says the intake system design will differentiate it from the average run-of-river project.

“A significant problem with putting an intake system on a stream is typically they hold back the sediment,” Wheeler says. Their design will mitigate this problem in a new way.

In terms of activity around the creek, Wheeler says at the very back end of valley there has been some mining and mineral operations; a few university studies on the glacier which feeds the headwaters of Rosine Creek; a local resident grazes his livestock in the adjoining valley and Carrier Lumber Ltd. has some tenure in the area.

Edwards and Wheeler say they haven’t heard vocal opposition to the project. They will be having an open house Thurs. July 12th at the McBride Legion at 7pm to share more details with the public and get their input.

“People don’t want disturbances to the streams they’ve enjoyed – we want to be able to explain that we care about those things too,” Wheeler says. “We want to explain the payoffs and balances – hopefully on balance, this is positive thing, but we’re not going to try and say there aren’t impacts.”

Edwards says while there are disruptions with any hydro project, and the ideal would be for everyone to use less electricity, the reality is run-of-river hydro is one of the cleanest options there is.

“You’re never unplugged as much as you’d like to be from Western civilization,” Edwards says.

In May, the provincial government announced it would provide the necessary upgrades to allow the construction of a transmission line from Valemount to McBride if local Independent Power Producers funded the line.

Three companies are currently in negotiations with BC Hydro to build the line, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but would allow the development of new industries and power suppliers in McBride.

Wheeler says while a transmission line isn’t necessary for their project, it could allow them to increase their project’s capacity to 8MW.

“We’re building to 8MW, but the agreement we have with BC Hydro is for 6MW – that’s the capacity of the line right now.”

As of October 1, 2011, BC Hydro had 70 Electricity Purchase Agreements (EPAs) with IPPs whose projects are currently delivering power to BC Hydro. These projects represent 12,599 gigawatt hours of annual supply and 3,209 megawatts of capacity.

Other operational IPPs in the Robson Valley include East Twin Creek, Ptarmigan Creek and Hauer (Tete) Creek, which each have a capacity of less than 4MW of power, and Hystad Creek (6MW).