Miller Creek may supply B.C. Hydro
February public hearing rescheduled
By Paul Andrew
A negative message to B.C. power consumers last month regarding B.C. Hydro’s multi-billion dollar debt is a positive sign for the proposed Miller Creek Power project north of Pemberton.
Although company president David Andrews was told months ago that B.C. Hydro did not need any power generated from his proposed 10 megawatt, run-of-river power project in the Miller Creek watershed, recent suggestions that Hydro may not be able to meet B.C.’s future power demands have changed the scenario for selling the power to consumers within B.C. — something Hydro said last year would not happen unless an emergency occurred in the area.
Contacted by Pique last month, Andrews said there have been a few developments regarding the hydroelectric project since a rezoning application for the project received first and second reading from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District Oct. 25.
"We’re optimistic now that all the respective government agencies have signed off on the project, that we’ll have a buyer within the next two months," Andrews said. "By signing off, that means all the environmental aspects of the project have been checked and approved. The only thing we’re waiting for now is our provincial water license. Which will come with conditions, of course. Because every time you use water from a constant source, even if you put the water back where you got it, you have to have a license."
A public hearing on the project was scheduled for Feb. 7 at the SLRD office in Pemberton. Andrews said the meeting was re-scheduled because the SLRD wants to confirm that Miller Creek Power Ltd. is in a position to pay out $175,000 in capital contributions, which will be channelled toward a new recreation centre for the Village of Pemberton.
If the independent power facility proposal is ultimately approved, it will generate enough power to light up 10,000 homes, and act as an emergency power station for Pemberton. Andrews has already invested more than $1 million in the project during the last 10 years, and continues to work full-time on the project, even though it remains at the proposal stage.
"The (date of the public) meeting is a question mark right now because the SLRD want to secure the commitment of the annual $40,000 payment to the community," Andrews explained. "And they’ve asked us to increase the one time capital contribution to $175,000, from the original commitment of $150,000."
Steve Olmstead, manager of planning and development for the SLRD, said the public hearing for the Miller Creek project was re-scheduled to sometime in March because legally binding contracts have to be obtained for Miller Creek’s capital contributions and its promise to route its power lines under the village of Pemberton.
"The public has turned on this project before now," Olmstead said. "We want to make sure everything is ready before we go to a public hearing."
Andrews said he’s "optimistic that we’ll be in a position to secure a buyer within the next two months. I hope it might be Hydro. They will probably be short on power in the next while. They recently sent a letter to the B.C. Utilities Commission that said if they have a normal rain year, then they’ll be short on power. They won’t if it rains more than normal."
At the moment, the B.C. government does not allow any new independent power facilities to sell power within B.C.’s boarders. Instead, it goes into power supply pools in Washington and Alberta, via B.C. Hydro’s power grid. The Soo Valley power plant is the exception to the rule, and has been supplying power to B.C. Hydro since 1994.
But since the SLRD’s initial rejection of Miller Creek Power’s application to re-zone land for the proposed site, significant changes have occurred that lead Andrews to believe the power project will be built, and the power generated from it will stay right here in B.C.
At one time early in the application process last summer, dozens of residents and all of the Pemberton council, including the mayor, were opposed to the project. Now the community of Pemberton appears to be in favour of the project. And Hydro is looking for "green" power projects that will have little or no impact on areas. As well, because of Hydro’s $8 billion debt, the Crown corporation must look to less expensive ways to generate power, rather than importing it from elsewhere in Canada or increasing its rates.
If all goes well for Andrews and Miller Creek Power Ltd., he may be building on the site of the project as early as this spring. The project’s life expectancy is about 40 years, and promises to generate almost $2 million in taxes for the Pemberton Valley — in addition to the capital contributions toward the new recreation centre in the village.