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Fitzsimmons IPP meeting expectations

Officials provide no numbers but say project is producing expected power

A run-of-river power project on Fitzsimmons Creek is meeting its targets for power production, according to the people who run it.

The 7.5 MW facility, located on the creek that separates Whistler Village from the Upper Village, was officially opened on Aug. 26 but it actually started generating power in January.

Shut down during the Olympic Winter Games in February, the project is otherwise "meeting expectations" according to Natalie Closs, a project manager with Innergex. Innergex and Ledcor CMI developed the project whose powerhouse is located downhill from the Whistler Sliding Centre, near Blackcomb staff housing.

"I would say it's probably meeting expectations," she said. "The project's doing pretty well, we've been operating at full capacity, pretty much since early June now. It was a late freshet (thaw resulting from snow and ice melt) but a long freshet."

The project, which produces no net emissions after construction, has a footprint that stretches approximately three kilometres.

It starts a ways up Blackcomb Mountain, where there's a coanda screen that marks the highest end of the project. The water pours down the face of the screen and into a 3.5 kilometre-long penstock that travels underground, beneath the Whistler Sliding Centre and into the powerhouse near staff housing.

At the top of the project, the penstock is made of high-density polyethylene, a kind of plastic, before turning into a thick steel pipe that carries the water into the powerhouse, which is located directly beneath a line belonging to Ziptrek Ecotours.

Once inside the powerhouse, the water powers a turbine that produces electricity to a capacity of 7.5 MW at a time. From there the electricity travels through an underground transmission line to the Rainbow subsubstation, where it meets with the Western Interconnection, a grid that extends from B.C. all the way to Alberta and south through the United States to Baja California.

The project has been advertised as providing 33.5 GWh of power a year, the equivalent of powering Whistler Blackcomb's winter and summer operations.

There is, however, no guarantee that the power produced at Fitzsimmons Creek will actually be used to power the mountains' operations. Electricity travels as electrons, and there's no scientific way to tag or colour an electron to determine precisely where it's going, according to Closs.

"The power goes on to the grid," she said. "It's sold directly to BC Hydro and Whistler Blackcomb buys their power from BC Hydro."