July 11, 2003 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - Divide and Conquer 

Private energy companies given free reign to run our rivers for "green" hydro generation

"Snow is our life blood here."

Whistler-Blackcomb’s Arthur DeJong summarises Whistler’s key symbiotic relationship. Without the snow, business dries up, nest-egg properties crack apart, the people don’t come.

DeJong might be Whistler-Blackcomb’s greenest suit. I’m talking to him about the glaciers and he’s boiling it down to the bare bones:

"Glaciers are Nature’s best indicator of global warming. And the big picture issue is global warming."

One major project in deJong’s in-tray is the development of an independent power source for the highly energy consumptive mountain operation.

"If we are committed – and we are – to being sustainable, we must tackle the energy crisis first," said DeJong.

Falling into place as Whistler-Blackcomb’s allies in the war on global warming are Whistler’s hardest working river, the Fitzsimmons, a deregulating hydro industry, and a strategic partnership with Ledcor, the second biggest construction company in Canada.

Ledcor Power Inc. is also the proponent behind the Ashlu and Sigurd Creek run-of-the-river projects north of Squamish, which will generate a combined total of 220 gigawatt hours of electricity – enough to energize 25,000 homes.

You don’t post annual revenues in excess of $1 billion, as Ledcor did in 1999, without having your finger on the pulse. And run-of-the-river hydro is where it’s at.

The Coast Mountains region between North Vancouver and Lillooet is dotted with mountain-fed rivers that have gained the attention of independent power developers, eager to capitalize on B.C. Hydro’s green power production targets.

As DeJong says, "Hydrology is nature’s gift to us here."

The B.C. government has set a target to generate 50 per cent of all new power using clean energy sources. Seventy-six local rivers and creeks have water diversion proposals in the works.

Run-of-the-river hydro utilizes the downhill incline and velocity of a river to generate energy. Water is diverted through a pipe into a powerhouse turbine system at a high speed, then redirected back into the river anywhere between one and ten kilometers downstream.

The Liberals’ energy policy courted controversy when it contracted out B.C. Hydro’s non-core services to Bermuda-based Accenture. But B.C. Hydro’s New Era make-over doesn’t stop there.

According to the Ministry of Energy, B.C. Hydro’s "new generation activities will be limited to facilitate new opportunities for independent power producers to meet growing demand in both domestic and export markets." Deflecting the capital costs of power generation to the private sector is a global trend that the World Bank has been supporting in Africa, Eastern Europe, Central and South America and Asia.

The next phase of deregulation came on May 29, with the creation of the B.C. Transmission Corporation, a government owned agency that will operate and manage B.C. Hydro’s transmission assets. Access to the transmission grid will allow independent power producers to link directly to B.C. customers and the massive U.S. export market.

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