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Fortis Inc. eyes huge hydro dam project on Similkameen River
The company that owns FortisBC is moving ahead with a project that could see a massive $350-$400 million hydroelectric dam built on the Similkameen River near Princeton – a project that would dramatically alter the amount of water flowing into Osoyoos Lake.
Bob Gibney, senior manager of corporate services and aboriginal affairs for FortisBC, made a presentation to Town of Osoyoos council Tuesday explaining how the proposed hydroelectric dam project by Fortis Inc. could potentially provide power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses in the South Okanagan and potentially across the border in the United States.
Gibney made it very clear there are many hurdles to clear before this project ever becomes reality, including a huge environmental assessment component and receiving the co-operation and approval of 10 First Nation bands in the region.
“All we have at this point in time is an idea,” said Gibney.
Fortis Inc. is the Canadian company which has its head office in St. John’s, Nfld. Fortis Inc. is the parent company of Fortis Generation and FortisBC, the gas and electric company that provides power to tens of thousands of customers in British Columbia, including many in Osoyoos and across the South Okanagan.
This entire project, if it ever becomes reality, would be funded by Fortis Inc. and would not impact FortisBC gas or electric customers in any way, said Gibney.
“Gas or electric customers with FortisBC do not pay for Fortis Inc. or generation projects and rates are not impacted,” he said.
Fortis Inc. has expertise in owning and operating generation facilities throughout Canada, the United States and the Caribbean, he said.
The proposed dam would be located 15 kilometres south of Princeton and Highway 3 going through Hope, he said.
The dam would be 165 metres high (541 feet) and 500 metres (1,640 feet) wide, with a reservoir of 20 kilometres and would create 154,000 acre-ft. of annual storage, he said.
The dam would be built using rolled compacted concrete with an ungated spillway for flood control and produce 45 to 65 megawatts of hydroelectric capability and 205-220 gigawatt hours of average annual energy.
Under a “best case scenario” where all environmental, governmental and First Nation concerns were agreed upon and approved, construction could start in the summer of 2018 with the proposed in-service date being late summer 2020, said Gibney.
“This is a huge project … and this is a huge dam we’re talking about,” he said.
Project benefits would be water shaping to improve water availability to downstream users, flood risk reduction on Osoyoos Lake, less flow variety that would provide a reliable water source to the region during summer months, potential water quality improvements and renewable hydro generation, he said.
First Nation engagement with the Osoyoos Indian Band, Penticton Indian Band, Lower and Upper Similkameen Indian Bands and several others has been initiated and is ongoing, he said.
A complete pre-feasibility study has been completed and environmental assessment and permit initiation process is also complete, said Gibney.
Complete conceptual engineering should be completed in the next couple of months and Fortis Inc. management is expected to make a final investment decision by late next year, he said.
If an environmental certificate and First Nations approval is granted, design and pre-construction could be finished by the end of 2017 with construction commencing in the spring or summer of 2018, he said.
The environmental assessment phase will take at least 2.5 years and Fortis Inc. has committed to being “completely open and transparent” about its plans for this project throughout, said Gibney.
“Those who are in favour and those who are opposed to the project will be given ample opportunity to let their opinions known,” he said.
He has already made numerous presentations about the proposal to municipal councils across the region and he and several top brass from Fortis will be making an appearance before the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen board on Thursday.
If this project proceeds, energy would be “sold on the open market” in Canada and the United States as the company would have to get a return on its huge investment, said Gibney.
“We will charge what the market will bear,” he said.
There is an abundance of large-scale energy generation projects taking place across B.C. at the moment and Fortis management must decide if there will be a market for the huge amount of power that would be developed from this hydroelectric project in the future, said Gibney.
Because of the scope and magnitude of this project, Fortis could well develop this dam project in phases as it’s not unusual for projects this size to take years to complete from the beginning of construction until actual operation, he said.
“Any significant cost escalation could put the project on hold for some time,” he said.
Mayor Stu Wells said the size and scope of this project is impressive and he hopes Fortis management will continue to keep council informed about this project moving forward.
Gibney said that would not be a problem as Fortis has agreed to keep all local leaders and local residents apprised of its plans relating to this project moving forward.