Time is now ticking on a two-year clock FortisBC has been given to investigate the feasibility of a new hydroelectric dam that has already generated concern among some local politicians.
The company was recently issued an investigative permit for the project proposed for the Similkameen River near the Copper Mountain Mine site 15 kilometres south of Princeton, and is now ramping up public consultation efforts.
FortisBC representatives made a presentation to Keremeos village council last week and this week are scheduled to meet with the Similkameen Valley Planning Society, which is working on a regional watershed plan that would be impacted greatly by a new dam.
“I invited them just to make sure that right from the beginning we know where it’s at,” said Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer, who is also the chairman of the planning society.
“The presentation they delivered was fair and square, but how deep they’re going to go in regard to consultation… remains to be seen,” he said.
“Obviously we’re all skeptical when it comes to projects of that kind of dimension.”
Another local politician is anxious to find out how far downstream benefits from the dam might flow and how that could affect B.C. residents’ interests.
“I’m disappointed Fortis has not come forward with more information,” said Brad Hope, who represents rural Princeton on the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
So far, the company has revealed only what was in its application to the B.C. government for the investigative permit, which will allow it to do studies around the proposed dam site, particularly in the area upstream that would be flooded.
The dam itself is proposed to be up to 200 metres tall and 477 metres long, and create a 750-hectare reservoir behind it, according to the application, which notes the dam would generate between 45 and 65 megawatts of electricity. The B.C. government does not require proposed hydroelectric projects under 50 megawatts to go through a full environmental assessment.
FortisBC’s application also states the dam’s power output would supply the company’s service area, while the reservoir would provide “numerous downstream benefits” like flood mitigation and flow shaping in Canada and the U.S.
Hope wants more specific details.
“There may be some great flood-control benefits, electrical benefits and all of those things, (but) we don’t know that at this time,” he said.
“This is a major project and I don’t believe companies go into major projects without pretty good ideas of what the revenue stream will be and what the commitments will be, especially when some of those commitments may be south of the border.”
FortisBC spokeswoman Ruth Sulentich said the company intends to reach out in the weeks ahead to leaders in each of the communities that would be affected by the dam, and has already had discussions with local First Nations.
She cautioned that the company is still in the very early stages of exploring the feasibility of the project and extensive public consultation would be required before it received permission to move ahead.
FortisBC corporate services manager Bob Gibney told the RDOS board in February the company expects to decide by the end of the year if the project is viable, and noted it’s “extremely economically fragile at this point.”