BC Hydro begins environmental assessment

The $1.35 billion project to upgrade the Campbell River system still needs final approval

As BC Hydro awaits final approval for its $1.35 billion upgrade of the John Hart power system, it is moving ahead with the environmental assessment of the project.

For the last few years BC Hydro has been planning to rebuild the John Hart Generating Station on the Campbell River and to replace the woodstave penstocks (which deliver water to the turbines from John Hart Lake) with an underground tunnel.

The project still needs the okay from the BC Utilities Commission before it can proceed, but this week BC Hydro filed its Environmental Assessment Report with Fisheries and Oceans Canada under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

This assessment report takes into account the reviews of previous studies and existing conditions studies that were undertaken on archaeology, heritage, socio-economics, recreation, fish, wildlife, vegetation, water quality and soil contamination.

The project description was enough to allow Fisheries to trigger the environmental assessment. Fisheries determined that a “screening level” review would be required, the lowest level of an environmental review.

Hydro’s goal in developing the environmental assessment report was to look at the potential project bio-physical and associated socio-economic impacts.

BC Hydro determined through this assessment that the project is not expected to cause any significant adverse biophysical effects or socio-economic project related effects, and will have long-term environmental benefits.

Two significant benefits include:

  • Should the generating station be forced out of service, the new water bypass facility will allow for continued river flows for fish and fish habitat.
  • The three woodstave pipelines, at 3.66 metres in diameter, over a distance of 1.8 kilometres, will be removed to reduce BC Hydro’s environmental footprint.

BC Hydro has been engaging First Nations, government agencies and stakeholders on the proposed project for more than four years and has listened to concerns and opportunities. Last month, BC Hydro’s Board of Directors selected the replacement alternative and approved to proceeding with regulatory and procurement processes by spring 2012.

Hydro’s goal is to complete the regulatory processes and award the procurement contract by summer 2013, and then commence construction. The project is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2018.

The Environmental Assessment Report can be viewed at the Campbell River Library. The report will be at the library by the end of this week. Electronic copies  may be obtained by Liaison Committee members by sending a note to steve.watson@bchydro.com. Shortly, BC Hydro will provide the date for the environmental assessment workshop in Campbell River.

Project Background

The 126 MW John Hart facility has been operating since 1947. There are three drivers for undertaking the project:

  • Safety – Seismic risk to the pipelines and generating station;
  • Reliability – The current six 21-megawatts units are in poor condition.
  • Environment – When the generating station is partially or completely forced out of service, the river flows are reduced and this could impact fish habitat or cause stranding.
  • BC Hydro is proposing to replace the three 1.8-kilometre long pipelines with a 2.1-kilometre tunnel, and construct a replacement generating station beside the existing station, a replacement water intake at the John Hart Spillway Dam, and a new water bypass facility.