Whistler project an example of B.C.'s clean energy potential


Posted by Michelle Martin

The Peak 2 Peak Gondola that connects Whistler and Blackcomb mountains is known for its pristine views of B.C.'s rugged backcountry. Since January, however, there has been one more site of interest that blends into the landscape from the gondola's birds-eye vantage point: the intake for an operational, run-of-river facility delivering clean power to British Columbians.

The 7.9-megawatt Fitzsimmons Creek Project is among a growing list of small-scale power projects producing clean power in the province. Last month, project partners were invited out to Fitzsimmons for a grand opening celebration and tour, and that's when I got a firsthand look at the project.

A matter of local pride

Fitzsimmons could be described as "typical" among projects that have attained energy purchase agreements through BC Hydro's Standing Offer Program, except that most similar projects are located in more remote places. What makes the project stand out, ironically, is the way it blends into what is an active, multi-use recreational area.

Locals don't mind giving it the spotlight, in part because it's a feel-good, innovative project. Whistler Blackcomb Resort supported the project from the get-go, seeing it as emblematic of its commitment to environmental stewardship. And two local First Nations – the Lil'wat and Squamish Nations – signed participation agreements as far back as 2003.

Today, even a local zip line company makes a point of talking about the facility on its aerial tour of the valley.

They all have a positive story to tell: The small, non-intrusive power plant produces 32 gigawatt hours of electricity annually, enough to power approximately 3,200 homes each year and, coincidently, about the same amount of electricity the resort consumes in its mountain operations each year.

It's no wonder, then, that Arthur DeJong, Mountain Planning and Environmental Resource Manager for Whistler Blackcomb, calls it, "a greater good project in terms of mitigating climate change."

Two-thirds of Fitzsimmons is owned by the Quebec-based energy developer Innergex Renewable Energy Corporation, and the remainder is owned by Ledcor Power Group Ltd. It is only one of 17 facilities in Innergex's portfolio, which in B.C. includes two operational 50-megawatt facilities in Pemberton and Squamish. In addition, four others in B.C. are either under construction or have received an electricity purchase agreement.

Why BC Hydro is connected so intimately with the project is all to do with the Standing Offer Program. This program was introduced by the 2007 Energy Plan to encourage the development of small, clean energy projects that have a capacity no greater than 10 megawatts. Under this program, BC Hydro has signed six electricity purchase agreements.

As it breaks down, five of the Standing Offer Program projects are small hydro and one is biogas; three are on Vancouver Island and three are in the Lower Mainland; and four of the six are in service. The current program is under review and it is anticipated that the updated program will be launched in the fall.

With the Province's commitment to acquiring more clean power in B.C., it's safe to say that as Peak 2 Peak riders gaze down at Fitzsimmons they are seeing much more than a small power project – they are getting a glimpse of B.C.'s clean energy future.

Michelle Martin works with BC Hydro's Employee Communications team.