Acting responsibly through compliance, measurement, and continuous improvement

As a responsible renewable-energy developer and operator, Innergex devotes considerable resources to meeting stringent environmental obligations – Focus on its environmental activities in the British Columbia hydroelectric sector.

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Voir la légende
Picture of the penstock at the Tipella Creek run-of-river hydroelectric facility after site restoration. Successful revegetation helps to reduce the site’s visual footprint.

 

British Columbia has been called the greenest province in Canada – a claim that is backed by some of the most comprehensive and stringent environmental regulations in the country. As the largest independent renewable energy developer and operator in the province, with 11 run-of-river hydroelectric facilities in operation and six hydroelectric projects under development, Innergex takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously.

Water flow monitoring activities

In 2012, the operations team in British Columbia began the implementation of systems to further improve monitoring of the behaviour of the company’s hydroelectric facilities in British Columbia. The objectives were clear: to better track the company’s license obligations and commitments, better monitor the facilities’ effect on the environment, reduce the number of incidents, and perhaps most importantly, proactively respond to incidents as they occur.

While modern hydroelectric stations do monitor plant and river flow in real time, these new systems now allow each facility to monitor water levels in the river in real time, 24/7, and in certain circumstances, to respond in a corrective manner. This helps to ensure that the company’s regulatory and contractual commitments are met, particularly those concerning the instream flow, which is the minimum amount of water that must remain in the river at all times. In addition, operators have received additional incident response training, and incident reporting mechanisms have been improved.

All incidents, no matter how small, are reported to the federal and provincial government authorities within 24 hours, and followed up with a more detailed report. Most incidents are not material and have no ecological impact. Nevertheless, each incident triggers an internal review to investigate the reasons for the incident and measures are implemented to avoid repetition. “Respect for the environment is part of our culture; when there is an incident, we investigate immediately and take remedial action when necessary” states Matt Kennedy, Vice President, Environment – Western Region.

Ongoing monitoring programs

Recent and more stringent environmental regulations in British Columbia require a comprehensive, multidisciplinary five-year monitoring program – of everything from fish, water (chemistry and temperature), insects, and wildlife, to vegetation – to be initiated immediately upon the start of a facility’s commercial operation.

Such a program serves to confirm the predictions made in the Environmental Impact Assessment for each project as part of the environmental assessment application process.

All of Innergex’s British Columbia hydroelectric facilities built within the last five years have this type of comprehensive monitoring program underway, and all facilities (including Brown Lake, which has been in operation for many years and has graduated past the biological monitoring stage) are monitored for their specific compliance requirements. The company has also developed an internal compliance and mitigation policy for all of its facilities in British Columbia, which is now being implemented.

In the process of conducting these comprehensive monitoring programs, Innergex is funding detailed field-based studies and collecting invaluable data. While the company is in the middle stages of monitoring activities for the majority of its British Columbia facilities, results so far are proving encouraging.

Responsible management of ramping issues

Ramping1 issues are relatively rare, and occur mainly during the early phase of commissioning of new hydroelectric facilities. Innergex has learned from experience that fish habitat at some of its sites is more sensitive to changes in water flow, and this informs how quickly the facility can be started up and shut down. In response, the company has developed site-specific procedures for how to manage changes in water levels to protect the ecology of the rivers on which its facilities are located. This has been an area of significant focus over the past few years and is one of continuous improvement.

Despite these efforts, ramping incidents unfortunately do occur from time to time, and in rare instances can cause fish to be stranded. To date, Innergex’s hydro facilities in British Columbia2 have experienced a combined total of four fish-stranding incidents in which a total of 165 fish fry were found dead. These incidents occurred mainly during the early stages of commissioning. Innergex takes these incidents very seriously, responding immediately to isolate the cause and working to ensure it is not repeated. The company has incurred no fish stranding incidents at any of its facilities in British Columbia since April 2011.


1 Ramping is defined as the rate of change in water flows in a stream. It occurs due to changes in the demand for water flow passing through the turbines, as a result of turbine start-up or shut-down.

2 Facilities that were acquired are taken into account as of the date of their acquisition.

Site restoration measures

Once construction of a project is completed, environmental regulations stipulate that the area around the project must be restored, which means that any impact caused by the project must be rehabilitated or compensated, so that it is in equal or better condition than prior to construction. This entails a variety of measures including land contouring, stabilization, and revegetation. Particular care and consideration are taken to select approved plant species that will provide insects and animals with the same food sources as prior to construction, especially very valuable riparian vegetation1. Afterwards, during each year of the initial five-year monitoring program, independent specialists conduct annual surveys to track the results of the rehabilitation and compensation measures.


1 Plant life and the ecosystem that exist between the land and the water along a waterway.

Fish habitat compensation

Fish habitat protection and compensation measures are prescribed under the federal Fisheries Act. Concurrent with the construction of several of its hydroelectric projects, Innergex has built a number of fish habitat areas in British Columbia, ranging in size from nearly 4,000 m2 to over 50,000 m2. Adult, ocean-going salmon migrate and spawn in several of these constructed freshwater habitats each fall; and many thousands of young salmon are produced annually, that return to the ocean to continue their life cycle. What’s more, these compensation areas will be maintained throughout the operating life of the hydroelectric facilities.

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