Inspired by his vision of a better future and a strong desire to do something different, in the late 1980s, Chief James Frank led the Kanaka Bar Indian Band in applying for a water license when he noticed the permit rush for water licenses to develop run-of-river hydro projects following the announcement of BC Hydro’s independent power production policy. For Chief Frank, “the power of Kwoiek Creek has always been known to Kanaka. The clean energy industry represents an opportunity to exercise Nlaka’pamux rights and title in a modern way.”
“[IPPs are] a prime industry for First Nations across the province – who are largely remote, who are largely away from the urban centres and are looking for ways to employ people and to generate revenue that’s going to help provide support for their communities.”
Adam Olsen, native leader and Interim Leader of the BC Green Party
The band started gathering baseline data on land use and water flows. It engaged with the federal and provincial governments through the project review and permitting process. It tried – unsuccessfully – to partner with three different companies to develop this project. At last, in 2005, it entered into a 50/50 joint venture with Innergex that would provide the expertise and capital required to realize the project while ensuring band participation in all design, planning and construction decisions.
The two partners submitted the project under BC Hydro’s 2006 Call for Tenders for clean energy and obtained a 40-year power purchase agreement, giving the green light for the project to move forward. It took three years to complete the environmental assessment certification process and another two years to consult with more than 16 neighbouring First Nations communities, many of whom would have to agree to let the project’s transmission line cross their territory.
Construction finally began in the spring of 2011. Local job creation was a priority for the community, and during construction more than 40% of workers at the site were Kanaka Bar members, twice the average for similar construction projects in the province. A cable crane was built as a shortcut over the Fraser River to accelerate the transportation of materials and equipment. A seven-kilometer penstock to carry the water from the intake to the powerhouse was installed underground. Degraded access roads and forestry bridges were repaired and will be maintained to industry standards hereafter. And a kilometer-long fish habitat compensation channel was created, featuring several diversions, ponds and small lakes. In November 2013, more than 20 years after Chief Frank’s idea first took shape, the plant began producing its first megawatts of electricity.
The Kanaka Bar members are very proud of their accomplishment. “Our communities’ participation in the clean energy sector has provided Kanaka Bar, all our local area residents and all of British Columbia with generational assets and long-term benefits,” says Patrick Michell, Kanaka Bar Community Liaison. “For a small community like Kanaka Bar, the idea of creating ‘showcases’ and setting standards was certainly not on our minds back in 1990. Today, though, if we are in a position to demonstrate what collaboration can accomplish, that’s what Kanaka will do,” he adds.
“A successful project requires a relationship based on trust. It is hard to establish and easy to lose, and it needs continual effort, by everyone, throughout the project’s lifetime.”
Patrick Michell, Kanaka Bar Community Liaison
In fact, the success of Kwoiek Creek has encouraged the band to identify several other renewable energy projects it intends to develop in the future. “But for now,” Patrick Michell says, “the economic trickle-down effect plus all the smiles on people’s faces and the improvement in community pride, self-worth and self-confidence is all that matters.”