To be sustainable, we must take responsibility for the environment

Innergex has made environmental sustainability the backbone of its development strategy.

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Harlequin duck at the Upper Lillooet Hydro Project in British Columbia.

 

For the people at Innergex, sustainability isn’t just about what the company does – producing electricity from renewable energy sources – but about how it does it. It’s about producing electricity to meet today’s needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. From an environmental perspective, developing sustainably means harnessing the water, wind or sun in a way that avoids, minimizes, mitigates or compensates for any impact on the surrounding ecosystem… and possibly leaves the planet better off in the end. Ultimately, it’s about acting responsibly.

For more than 20 years, Innergex has earned a reputation for upholding the highest environmental standards. It has continuously striven to improve its assessment, monitoring, commitment-tracking, compliance and reporting practices, and in so doing has developed innovative best practices that eventually make their way into new regulations. It has made environmental sustainability the backbone of its development strategy, in the same way as it has made social acceptability the cornerstone.

In an industry that has some of the most stringent environmental regulations, it is difficult to go beyond the call of duty. Innergex remains keenly aware that its reputation depends in part on having well-designed and well-operated facilities, so compliance is a key focus of its environmental practices.

However, the company sets itself apart by integrating environmental considerations into the earliest stages of the development process. Engineering and environmental objectives are simultaneously integrated into the design of new projects in order to protect environmental values such as wildlife and wildlife habitat, fish and fish habitat, erosion protection, vegetation, as well as heritage (including archaeological and traditional use), health and social-value components. So when the project development team estimates the permitting and construction schedules, models long-term average electricity production levels, or calculates a budget, environmental factors are always part of the process. In turn, this has enabled the company to strike a balance between engineering functionality, economic returns, social acceptability and environmental considerations, from project design onwards.

Innergex’s achievements on the environmental front are the work of a team of dedicated environmental experts consisting of biologists, environmental engineers and specialists in key areas such as habitat reconstruction and environmental permitting and monitoring: people who care about doing things right. “These people decide to work at Innergex because they genuinely care for the environment, and they firmly believe that renewable energy is the best way forward for our planet. Honouring the environment is integral to us, and we are fortunate to have a knowledgeable and committed team through which Innergex maintains the highest environmental standards year after year”, says Matt Kennedy, Vice-President – Environment, Western Region.

Innergex contributes to studies on British Columbia’s iconic grizzly bears

Grizzly bears evoke images of powerful, resilient animals. In reality, they are a species in need of protection. In September 2013, Innergex and its partner contributed $300,000 to the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to carry out a five-year study of the grizzly population in the Upper Lillooet drainage, where the company’s Upper Lillooet Hydro Project is under construction. As part of this project’s Environmental Assessment Certificate requirements, Innergex signed an agreement to contribute to the provincially led regional grizzly bear program, which is developing and implementing a grizzly bear inventory and a monitoring and evaluation program to understand what impact pending development will have on the grizzly bear population. Innergex’s contribution will go towards collaring and monitoring four female grizzly bears and collecting hair-snag DNA samples.

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Innergex’s support for BC’s grizzly bears extends beyond its financial contribution. Effectively managing human activities in an effort to preserve as much grizzly habitat as possible is essential to protecting the species. During the construction phase of the Upper Lillooet Hydro Project, the company will implement extensive measures to minimize any potential impact on grizzly bears and their habitat, including foraging sites and salmon spawning streams. In addition, a Human-Wildlife Interaction Management Plan and a Human-Bear Conflict Management Plan will be implemented to maximize the safety of grizzlies – and humans – during construction and operation of the facilities.

Fish habitat compensation areas

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Every once in a while, it is possible to do more than what environmental regulations prescribe, and Innergex’s fish habitat compensation areas are a case in point. At the six Harrison Lake facilities in British Columbia, for example, most of the project’s fish and fish habitat impact pertained to rainbow trout, a common species. However, the two fish habitat compensation areas were designed to also provide spawning and rearing habitat for ocean-going salmon, which are considered a higher-value species. Today, these areas are actively used not only by rainbow trout, but by spawning salmon returning every year to lay their eggs.

Mitigation measures

The environmental team works with the contractor to ensure that the project construction schedule allows for the timing restrictions and mitigation measures associated with the various valued environmental components such as fish and wildlife migration, spawning, breeding, and rearing seasons, to avoid disturbance to key species.

Environmental permitting process

The environmental permitting process for the Upper Lillooet Hydro Project (comprising the Upper Lillooet River, Boulder Creek and North Creek run-of river hydroelectric facilities) took four years and represented approximately 7,500 pages of independent studies, consultations and reports, and thousands of hours of fieldwork.