Respect for the natural environment

We appreciate that while abundant, the three elements that drive our success – sun, wind, and water – must be harnessed in a way that mitigates or compensates for the impacts on the surrounding area. Respecting the environment is a responsibility that we take very seriously and, as a result, we have made environmental sustainability a key part of our development strategy.

Although we have earned a reputation for upholding strict environmental standards, we continuously strive to improve our assessment, monitoring, commitment-tracking, and compliance practices. Our dedicated and passionate group of experts has been and continues to be driven by the belief that what we do matters as much as how we do it.

Every prospective wind, solar, and hydro development project has a list of environmental considerations to follow, including the initial assessment, compliance with stringent provincial and sometimes federal environmental regulations, and long-term monitoring programs. Environmental assessments require comprehensive studies to be carried out by independent qualified professionals. They also involve years of consultations with regulatory agencies, First Nations, stakeholders, and the public.

Environmental assessment process

Every prospective renewable energy project that Innergex considers undergoes an internal environmental review to assess the potential environmental effects and, in many cases, the cumulative effects. Once a decision is made to develop a project, it undergoes a much more rigorous and formal process of environmental assessment required by local and provincial government regulatory agencies and, in some cases, by federal agencies and departments such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada. An environmental assessment is an evaluation of the possible impacts that a proposed project may have on the existing natural environment and nearby human communities, and includes environmental, economic, social, health, historical/archaeological, and engineering considerations. This evaluation requires comprehensive studies completed by independent qualified professionals and involves several years of consultation with regulatory agencies, First Nations, stakeholders, and the public. Once this evaluation has been completed, and if the project is deemed to have an acceptable level of environmental impact, the appropriate provincial and federal regulatory authorities award the necessary permits and approvals – prerequisites for starting construction on the project. Each permit or approval typically outlines a series of conditions which must be fulfilled throughout the construction and operation of the project.

Environmental sustainability from the start

By integrating environmental considerations at the earliest stages of a project’s development, we are able to pay strict attention to environmental requirements. During the design and site selection phases of any new project, we strive to avoid, minimize, mitigate, or compensate for potential environmental impacts on the surrounding ecosystems, and this extends to the potential impacts on nearby communities. Engineering and environmental objectives are simultaneously addressed in the design of new projects in order to protect valued components, such as wildlife and wildlife habitat, fish and fish habitat, erosion protection, and vegetation, as well as heritage (including archaeological and traditional use), health and social-value components. Environmental factors are part of the process of permitting and construction scheduling, modelling of long-term average electricity production levels, and budgeting.

Our goal has always been to achieve a balance between engineering functionality, economic return, social acceptability, and environmental concerns from project design through operation.


Avoid, minimize, mitigate, or compensate

Fish Habitat Enhancement

In Canada, the Fisheries Act requires that hydroelectric projects avoid causing serious harm to fish and fish habitat. If a project is predicted to result in a loss of fish habitat, we build new fish habitat enhancement areas to offset the loss. In British Columbia, we have constructed six habitat areas totalling more than 75,000 m2 and we expect to complete three more totalling 10,000 m2 in 2015. At some of these sites, adult Pacific salmon migrate inland each fall from the Pacific Ocean to spawn. The thousands of young salmon produced annually go back to the ocean each spring, and then return again as adults, thus completing their life cycle. In 2014, independent monitoring studies at the Kwoiek Creek facility found that the new 1km long fish habitat compensation channel supported spawning and rearing of rainbow trout mere weeks after the channel was accessible to fish in the spring. By the fall, the density of fish in the channel was already similar to the adjacent natural section of Kwoiek Creek. This is great news and a very positive sign for upcoming spawning seasons. These habitat enhancement areas will continue to operate throughout the multi-decade operating life of our hydroelectric facilities.

Grizzly bears

Grizzly bears are an iconic species, particularly in British Columbia. At our hydroelectric project sites, we work to effectively manage human activities in an effort to respect the species and its habitat. During the construction phase of the Upper Lillooet Hydro Project, for instance, Innergex is implementing extensive measures to minimize potential impacts 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 have been implemented to maximize the safety of grizzlies – and humans – during construction and operation of the project.

In September 2013, Innergex contributed $300,000 to the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to carry out a five-year study into the grizzly bear population present in the Upper Lillooet River drainage area, where Innergex’s Upper Lillooet Hydro Project is located. As part of the project’s Environmental Assessment Certificate requirements, the provincially led regional research program will conduct a grizzly bear inventory and a monitoring and evaluation program to understand the impacts of development on the grizzly bear population. Innergex’s contribution will be used for collaring and monitoring of female grizzly bears and collection of hair-snag/DNA samples.

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Innergex is implementing extensive measures to minimize potential impacts on grizzly bears and their habitat.


Ashlu Creek: Positive Results for Fish Populations

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Our monitoring program at the Ashlu Creek hydroelectric facility yielded positive results for fish populations.

When we began construction of the Ashlu Creek facility in British Columbia in 2006, our Fisheries Act Authorization required us to design and construct 5,000 m2 of new fish habitat to protect the great variety of fish that inhabit the creek. But given the amount and availability of surrounding land near the project area, we saw an opportunity to contribute even more. All told, we built 52,605 m2 of new fish habitat, roughly 10 times more than the requirement. The five-year (2010-2015) monitoring program conducted by independent consultant Ecofish Research found very positive results: there is no evidence of negative environmental effects from either the construction or the operation of the Ashlu Creek facility. This is a significant achievement, as the project was developed during a time of concern that run-of-river hydro projects would have a negative impact on fish. We are pleased that the evidence of our monitoring program tells a different story.

Here are a few of the conclusions taken from the summary report:
• There has been no adverse effect on the fish community in the 4 km section of the creek temporarily diverted to generate renewable hydroelectricity.
• The total biomass density (total fish weight by area of stream) of rainbow trout in the diversion reach was 29% higher than in the upstream reach.
• Monitoring of water temperature, water quality, and revegetation did not identify any adverse effects.
• A diverse community of wildlife continues to inhabit the project area, including beavers, bobcats, cougars, coyotes, elk, grizzly bears, and grey wolves.
• There is no indication of a drop in the number of Pacific salmon using the Ashlu Creek diversion reach for spawning.
• The new fish habitat area we built produces an estimated 175,000 coho salmon fry every year, a very large number that does not include pink salmon, large numbers of which also spawn in the fish habitat area.

Similar positive fish and wildlife monitoring results have also been observed at many of our other British Columbia hydro facilities in operation. Not only is this very encouraging, it is also helping to change the understanding of the environmental impacts of run-of-river hydro on fish populations.

Monitoring and compliance

Keeping our environmental commitments means comprehensive monitoring and reporting, both internally and by independent consultants, to ensure that any effects of our operating facilities are in line with the predictions agreed to during the environmental assessment for each project. By tracking and measuring our performance, we are able to refine our approach and develop best practices in our industry. Independent specialists monitor construction activities associated with our projects, as well as the predicted effects and the rehabilitation and compensation measures once a facility has begun operation.

We understand that our reputation depends in part on having well-designed and well-operated renewable energy facilities, and so compliance is a key focus of our environmental practices. We strive to remain in compliance at all times with applicable environmental regulations and operating permit and license requirements. Compliance incidents may occur periodically at any of our facilities; each compliance incident is addressed immediately upon detection. We have had very few such incidents. We are proud of our compliance track record, and we fully intend to continue our efforts to maintain it.

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Ecofish Research crew members conducting a mountain whitefish survey as part of the Environmental Assessment for the Upper Lillooet Hydro Project in British Columbia.


ECOLOGO® certification

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We have applied for and received ECOLOGO® Certification for Renewable Low-Impact Electricity Products for 16 of Innergex’s 31 hydroelectric facilities. This certification attests to each project’s reduced environmental impact and potential benefits, including low net greenhouse gas emissions, limited depletion of non-renewable resources, reduced emissions of other pollutants and reduced impacts on aquatic, riparian and terrestrial ecosystems and species. Our 211.5 MW Gros-Morne wind farm in Quebec has also received ECOLOGO® certification.