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Powell River Energy Inc. applies to export power to the United States

Company seeks foreign energy sales after indefinite curtailment of Catalyst Paper Tis’kwat mill
ELECTRICAL POWER: Powell River Energy Inc. has made an application to the Canada Energy Regulator to sell energy from its dams adjacent to Catalyst Paper Tis’kwat mill and on Lois Lake to the United States for a period of 10 years.

Powell River Energy Inc. (PREI) has applied to the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) for authorization to export up to one million megawatt hours of energy annually for a period of 10 years to the United States.

“Evolugen has a long history of operations in Powell River and is committed to maintaining them going forward,” said Chris Roddan, Evolugen manager, compliance and licensing.

Powell River Energy is owned by Evolugen, by Brookfield Renewable, which, according to the Evolugen website, operates 61 renewable power facilities. The website states that the portfolio of facilities includes hydro, wind, solar and storage.

Roddan said Evolugen has and continues to invest millions of dollars into its assets, demonstrating the company’s commitment to local renewable energy production.

“The recent announcement of the indefinite curtailment of the Catalyst Tis’kwat mill requires us to look at every option to ensure the continuity of generating power in Powell River,” said Roddan.

“As part of our commitment to the community of Powell River, Brookfield Renewable would be glad to take part in discussions on repurposing the site with other partners on commercial terms,” he added. “We will consider all options that maintain the long-term economic viability of the PREI power facilities.”

Roddan said the company’s BC operations office is located in the qathet region, supporting more than 20 local jobs.

At the City of Powell River committee of the whole meeting on February 15, chief administrative officer Russell Brewer said the PREI matter was on the agenda for council’s opportunity to weigh in, should it choose to do so.

Councillors, in their agenda, were presented an application for exemption for PREI under the provincial Utilities Commission Act, which is separate from the CER application. According to the introduction in the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) application, the focus of the application is on PREI sales of surplus power, which now accounts for all PREI power generation.

Brewer said BCUC is considering whether to put in a public hearing component.

“I think that will get fleshed out in the next week or 10 days,” said Brewer. “There may be an opportunity beyond just being able to provide letters of comments. It might be an opportunity for the public to weigh in.

“My suggestion would be to carry this forward and put it on a subsequent committee of the whole agenda in March.”

City councillors weigh in

Mayor Dave Formosa said he and Brewer were requested to meet with two executives from Evolugen, who are the owners of the Townsite and Lois Lake dams that have supplied energy to the Catalyst Paper Tis’kwat mill.

“They wanted to discuss with us the dilemma they are in,” said Formosa. “They have $40-odd million to spend on the penstocks here in Powell River and they have no customer. They thought okay, they’ll sell their power to Catalyst Paper’s other mills and BC Hydro said no. So, they [Evolugen] are without customers, they are stuck.

“What they would like to do is apply to sell to the United States for up to 10 years. We said to them, ‘what about this hydrogen project?’”

Formosa said when he chatted with a representative of the hydrogen project company examining potential tenancy at the Catalyst mill site, the representative said the company has no issue if Evolugen finds a customer, as long as the power is available for them.

“We don’t know if they will get the site; there are three or four other people vying for the site,” said Formosa. “If [Evolugen] went ahead selling to the US, we have to make darn sure that if we supported that, there was an absolute guarantee at the right price to whomever takes over the site. Otherwise, we couldn’t support it.”

Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman said there is a concern that selling energy to the United States is going to create a higher price, and that Evolugen won’t want to go back.

“So then we would be losing power to California,” said Leishman.

Councillor Cindy Elliott said she supported the idea of a public hearing. She said she and others have concerns about climate change. Local resources are being dammed and fisheries and a lot of other things are being impacted, she added.

“Presumably, if we sell energy, royalties should come back to restore the areas and create global warming protections,” said Elliott. “The path needs to be, we get some benefit from the energy that leaves our area to fund some of the challenges we have in the future.”

Formosa said that was pitched at the meeting with Evolugen representatives.

“We need to see the contract and/or have our lawyers assure us this is what would happen, because I do understand they need to sell to somebody, and they have nobody to sell to,” added Formosa. “I would be attuned to supporting it if we had absolute guarantees that whoever took over the site had the rate that is required to keep that site viable.”

In terms of the federal CER process, submissions from Tla’amin Nation and Catalyst have been sent to CER and posted online. The correspondence expressed concerns about the PREI authorization going forward.