Alterra Power Corp. – Jimmie Creek Hydroelectric Project

The Jimmie Creek run-of-river hydroelectric expansion project is taking place in a remote location about 100 miles north of Vancouver, which presents unique challenges for Alterra Power Corp., the renewable energy company overseeing the work. “It’s a remote project,” says Jay Sutton, vice president of hydropower. 

Alterra is accustomed to working in the region, having built plants there in recent years. “This is an expansion of two other plants that we have,” Sutton says. Specifically, the plant will be an expansion of the 234 MW Toba-Montrose facilities that became operational in 2010. “The Jimmie Creek plant will use the Toba-Montrose transmission line to carry its electricity to the grid,” he says.

 The first six months of the work that started in March 2014 were dedicated to building roads to access the remote project site and establish a camp to house the 200 workers participating in the job, Sutton says.

The second phase of the $225 million project involves building the concrete intake structure, an entrance for the water to flow through to the penstock pipe and the powerhouse. This phase is scheduled for completion by the end of 2015. The next and final step of the work – installation of the electrical and mechanical components of the power plant – got underway in October. 

Logistical Challenges

The project’s location made logistics a challenge. “You have to plan everything ahead,” Sutton says. Equipment and supplies are shipped weekly by barge via the Georgia Strait, a body of water connecting Vancouver Island with the mainland coast of British Columbia. “Every week the supply needs for the project are something different,” Sutton says.  

Additionally, extreme weather conditions are a factor. Summer and winter present extreme temperatures and there is significant rain and snowfall in the area as well, which can slow the work. “Weather is a big challenge,” Sutton says.

The contractors working for Vancouver-based Alterra Power Corp. strive to keep workers happy by having two-week shifts instead of the more typical three-week shifts. The company also takes steps to ensure that its workforce has quality living conditions. “Nobody likes to be away from home,” Sutton says. “The camps are like small towns and require power, septic systems, water, food and entertainment. The Jimmie Creek camp also has a gym, offices, recreation hall and kitchen, Sutton says. 

The project employs a 12-hour work shift seven days a week to ensure that the work is completed on time, Sutton says.

The Jimmie Creek project is relying heavily on local contractors, which is beneficial to the company, Sutton says. Most importantly, local contractors are familiar with the land, including the steep terrain of the Toba Valley, the location of the run-of-river project. Many of the workers are members of the Klahoose First Nation and come from local communities. Additionally, hiring locally helps Alterra Power Corp. hire companies that know the work. “It’s a pretty tough terrain,” Sutton says.

In all, Alterra Power Corp. operates five power plants totaling 553 MW of generation capacity, including British Columbia’s largest run-of-river hydro facility and largest wind farm. The Jimmie Creek expansion will add 62 MW of electricity, which will be sold to BC Hydro for 40 years beginning in August 2016. “There is ongoing growth and demand for electricity” in the region, Sutton says.

The run-of-river hydroelectric generation plant requires little or no water storage as compared to large storage dams. As a result, there is significantly less impact on the environment, Sutton says. 

“There are no large dams required,” he explains. “We just divert a portion of the river flow and choose rivers that have no fish in them. It results in less impact on the environment.” 

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