REPORTING · 15th July 2012
New Video attached below
BC Minister Pat Bell withheld his signature on a permit to amend the Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) Kemano Power facility water Licence. RTA has been busy at the Kemano generation facilities preparing the second tunnel to use as a back up for their primary power source. On Friday, according to our sources, this work came to a sudden halt.
“The first time I was approached on this was about three weeks ago”, stated Bell as he described the sensitivity and history surrounding Kemano. “I think it is something people are going to want to know about in the Nechako Basin and so I’ve asked Alcan to go out and talk to three of the communities that I think are likely the three flash points, the three ones that are most significant in the overall equation. I asked them to do that three weeks ago and they started that process and as of last Thursday they finally made contact with the last community I’d asked them to reach.”
“The licence amendment, in my view needs some level of consultation with communities, there needs to be dialogue around it. I don’t think it’s appropriate for communities to find out that a licence amendment of this nature is signed off on without their opportunity to at least have some dialogue around it. RTA probably should have done that, they’ve been around for long enough that they know [..] anytime you start playing around in the Nechako watershed it’s likely to be an issue.”
Bell stated the councils of all three communities; Kitimat, Vanderhoof and Prince George will all be meeting to discuss the amendment claiming Kitimat will be meeting this week while Prince George will not be meeting until the 30th. In the meantime the work at Kemano has come to a halt and the workers have been pulled off of the site. Bell stated the permit is not required until the new tunnel is connected to the old one, or breaking through to the reservoir, claiming they are not at that point right now so they could continue to work.
According to Skeena MLA Robin Austin, the application for the permit was put in over a year ago to complete the portion of the second tunnel that wasn’t completed. The application received environmental approval and RTA consulted with five First Nation communities most affected by the Nechako reservoir, four of which essentially provided a green light to the process. The fifth, the Wet’suwet’en, agreed to work with RTA on the amendment application.
“They're using no extra water and there is no turbine capacity so this is not Kemano completion”, stated Austin, “So on the basis of getting the environmental approval they started to do the work. It’s a seven hundred million dollar capital project, so it’s huge.”
Austin explained the work began several months ago and how RTA built a camp at the site to house the workers.
“On Friday, Pat Bell, who is the Minister that has the RTA file, did not sign off on the water licence that would enable them to put water into that tunnel.”
Austin described how RTA was shocked and surprised as they were not asking to use more water, they simply needed the amendment to use the new tunnel.
“So the CEO of Rio Tinto Alcan shut everything down and said ‘look we have spent over a hundred million dollars so far on this project, we started this on the basis that there would be no big deal, we got four letters out of five from the First Nations and are working with the one who has concerns about it, and we have our environmental approval,’ so to cut a long story short she ordered everything shut down and the workers sent home.”
Austin stated he knew about the application a year and a half ago and claimed it made sense. The second tunnel would provide a back up for the new smelter. The existing tunnel has been in use for 50 years and prior to the completion of the new smelter it would be reasonable to ensure the power generation facilities were refurbished and secure.
Although RTA media spokesperson Colleen Nyce has not yet returned our call, Austin confirmed she advised him they began taking the workforce off of the Kemano site Friday afternoon.
The concerns raised by residents are how this might affect the new smelter construction particularly under the pressure of the current contract negotiations with the Union.
“They did not make this application conditional.” stated Austin, “Paul Henning told me a year and a half ago that the board was not linking these two projects, like they’re not saying, ‘if we don’t get the new tunnel were not building the smelter’, however it’s kind of critical in terms of planning to have a back up tunnel when you’re building a brand new project, and that smelter will run, presumably, for fifty or sixty years.”
On June 22, 2012, BC Hydro appeared at the Regional District Kitimat Stikine (RDKS) Boardroom to discuss their new transmission plans for the Northwest part of BC. A significant part of the discussions were the upgrade of the transmission line from the Terrace substation to Kitimat. They have begun the planning now and expect to formalize their decisions by the fall of this year. BC Hydro project Manager, Robert Smith, spoke about upgrading the existing 287KV line and later constructing a new 500KV grid to a new substation in Kitimat. The argument for the upgrade was the new increased power requirement for the proposed LNG projects as well the new smelter.
Kitimat Councillor Phil Germuth questioned the logic and the timing. Almost all LNG plants produce their own power by burning the natural gas they already own. The BC government has amended the clean air act to allow this to happen. As the smelter was years away from being completed he asked why they were rushing to complete the transmission upgrade immediately. He went so far as to suggest the Union contract negotiations might be behind this rush.
If the contract negotiations were difficult or unsuccessful RTA could potentially lock out the workers and just sell power if the transmission grid was sufficiently upgraded.
See video attached below
All of this emerging controversy and urgent attention appears to be around the timing. If the application was made a year and a half ago, why did the BC Government and Pat Bell only make enquiries of RTA ten days ago? And why did RTA only begin addressing these concerns during the Union Contract negotiations?
Minister Bell suggested the community of Prince George will not even be discussing this matter until the 30th of July and this community was one he requested RTA receive feedback from. This would mean a full two weeks of no work.
Bell stated they didn’t have to stop working as they did not require the permit to continue, they were not yet at the point where they were close to connecting. When we asked if pulling their workers out was a pressure tactic, Bell responded, “You never know, it could be.”
Comment by Barb Johnson on 16th July 2012
So he's willing to not sign Rio Tinto's water use permit - even though there is a favourable environmental review - and yet nothing that I've read from him with respect to huge supertankers going up and down the Douglas Channel to accommodate HarperCo's Northern Gateway agenda. Am I missing something here?
First Nations should ask for Gold.
Comment by local Native on 16th July 2012
Since RTA is buying aboriginal support. The FirstNations should be asking for mint gold bars. Instead of cash $.
This will impact negotiations. The request will show the Corporation has to surrender there share of capital asset.
How ever the need for Five First Nation signatures to move RTA projects forward. Reason RTA is international Corporation. They still have to go with International Laws in communication with the local Native Tribes.
This goes for CN - BC Hydro - RTA - Enbridge - LNG - Forestry - Minning Companies - All of them.
Most of all the treaty teams of Canada.
This will determine the fate of how serious they are with Abroginal Buying approval support. For these international corporations. That use a cash system. Wich is a robbery to all currency users.
That's what needs to be engaged.
I think you nailed it A.N.
Comment by Helmut Giesbrecht on 15th July 2012
Your analysis is bang on. One needs to be a little cautious when dealing with these guys. It is always about money and nothing more.
Let the Games begin.
Comment by Apocalypse Now on 15th July 2012
Something is wrong with this picture. You are trying to tell us that RTA would proceed with out the proper permits in place? NOT!!! Be very weary Mr.Austin and don't be duped into speeding up the process. As much as I despise Pat Bell there is something very fishy going on here. RTA knows that the liberals are desperate for jobs so they pulled out the tunnel workers to put pressure on the Govt. even though they don't actually need the permit for a few years. Is Mr .Germuth the only one on council that can see through the BS. Like he said its contract time and all of a sudden RTA needs a new transmission line from Kitimat to terrace? Does anybody ask why? Hmmmm ,lets see . The LNG plants if they are ever built will take about 5 to 6 years before they are anywhere near completion ,and its probable they will have to burn Natural gas to run them. In 2014 the new smelter will have only one new line in operation and by that time lines 1&2 will most likely be shut down, freeing up some power . Alcan wants a 6 year agreement with their union so they can have the new smelter up and running smoothly . Then they will have a new transmission line from kitimat to Terrace . By this time it will be time to negotiate a new contract with ts employees. With the new technology pots they will be able to hibernate the pots( put them to sleep at lower power consumption) and they will have an ace in there hands. The Ace will be that if there is a strike they put the pots to sleep and now will have a transmission line to export as much electricity out on the new line ,thus leaving the employees with absolutely no bargaining power. Especially since the corrupt judge gave them the ability to export as much electricity as they want. And if you also think that RTA is spending over a billion dollars because they want a back up tunnel I have some waterfront property to sell you in Kitimat, oh I forgot RTA owns all of that too and the roads to get to it. If that tunnel gets completed popular belief is that there will be generators installed and if generators do get installed ? Lo and behold there is a new transmission line to help export excess power out of town,rather than just selling it to the LNG companies. RTA will have2 tunnels ,they already have 2 transmission lines from kemano to kitimat , one is back up at the moment but whose to say that can't use it to sell excess power from the new generating capacity? None of this is fact but it is something to think about. PS it sucks to think you have an agreement with the Govt. and then they pull the rug out from under you. Kind of like what RTA did to the union , Promise them 1000 jobs and them tell them that promise expired along with the contract.