By Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun May 17, 2012
A standards review of the more than 30 certified operations should be done later this year, but critics say too many fry are dying
An organization criticized for being too lenient when handing out its EcoLogo certification to private run-of-river hydro projects in B.C. said Friday it is in the process of adopting new and more comprehensive standards for the fast-growing industry.
"We're always looking for ways to improve the standards," Eco-Logo executive director Angela Griffiths said in an interview.
"We want to be a bit more robust in the criteria we're looking at. We want to look not just at fish but flow rates and broader aspects of habitat. We're looking at leadership, best practices."
Flow rates can be critical to the survival of juvenile fish downstream of private hydro projects.
A story published in The Vancouver Sun on March 10 revealed how juvenile fish had repeatedly died due to water-flow fluctuations downstream of power plants on Ashlu Creek and the lower Mamquam River near Squamish, based on provincial freedom-of-information documents.
Quebec-based Innergex owns the Ashlu facility. Capital Power of Edmonton sold its lower Mamquam plant to Boston-based Atlantic Power in November 2011.
"It's getting more comprehensive," Griffiths said of improvements planned to the certification process. "As we learn more about run-of-river, and we get more sophisticated on how and what we can monitor for, we're always improving the standards." The standards review could be completed by late 2012, she said.
Environment Canada started EcoLogo in 1988 and continues to hold rights to the brand, she said. The program is man-aged by TerraChoice, owned by Underwriters Laboratories of Canada.
More than 30 B.C. run-of-river power projects are certified by EcoLogo.
Critics says the process is not tough enough, and allows companies that have operated out of compliance and killed fish due to inadequate controls to maintain their certification.
"We determined the EcoLogo certification is fairly meaningless in determining whether a project will actually have adverse ecological impacts," said Aaron Hill, an ecologist with Watershed Watch Salmon Society.
"It's nothing special. It doesn't mean that a particular hydro power project has gone to any greater lengths to ensure they're ecologically sensitive than a project that would be approved anyways."
Innergex did not lose its certification on Ashlu Creek despite an incident on May 8, 2010, in which 166 salmon and trout fry became stranded due to rapidly dropping water levels. Fewer than half of the fry could be returned to the creek alive. Another 39 fry died during a stranding on April 20, 2011.
(The lower Mamquam plant is not EcoLogo certified.)
"How on God's green Earth is that meeting stringent standards of environmental leader-ship?" said Gwen Barlee, policy director for the Wilderness Committee. "I would say it's not and it's very misleading."
The vast majority of run-of-river projects are located in fish habitat, she noted, including one recently approved by Ottawa on the Kokish River on northeastern Vancouver Island despite the concerns of government fisheries biologists.
Griffiths said EcoLogo has twice visited the Ashlu plant as part of regular monitoring of the plant.
"If there's non-compliance, we look at what have you done to fix it," she said of EcoLo-go's policy. "We are looking for them to quickly remediate, mitigate, fix the problem. We work with them to bring them into compliance where possible."
Griffiths added she'll be looking "very carefully" at Ashlu in light of issues raised in The Sun's freedom of information documents, more than 3,000 pages of which are being posted to the Web.
EcoLogo typically charges companies $5,000 to cover costs of the audit and certification process, $2,100 as a licence fee for permission to use the brand, plus 0.5 per cent of sales of the licensed product.
EcoLogo doesn't restrict itself to certification, but is also involved in helping to market certified companies.
"We're trying to increase the market share of environmentally preferable products by getting out there and promoting them," Griffiths said, noting they work with purchasers.
EcoLogo visits every facility before certification to ensure its documentation is valid, and again as part of a surveillance program on a regular basis, but not necessarily annually, she said.
Paul Kariya, executive director of Clean Energy B.C., said that industrial sustainability certifications are increasingly important in the marketplace, not just in private power projects, but forestry and fishing. "It just makes sense that all resource products have some standard."
The Sun's freedom-of-information documents also reveal that the underground water-diversion tunnel associated with the Ashlu plant resulted in elevated levels of arsenic downstream as water flushed through during start-up.
Carrie Mishima, spokes-woman for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said it became aware in October 2009 that the operator of the project had "discharged water containing sediment and arsenic into the Ashlu River."
The department issued the company a letter directing it to immediately stop discharging deleterious substances in excess of water quality guide-lines, she said.
The department then worked with Environment Canada, the B.C. Ministry of Environment and the company to develop a plan to prevent a similar discharge of arsenic in the future. Run-of-river projects produce electricity by diverting river water - typically in a steep canyon - and sending it through an underground pipe to a powerhouse. The water is then returned to the river.
EcoLogo claims its certification demonstrates that a run-of-river plant has gone beyond government requirements, including by operating such that water flows are not "detrimental to indigenous aquatic and riparian species" and that any changes in water temperature caused by the facility "are not detrimental to indigenous aquatic species."
The Sun also reported April 28, 2008, on an environmental consulting report that found the independent power project on Miller Creek near Pemberton - which also has EcoLogo certification - failed to meet its commitments to produce "green power" and to protect species at risk.
The power project had an oil spill on site as well as fish kills resulting from "dewatering" of the creek for four hours during a malfunction, reported TRC Bio-logical Consulting Ltd. of Port Coquitlam. The December 2007 report also noted that harlequin ducks and tailed frogs, both species at risk, had vanished from the creek since construction of the plant in spring 2003.
The report suggested the generating station "does not produce green energy as identified by the BC Hydro power Green Criteria" and "has not fulfilled their commitment, as well as their responsibility respecting the oil spill cleanup and have not protected the species at risk."
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