Environmental, New Development, North America

The Kokish Facility: A Unique Partnership

Issue 4 and Volume 34.

By Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners

Image Courtesy, Brookfield Renewable

The addition of hydroelectric generating capacity give greater use to a watershed that has already served British Columbia’s industrial sector for more than a century.

The Kokish hydroelectric facility is located on northeastern Vancouver Island, approximately 15 km east of Port McNeill, British Columbia. This run-of-river facility is owned and operated by Kwagis Power — a partnership between Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners and the ‘Namgis First Nation. Commissioned in 2014, Kokish has an installed capacity of 45 MW and can generate enough clean renewable energy to power 13,000 homes annually.

The project has been 20 years in the making, as Brookfield Renewable purchased the water rights interests on the Kokish River in 1995. The Kokish watershed has seen over 100 years of industrial activity including logging, saw milling, mining and aquaculture but never a hydroelectric facility.

The existing infrastructure allowed the hydro project to be constructed with minimal additional disturbance to the environment, as fewer than 800 meters of new roads were required, and the project output could be delivered to an existing transmission line that is about 500 meters from the powerhouse.

A key feature of the Kokish project has been the unique and truly cooperative equity partnership that was created between the ‘Namgis and Brookfield Renewable to develop, build and operate the facility. The project embodies the core values of both parties: sustainable development and utmost respect for the environment, aquatic resources and land conservation.

The ‘Namgis participated in all aspects starting from project development and permitting through construction and operations. They were directly involved in setting the terms of reference for studies, participating in all technical meetings and field studies, organizing public meetings and reviewing the environmental impact assessment reports. An independent technical advisor was contracted and managed directly by the ‘Namgis, to partake in all dimensions of the environmental assessment and to provide an impartial opinion.

The ‘Namgis community were clear all along in their direction to their representatives and to Brookfield Renewable; the Kokish project had to be developed and operated in a way that prevented harm to the environment, or they would not support it. By all accounts, this requirement has been fully satisfied.

The hydro facility produces clean energy while providing economic diversification and growth in the community through jobs and spending on goods and services while safeguarding North Vancouver Island’s ecosystem.

Environment: A priority throughout the project

Respecting the environment was a priority for Brookfield Renewable and the ‘Namgis during the construction of this project. Great care was taken not only to protect but also to enhance the fish habitat and fisheries resources in the Kokish River watershed. Planning of the project began in 2004 and was followed by years of studying the river system, gathering data, and preparing environmental plans.

An Environmental Assessment Certificate application was prepared based on years of baseline data and analysis, and submitted to the BC Environmental Assessment Office and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency in September 2010. In December 2011, the Project was issued an Environmental Assessment Certificate completing a thorough harmonized federal and provincial environmental review.

Kokish run-of-river operations

The Kokish run-of-river facility operates only when river flows are higher than the regulated instream flow requirements. Water is diverted into the 9.2-km-long penstock and flows through four Pelton turbines in the powerhouse and is returned to the river through a short tailrace. The Kokish River project stops diverting water from the river and generating electricity when the river flow approaches the identified minimum level.

The amount of water to be maintained in the natural river channel varies throughout the year, and is regulated by the Conditional Water License issued by the Provincial Ministry of Environment and the Federal Fisheries Act Authorization in order to protect fish habitats.

Fisheries studies: protecting the ecosystem

The Kokish River is home to coho, chinook, chum, pink, and sockeye salmon, as well as to cutthroat, steelhead and rainbow trout. Fisheries biologists have collected and analyzed extensive fisheries data collected from streams and lakes throughout the watershed since 2004. This large amount of fisheries information has allowed biologists to understand and appreciate the complex aquatic ecosystem present in the watershed and in the diversion reach.

To ensure that fish can continue to migrate and to minimize the impact on the environment the design of the facility included a fish ladder, which allows fish to swim upstream, and an elaborate coanda screen intake arrangement to prevent fish from entering the intake box.

Site specific design and pre-construction physical model testing were conducted to ensure that the intake structure with the fish ladder and the coanda screens would function effectively. Additionally, fish screens were installed at the tailrace to the powerhouse to prevent fish from entering this area.

Project development

In March 2010, the hydro project was awarded a 40-year Electricity Purchase Agreement, as part of BC Hydro’s 2008 Clean Power Call, which sought new, renewable and cost-effective energy projects for the province.

In May 2012, construction activities commenced and over 200 people worked on the intake, penstock installation, power house, and transmission line.

Construction was completed in early 2014 and the facility entered commercial operation in April 2014.

Brookfield Renewable and the ‘Namgis are truly proud of the Kokish facility and their unique partnership, built on mutual trust and shared values.

The 45-MW Kokish hydroelectric project is not only a model of how sustainability, energy, and environmental concern can come together, it is also a great example of how the public, First Nation communities and the private sector can collaborate and work on a renewable energy project that improves the Canadian energy infrastructure.

The Kokish powerhouse includes four Pelton-type turbines, giving the plant a cumulative output capacity of 45 MW. (Courtesy, Brookfield Renewable)

Financing the Kokish Project

By Michael Harris – Associate Editor, Hydro Review

While much of the financing for the Kokish River plant came by way of a C$175 million private placement bond issued in November 2012, the hydro scheme is unique in that it was the first First Nation project to have benefited from the P3 Canada Fund. P3, which stands for “public-private partnership,” is a federal program designed to provide economic stimulation through the financing of private infrastructure projects.

In this case, the program was intended to help the ‘Namgis First Nation build equity through a hydropower project located within its core territory.

Developing partners Kwagis Power received a low-interest $12.94 million loan in September 2014.

“This innovative P3 project will allow the ‘Namgis First Nation to generate both energy and revenue while safeguarding north Vancouver Island’s ecosystem,” Minister of Finance Joe Oliver said. “It also means high-quality jobs will be available for people in the ‘Namgis community over the next 40 years.”

— Content previously published on HydroWorld.com

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