ARCHIVED - Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation: Run of River Hydro

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Canoe Creek Hydro is a corporation with a conscience. Formed as a partnership between Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation of Tofino British Columbia (BC) and Swift Water Power Corporation based in Nanaimo, BC, the company produces energy through the flow of water in the river, also known as a run of river hydro project.

Canoe Creek. (Photo by: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.)

The company's first development was a 5.5 MW hydroelectric project on Canoe Creek. With water flowing through turbines placed in the river it creates pressure from the drops of elevation. The higher the elevation the more power is distributed through the turbine making it spin and creating electricity. Through this project alone enough energy is generated to power approximately 3,000 Vancouver Island homes. The hydroelectricity produced reduces 9,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions annually.

Canoe Creek embraces sustainability of creating energy through natural waterways and uses this as a guiding principle through minimizing its environmental footprint. The company also took time to find and use a river without an extensive fish population. Another environmentally conscious effort was the use of recycled pipes for the pipeline from local community trades and suppliers. It is a true example of successful collaboration between private developers and First Nations.

Jamie Bassett, Director of Economic Development for Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation thinks elements that have been key to the success of the Canoe Creek hydro project have been the support from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, and the solid partnership with Swift Water Power Corporation.

Construction of Canoe Creek Hydro Project. (Photo by: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.)

"Develop a relationship with a joint venture partner that you trust, and stick with it.  If you want to move quickly, you'll need their expertise. But make sure they're experienced, as well as committed to the project." was Bassett's advice for starting a successful environmental project.

In June 2010, Canoe Creek was commissioned and went on to secure a 40-year Environmental Performance Agreement with BC Hydro which will provide the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation with long-term economic benefits.

The Canoe Creek hydro project is not only a step towards energy and financial self-sufficiency for Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. It is also a very deliberate investment in an opportunity to develop an energy project that does not deplete natural resources. In this way, the First Nation hopes to stay true to its vision of sustainability while fostering economic development within its community.


Two types of hydroelectric projects are common: those created by storing reservoirs of water behind a dam and "run of river" hydro projects. Run of river hydro does not store large quantities of water behind a dam. It is dependent on the flow of water in a river for generating power. Hydro projects generate power by passing water that is under pressure through turbines. Run of river hydro develops this pressure by using drops in elevation.

In run of river hydro systems, a small dam or weir (about 1 to 3 meters high) is typically built across a waterway which directs the water in the river toward the "intake" point. After the water has come through the intake, it is channelled along canals, tunnels or pipelines that run both parallel to, and above the river, to a point downstream. At this point, the water is allowed to fall through a pipe or penstock down to the powerhouse where it spins turbines to create electricity. The water is then channelled out of the powerhouse so that it can rejoin the river.

Run of river projects are most cost effective when the water does not have to be channelled far from the intake before it can be used. In other words, the faster a river descends after the intake point, the better. An ideal situation would be to have a waterfall just downstream of the intake. Sometimes, in more mountainous regions, the project can dispense with the canal and simply send water down the penstock directly from the intake. In less mountainous regions, however, a canal may be built up to one kilometer before enough elevation is achieved to allow the water to drop into the powerhouse. A three to five meter drop is generally the minimum required for the smallest run of river hydro projects.


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