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Bute hydro project stalled at EA stage

The controversial Bute Inlet hydroelectric project has stalled at the environmental assessment stage. It's unclear when the project will move forward, and what shape it might take.

The project's proponent, Bute Hydro Inc. (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Plutonic Power Corporation Inc.) wrote a letter to the chair of the federal review panel last week informing him that the company decided to extend the timeline for developing the project and does "not see advancing the Project through the environmental assessment at this time."

The project went to a three-person federal review panel in May, 2009, at the direction of Environment Minister Jim Prentice. Projects are sent to a federal panel, instead of going through a provincial procedure, for environmental assessment when they are likely to cause significant adverse environmental impacts or when there is a high degree of public concern.

Bute Hydro's president and director Rupert Legge cited three reasons for the extension: it did not receive an electricity purchase agreement (EPA) in BC Hydro's 2008 Clean Power Call; it likely won't obtain an EPA in a "reasonable time period"; and, "as the result of additional field study results, there is uncertainty on what the composition of the Project may be moving forward."

In March, 2010, Bute Hydro pulled the project from BC Hydro's most recent call for clean power.

"We have ceased negotiations with BC Hydro on the Bute project because it is too far away from construction," Plutonic CEO Donald McInnes told the Courier-Islander newspaper at the time. "There are too many things unanswered. We felt it was prudent to not try to close on a contract with BC Hydro today, but to allow ourselves to finish our feasibility work and permitting work -- so we would know more of the risks associated with the project and enable ourselves to get a better agreement with the utility at some point in the future."

In his letter to the federal review panel, Legge also wrote that "We remain committed to the development of this Project, and will continue with cost-effective work to ensure that we move forward in a manner consistent with the high standards set by governments."

The Wilderness Commitee, attached a copy of the letter to a press release today expressing the group's relief.

"While we are happy the project has ground to a halt, we are concerned that the company may be delaying the project to give the Federal government time to further weaken Federal Environmental Assessment legislation," stated campaign director Joe Foy.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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