Renewable Energy For Our Future
Historic Dams Will Produce Power
Just call it star power – pop idol and environmentalist Jewel is an investor in a dam project north of Prince Rupert which aims to sell “green” energy into the Hydro grid.
The project involves revival of two historic, long-dormant dams at Anyox and Kitsault, way up Observatory Inlet.
And although Jewel is helping the venture from backstage, this is no piece of theatre, but a hard-nosed entry in the big-business arena of independent power production.
Jeff Wolrige, CEO of Anyox Hydroelectric sat down with the Daily News to tell an almost incredible story of a brand new project with roots sunk deep in northwest history.
Remote Anyox is over 100 miles north of Prince Rupert, straddling rainsoaked southern Alaska. The 44 metre high, 207 – metre long concrete dam on Anyox Creek was built in 1924 to power a copper mine and smelter, and abandoned in 1935.
In the mid 1920’s the town of Anyox was a thriving community of over 3,000, with each home supported by electricity and hot water from the hydroelectric plant. At its peak it was the largest copper smelter in the British Empire. It also had an electric narrow gauge railway and a deep water port with 70 feet of water at the docks. During the Great Depression the mine was closed.
The Kitsault Dam was built to provide electricity to the Dolly Varden Silver Mine and the company town of Alice Arm. The mine operated around the turn of the century and produced millions of ounces of silver. The dam is 20 kilometres north of Kitsault along Highway 82.
Wolrige’s father, a well known Vancouver chartered accountant, purchased the town site of Anyox, as well as the dam works, from Cominco in 1984. The new company has also acquired the Kitsault Dam from the owners of the Dolly Varden Silver Mine.
At first the idea was to revive mining in the area, but as that dwindled Alan Wolrige’s son Jeff, who owns a construction company, and his partners, saw a profitable new possibility in increasing power demand from the south and progressive deregulation.
He decided to rehabilitate and revitalize the two old dams and sell the power they could generate.
Road building began last summer. Much of the fieldwork – fisheries, hydrology, socio-economic impacts, First Nations consultation – has been done. The application for a water license and other permissions are in the works, made easier because it is a privately financed project on privately owned property. The company wants to be in construction by next summer, using local labour – perhaps 100 workers.
“There is a huge demand for electricity,” said Wolrige. “In the long run we’ll have a good upside. We’re confident this will be a success.”
The two dams will produce between 30 and 40 megawatts of power. A megawatt can power a thousand homes.
“Meaning we could power the whole of Prince Rupert and Terrace,” said Wolrige.
They won’t do that directly, of course. They’ll sell into the grid as B.C. Hydro commits itself to a changed philosophy with a green alternative energy program at its core. And perhaps sell privately too.
But, as he traces the route to the two dams on a map in the Daily News building, Wolrige seems just as energized by the past, the history in back of his new-age business. He talks of meeting an elderly woman who remembered the old townsites, the faded pictures she showed, the memories she shared.
It’s a long way from northern ghost towns to centre stage. But pop-folk chanteuse Jewel – born in Alaska – and other investors are betting on Jeff Wolrige’s vision of an electrifying revival.
Prince Rupert businesses got to know Jeff Wolrige when he was outfitting a barge as base camp for a power project which hinges on the restoration of two old ghost-town dams up north.
“We’ve already done quite a lot of business in the community,” said the green energy entrepreneur who plans to make a profit once again out of the abandoned mining towns of Anyox and Kitsault, this time producing electricity. “It feels good to be part of the revival of this part of B.C.”
The barge alone cost $200,000 and Wolrige and his partners in Anyox Hydroelectric Company – including singer Jewel – have already sunk $1 million into work at the isolated mountainous sites about 150 kilometres north of Rupert.
The base camp barge is now parked up in Granby Bay. It helped that Jeff’s accountant father Alan Wolrige owned the Anyox Dam and the townsite, but what to do with it? Wolrige and his buddy John Turpin -now chief of operations for Anyox – had often sport fished up here and loved the area.
When the energy crisis hit California a couple of years ago, the penny dropped.
“I really got excited about it when they were paying $75 U.S. a megawatt hour in California. I know we can produce power up here in the $50 Canadian range.”
Then came a B.C. Hydro commitment to environmentally and socially acceptable power – they would meet 10 per cent of all new demand through such projects – and Wolrige figured a revival of the remote dams would fit the bill. Total cost: $40-$60 million.
“We have a strong desire to see more players and a lot more smaller operators,” said Brenda Goehring, manager of green and alternative energy.
If the Anyox team needed any further confirmation it came from folk-pop singer Jewel, who was born in Alaska and put her money where her million dollar mouth is – becoming a minority partner in the project.
She liked that it was in the north – and that it is environmentally sensitive.
The management team for Anyox is headed by CEO and director Wolrige, who is also managing director of Southview Property Management Inc., his father Alan, co-founder of the Wolrige, Mahon accounting firm and Adera Developments, one of B.C.’s largest residential developers, and lawyer Peter Richards.
The company says there are no significant concerns around the hydroelectric project.
A large waterfall at the mouth of the Anyox River prevents salmon from navigating upriver.
And there is no need for any of the transmission line, penstock or other facilities to traverse First Nations lands.
The project team has been working with the Nisga’a from the outset, and plan on hiring people from Kincolith.
Roadbuilding began last year and Wolrige said he would like to get construction of the dams and powerhouses, and reservoir cleaning, underway next summer.
The entire project is expected to take about two years to complete, and Wolrige says planning is already advanced, with feasibility studies completed, development financing secured, and negotiations underway to sell power to Hydro.
The power – enough for 30-40,000 homes – will be delivered into the grid at Kitsault through an underwater power line.
“This project is a solid privately funded development for Northwestern B.C., said Wolrige.
“It will produce clean energy and help fuel the local economy.
And it is the first of a number of green energy projects the company has plans for in the region.”
According to the interim report of the province’s Energy Policy Review Committee, plentiful energy is critical to fueling key industries such as forestry and high technology.