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Small hydro pitched for Great Bear

September 02, 2013

The draft NWT Hydro Strategy from 2009 suggested a $600M 120MW project for the Great Bear River, near Deline, NWT. Now the Deline Land Corporation is suggsting a much more modest $35-40M “run of the river” project instead.

Rather than damming the river halfway between Deline and Tulita at St. Charles rapids, a $600-million, 600-megawatt option pitched to potential Mackenzie Valley Pipeline producers earlier this past decade, the land corporation is now proposing a cheaper, less-invasive, run-of-the-river system 10 kilometres from Deline. The current proposal would involve a low head hydro power turbine system built within three kilometres of the mouth of Great Bear Lake - the distance before which ice forms over Great Bear River. The approximately $30- to $35-million structure would require a 400-metre-long bypass canal running parallel to the waterway. The turbines at the end of the canal would capture energy created from a one- to two-metre decline, generating about one megawatt - enough power to serve the needs of Deline’s approximately 559 residents.

The Washington-based engineering firm Tollhouse Energy Company has visited Great Bear River six times between 2007 and 2011. The company describes the low head hydro power turbine system being studied as “classic, old-school hydroelectric equipment that will last 50 to 80 years, hands down,” after which “tweaks” may be required to maintain the system for another 50 years or so.

A study was conducted by the Aurora Research Institute (Aurora College). It found that wind energy is not a practical solution for Deline. Even the option of PV energy would be more expensive than diesel.


The MLA for the area suggested pitching the project to the federal government to help finance the project. Not a bad idea given the federal government’s involvement in other northern energy projects.

The other option that would be worth exploring would be a public-private partnership wherein the private entity finances the project while the public entity agrees to buy the power over a long-term contract. This is what BC Hydro is doing with AltaGas in several projects in north-western BC.