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Canada’s award-winning ‘fish-first’ hydropower scheme

  • Canada’s award-winning ‘fish-first’ hydropower scheme
  • An innovative environmental stewardship scheme from Brookfield Renewable and Canada’s First Nation ‘Namgis community is helping to safeguard local fish species in British Columbia.

About the entity

International Hydropower Association
Our mission is to advance sustainable hydropower by building and sharing knowledge on its role in renewable energy systems, responsible freshwater management and climate change solutions.
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The Kokish hydroelectric facility is located on northeastern Vancouver Island, on Canada’s Pacific coast. The run-of-river facility is owned and operated by Kwagis Power, a collaboration between Brookfield Renewable Partners and the ‘Namgis First Nation.

Commissioned in 2014, Kokish has an installed capacity of 45 MW, generating enough clean renewable energy to power 13,000 homes annually.

One of the standout features of the hydropower project, apart from its unique collaboration with the ‘Namgis First Nation, has been its commitment to environmental stewardship involving the design of new ‘fish-first’ technologies.

“Respecting the environment was a priority during construction and its subsequent operation,” says Richard St-Jean, Vice-President for Generation Management at Brookfield Renewable, which is a member of the International Hydropower Association (IHA).

“Great care was taken not only to protect, but also to enhance the fish habitat and fisheries resources in the Kokish River watershed,” says St-Jean. “In fact, project planning began in 2004 and was followed by years of studying the river system, gathering data and preparing engineering and environmental plans.”

The Kokish River is home to Coho, Chinook, Chum, Pink and Sockeye salmon, as well as to Cutthroat, Steelhead and Rainbow trout, all important species for the ‘Namgis First Nation who have relied on these species for food throughout history.

To ensure that fish could continue to migrate, and to minimise the impact on the environment, the innovative design of the facility included a fish ladder, which allows fish to swim upstream, and an elaborate Coanda screen designed and tested to prevent fish from entering the intake box. These features ensure the safe passage of fish both upstream and downstream.

According to St-Jean, the Kokish project is “not only a model of how sustainable engineering can effectively eliminate and environmental impacts, it is also a great example of how the public, First Nations communities and the private sector can collaborate and work on a renewable power project that improves our energy infrastructure.

Since operation, the project has won several environmental and social responsibility and engineering awards, including the 2019 Clean Energy BC Environmental Stewardship Award, as well as the 2015 Social Responsibility Award from the Canadian Electricity Association and the 2015 Award of Excellence of the Canadian Consulting Engineering Awards.

“The Kokish project is one of the most environmentally complex run-of-river hydroelectric projects that I have worked on since starting in this industry over a decade ago,” says Ian Murphy, Project Manager for Ecofish Research, a leading environmental consultancy.

“In my opinion, the application of a diligent, science-based approach was the key to successfully overcoming complex environmental challenges that were faced by the project team.”

The project is also well-received by the ‘Namgis First Nation, whose livelihoods and cultural heritage have been respected as a result.

“The health and well-being of our lands, waters and wildlife is always priority for ‘Namgis,” says Bill Cranmer, Chief of the ‘Namgis First Nation.

“I am proud and confident of the work we have done on this project. I believe that we have embarked on a strong economic opportunity for the north island, that will ultimately prove to enhance and protect all species of fish who call Kokish home.” 

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