An interview with Paul Sweeney of Plutonic Power

In honor of what Vancouver’s Lululemon cheekily dubbed that “Cool Sporting Event That Takes Place in British Columbia Between 2009 & 2011″ we present The “Vancouver Tech” Issue of the Dollarton Cantech Letter. Inside, our readers ask Paul Sweeney of Plutonic Power if “Run of River” technology is really green, and new contributor Brent Holliday breaks down the history of tech in Vancouver.

5 Questions with Paul Sweeney of Plutonic Power (TSX:PCC)

1. (From Steve in Vancouver) You recently put out news about the Dokie Wind Project with GE. Do you see Plutonic getting involved in more wind projects, or other types of green energy projects in the future?

PS: Plutonic is committed to building a world class clean energy company. We are constantly assessing new growth opportunities and if we determine that we have a competitive advantage in advancing a new clean energy project then we may, subject to our research, act on such opportunity.

2. (from JB from Saskatoon) What do you think it will take to truly make run of river power green in the eyes of the public? As a layman, it seems to me that it would have minimal environmental impact, but then I read about the California Senate ruling on Run of River Power (Didn’t it say, essentially that ROR wasn’t green?) I also read the The BC Green party platform from earlier this year which said that, if its members are elected this May, they would “halt” all river-based hydro projects pending stricter environment assessments. What are they missing?

PS: First off, run of river projects are considered clean and green in British Columbia and Canada. They have the lowest environmental foot print relative to all other forms of energy generation. British Columbia has a stringent environmental assessment process and Plutonic adheres to its commitments under its Environmental Assessment Certificates. To date, Plutonic’s Toba Montrose project has received over 1600 commitments in our EA certificate. To state “stricter environmental assessment” is a statement made not knowing what actually happens during an environmental assessment.

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In terms of the public perception it is all about education. We use many tools to reach out to the public and stakeholders to deliver the clean energy message. Media, newsletters, site tours, presentations to shareholders and levels of government about the lasting benefits of clean power development are key in delivering this message.

The California Senate ruling has not said run of river is not green. What they have done is uphold 1960’s legislation that was enacted to halt hydroelectric power generation for any hydro project over 30MW irrespective of whether it was storage hydro or not. This has in part been done from pressure exerted from job protectionism originating from within California.

3. (from Wendy in Port Angeles, WA) Do you see the cost of these run of river projects coming down in the future? Is there an optimum size for a project or are they scalable?

PS: There is no “optimum” size for a run of river project. The size is derived from the volume of water in any given river system. The capital cost of a run of river facility is dictated by its generating capacity and location. The amount of infrastructure required for access and the transmission requirements to connect to the grid have a significant impact on the capital cost and thus the price of energy required for the project to be profitable for the owner. In its simplest form, the generating capacity is a function of the water flow and the elevation change. Together these create the “head” that determines the capacity of the plant. The greater the “head” the greater the capacity of the plant and the more energy generated.

4. (Mike from Nelson, BC) Just wondering why privatized run of river is even needed when BC is a net power exporter?
If existing turbines were upgraded (especially in the Kootenays) we would be able to generate even more power.

PS: The Highest use of power in BC is in the summer when hydro is at it’s weakest production. Isn’t all this spring excess power is being sold back to BC residents at higher costs or exported again when power consumption is low?

BC Hydro is a net importer of power and without further generating capacity the amount of energy imported by BC Hydro is expected to grow over time. Even with the refurbishment of its existing heritage assets, BC Hydro will require additional generating capacity. The BC Government’s Energy Plan requires the province to be self sufficient in energy generation by the end of 2016.
The highest use of power in BC is during the winter months while the largest potential for hydro power generation is in the spring. BC Hydro manages this process by paying the Independent Power Producers significantly lower prices during the spring months, especially for non firm energy generated during this period.

5. (from Neal in Edmonton) It seems Plutonic Power is mostly focused on Canada and specifically BC. with BC, are you looking to expand The Company internationally or is there enough room to grow here?

PS: To date all of our assets are located in BC however our corporate mandate allows us to explore opportunities both within the BC geographic area as well as outside of this jurisdiction. We have been able to achieve significant growth within BC and that has been advantageous to us as we are located here. To date being focused on BC has not constrained our growth. In a press release issued on September 14, 2009 Plutonic announced Mr. Stephen Keith’s appointment as Vice President Business Development with a mandate to seek out and evaluate new opportunities to diversify our geographic exposure.

It is worth mentioning that BC is home to a relatively unique combination of topography and environment with respect to run of river resources. The Coastal Mountains in particular provide the natural vertical head (drop) combined with the necessary rainfall to make the run of river projects viable and economic. As Plutonic was one of the first companies to take a utility scale approach to run of river projects, we have a competitive advantage over other industry players as we have staked a large number of potential projects within BC.