METRO Vancouver is hoping to generate millions of dollars and hydroelectric energy for thousands of homes by installing turbines on the Cleveland and Seymour dams.
The Greater Vancouver Water Board voted Friday morning to ago ahead with the plan and apply to the province for water licences by the end of December.
"We're spilling a lot of water over the damns, both Seymour and Capilano, that could be used for power generation with no effect at all on the environment," said City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto.
"At this point, we see a large number of potential environmental, social and operational benefits that would result from hydro power and related improvements. We also see economic benefits. Electricity sales would help pay for the costs of Metro Vancouver's water system."
If it clears an environmental assessment, the Cleveland Dam on Capilano Lake could generate enough electricity to power about 6,000 homes annually, The proposal comes with a sizable price tag of about $90 million, which would be paid for out of Metro Vancouver reserves and borrowing. But it is projected to turn an annual profit for regional government within 10 to 15 years, said Mussatto who is also chairman of Metro Vancouver's utilities committee.
The electricity would likely be sold back to B.C. Hydro's grid and transmitted along buried power lines. The dams would only produce power during the seven or eight rainy months a year when water is already gushing over them.
"It's based on current and future modelling about what climate change may bring to the North Shore. These facts are very much considered," Mussatto said.
The proposal was put together by Metro Vancouver along with a long list of stakeholders representing First Nations, fisheries, biologists, the Ministry of Environment, water quality experts and community environmental groups, Mussatto said, and so far, it has met almost universal praise.
"They've all said there's very, very low risk. In fact, there's an ability to enhance the environment for fish so they want us moving expeditiously," he said.
"We can better control the flow of water going over the dam and better control the peaks of rainfall so that the water temperature is a better-maintained quality for the fish. It actually enhances that now."
As part of the project, Metro would also install some spawning infrastructure, which would boost steelhead trout and coho salmon fry's ability to survive the trip back to the ocean.
The Seymour hydroelectric project wouldn't begin until the Cleveland model had proven itself, Mussatto said.
"The economics are much better at the Capilano than they are at Seymour," he said.
Metro should hear back on its water licence application within six to eight months, Mussatto said. From there, it will still take several years to get through environmental assessments, design and construction.