In 1928, the provincial government of British Columbia sent engineers to study the lakes in Northern BC to produce an estimate as to how much hydro power could be obtained from the region. The government then invited Alcan (the Aluminum Company of Canada), now Rio Tinto, to develop the region and mine the ore. In 1948, in response to the invitation, Alcan sent experts to study the region. Two years later, Alcan and the provincial government signed an agreement that would last 44 years. This agreement essentially gave the land rights to Alcan for them to produce low cost hydroelectricity for the aluminum smelter they were going to build as well as purchase additional land at hugely reduced prices. Along with the smelter, the project would include a dam and a reservoir.
Kenney Dam was built back in 1952 to generate power for the Kitimat aluminum smelter. It was built to reverse the direction of the Nechako river to flow westward and to create the Nechako reservoir which would be the source of the hydroelectricity for the aluminum smelter. The hydroelectricity would be produced at Kemano hydroelectric generating station which was another aspect of the Kitimat project. At the time of construction, Kenney Dam was the largest rock-filled, clay-core dame in the world with a height of 96.6 meters.Sixty-two years after the Kenney Dam flooded the traditional
territory of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation, destroying hunting, fishing and
living areas and drying up parts of the Nechako River, the nation plans to
profit from the structure built without their consultation to power the Rio
Tinto Alcan smelter in Kitimat.
Kemano hydroelectric station is the power generating station for Kitimat aluminum smelter and to this day “remains the largest high pressure hydro generating facility in North America,” by generating power with the least amount of water possible (Rio Tinto website). Not only is the generating station one of the largest of its kind but so is the aluminum smelter. Kemano hydro generating power produces energy for the smelter which in turn contributes to the economy and communities of Northern British Columbia. However, the hydro generating station produces more energy than the smelter requires, with a capacity of 896 megawatts. The remaining power from the generating station is provided to BC Hydro who then distributes it to communities along the Highway 16 West.
Moving forward 62 years to 2014, another expansion project for Kenney Dam and Kemano generating station is being proposed. This expansion project would complete Tunnel two (T2) of which construction had never been completed during the initial construction of the project back in the 1950s. The expansion project would not only complete Tunnel two (T2) but it would also add a connection between Tunnel one (T1) and Tunnel two (T2).