The Crown Hydro girl

A Southwest High senior says now is the time for hydropower

In three months, Charise Canales will graduate from Southwest High School.

She"s smackdab in the middle of the senior rush, completing, hopefully acing major exams and preparing for more. She"s waiting, hoping, longing to hear back from the seven mostly East Coast colleges she"s applied to, keeping her fingers crossed that one of her top three sends her an acceptance packet. All pretty typical stuff.

Less typical is her deliberate insertion into a two decades-long, often contentious discussion. The teensy, bespectacled 18-year-old supports — actively supports — the Crown Hydro project, the proposed hydroelectric power plant that would produce energy from St. Anthony Falls. That"s the same Crown Hydro project that once drew out a highly concerned former vice president and recently angered the Minneapolis City Council.

Canales doesn"t care much about the drama. She believes Crown Hydro will create jobs and has the potential of offsetting 18,000 tons of carbon dioxide. That"s what she"s telling her family, her friends, the Internet. In September, she launched the Power of One Hundred, a website aimed at getting 100 people to support the project. So far, she has 18.

The time is now, she said, for Crown Hydro to build.

"It"s been in the works since I was born," she said. "My fate is kind of intertwined with the project."

Canales was born in 1990. That same year, Crown Hydro applied for its first federal license, seeking to use land near St. Anthony Falls to build an underground power-producing facility. The license was approved in 1999, and on most fronts, the project was moving toward becoming reality. Around the same time, Canales had her first taste of activism.

"When I was about 10 or 11, I decided I wanted to save all the pandas in the world," she said. It became her constant mission; she became known by her classmates as the "panda girl." She"d sling around a book in one arm, a stuffed animal in the other.

Getting to that point had not been a completely unnatural progression. She comes from an active family. Her stepfather, Kip Hedges, is a former president of the International Association of Machinists Local 1833.

She finally crossed paths with Crown Hydro after joining her high school"s green team in 2007. That was the same year the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board voted to deny Crown Hydro a move forward after former Vice President Walter Mondale made a last-minute request to stop the project.

It was the last time Crown Hydro had any formal interaction with Minneapolis government. After the Park Board vote, its backers sought other ways to find approval. They changed spokespersons and hired a lobbyist, deciding the Legislature was the way to get the power plant built.

The new spokesperson and lobbyist turned out to be the same person, Nikki Carlson. She also turned out to be the neighbor of one of Canales" good friends. That connection brought them together last summer. Now, Canales believes the timing for Crown Hydro is perfect. The world is focused on becoming more environmentally friendly, and new construction projects are in demand to battle the economic slump.

Crown Hydro"s project would create 40 construction jobs, Carlson said, and would produce enough electricity to power 2,000 homes.

Opponents remain. Their main concerns are fourfold: that the project involves a private company"s use of public land, that the power plant would create noise, that it would have a negative impact on St. Anthony Falls" historic quality and that it could potentially cause the falls to collapse, much like they did in 1869. Also creating worry is that the plant could significantly shrink the flow of the falls.

Crown Hydro has been trying to squelch those concerns — all of which are either unnecessary or flat-out wrong, it says — one by one by going on a mass informational tour.

Canales" main task for Crown Hydro also is to inform; it"s what she does about 10 hours each week. Her first job for the project involved meeting with the University of Minnesota"s green team. She couldn"t say for sure that everyone walked out a supporter, but she feels confident she put to rest some concerns.

A step forward, she called it.

Earlier this month, a step backward: A Senate bill that would have allowed Crown Hydro to move ahead without Park Board approval was pulled by its author, leaving the normal process of landlord negotiations as the only way to go.

That was good news for both the Park Board and the City Council — the council unanimously and vocally opposed the bill, calling it an "egregious" power grab. But for Canales, the chances of Crown Hydro breaking ground before she dons a purple cap and gown have decreased.

She"s disappointed but hopeful, already planning what she"d do if things don"t move forward until after she"s left Minneapolis.

For the next three months, though, she"ll do her best to gather as much support as possible. She"ll continue trying to convince friends. She"ll write letters and contact organizations. She"ll manage her website and try to find those other 82 of 100. She"ll do all of that, plus study to get through two advanced placement courses, prepare for oral International Baccalaureate exams and try to find some time to relax as an ordinary teenager.

Just three months left.

"This is what high school is all about, right?" Canales said.

For more on Charise Canales’ efforts to find 100 Crown Hydro supporters, go to www.powerofonehundred.org.