The Site C dam has lived many lives before its approval today by Premier John Horgan, from a twinkle in the eye of some BC Hydro engineers, to the target of multiple lawsuits, to two damning reports by the utilities regulator, to “the point of no return.”
Below, we’ve collected a few of the key moments in its life up to now.
- 1971: B.C. Hydro begins engineering feasibility studies for a potential third dam on the Peace River
- 1976: B.C. Hydro concludes that Site C, just upstream of Taylor, B.C., is the most feasible of the options on the table
- July 1980: B.C. Hydro releases an environmental impact statement, estimating the project might be completed by 1987 at the earliest; it also forecasts growth in power demand of 5.9 per cent for the following decade.
- Feb 13, 1981: The Globe and Mail reports that BC Hydro has applied for a water license to build Site C, then projected to cost $5.1 billion in 2017 dollars.
- May 3, 1983: BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) recommends against the project in a 315-page report, calling the utility’s demand forecasts “unreliable.”
- September 18, 1989: B.C. Hydro quietly revives Site C plan.
- November 30, 1993: BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen says, “Site C is dead for two reasons,” “The fiscal exposure is too great … the dam is too costly. Also it is environmentally unacceptable.”
- April 19, 2010: Premier Gordon Campbell announces the government is instructing BC Hydro to proceed with Site C. Cost is estimated at between $5 and $6.6 billion, though Campbell acknowledges the estimate is uncertain and based on old numbers. John Horgan, then energy critic for the NDP, tells the Vancouver Sun he believes the dam is unnecessary.
- May 17, 2011: Estimate of Site C cost pegged at $7.9 billion.
- May 18, 2011: John Horgan tells The Globe and Mail “The environment assessment process appears to be a sham.”
- August 2011: Environmental review begins.
- August 2013: Joint Review Panel (JRP) established to assess Site C for federal and provincial governments.
- October 14, 2014: Three-year environmental assessment complete. JRP concludes that Site C’s energy is not needed in the timeframe presented by BC Hydro. It recommends BCUC review Site C’s cost and alternatives. BC government ignores key JRP recommendations.
- December 16, 2014: Site C receives provincial government approval. Cost now pegged at $8.8 billion.
- July 2015: Construction begins despite pending court cases launched by First Nations and Peace Valley landowners.
- January 2016: Premier Christy Clark vows to push Site C past the “point of no return.”
- January 23, 2017: Federal Court of Appeal dismisses lawsuit from West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations. Question of whether Site C violates treaty rights has still not been tested in the courts.
- May 9, 2017: NDP wins enough seats to form government, contingent on Green Party support. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver expresses strong opposition to Site C while Horgan declines to take a position, repeating a campaign promise to send project for independent BCUC review.
- May 15, 2017: Project has spent $1.75 billion.
- November 1, 2017: BCUC delivers its report saying Site C behind schedule and over budget, and power not likely to be needed. Says cost may exceed $10 billion.
- November 30, 2017: Expert panel briefs NDP government on Site C.
- December 11, 2017: NDP government greenlights Site C dam. Cost now pegged at $10.7 billion.
- December 11, 2017: Two Treaty 8 First Nations announce they will seek an injunction to stop work on Site C and will launch a lawsuit in BC Supreme Court on the grounds that Site C violates treaty rights.
Site C construction on the banks of the Peace River, 2016. Photo: Garth Lenz