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Site C Project Far From Clean and Green, Finds New UBC Report

The Site C dam, advanced as the province’s showcase clean energy project by the B.C. government, will cause significant environmental damage without any significant climate benefit, according to a new report from the University of British Columbia.

Authored by Rick Hendriks from Camerado Energy Consulting, the report found Site C, a BC Hydro megadam proposed for the Peace River near Fort St. John, will not provide energy at a lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emission rate than other alternative energy projects.

“The government stated that the unprecedented level of significant adverse environmental effects from Site C are justifiable, in part, because the project delivers energy and capacity at lower GHG emissions than the available alternatives,” Hendriks, an energy consultant with more than 20 years experience analyzing large-scale hydropower projects, said.

“Our analysis indicates this is not the case.”

Comparing BC Hydro’s own data on Site C and alternative energy scenarios, the report found the megadam provides no substantial benefit over other renewable sources like wind and solar.

“I feel like the discussion in the public has made a few assumptions about the Site C dam that merit reexamination,” Karen Bakker, professor of geography at UBC and Canada Research Chair in Political Ecology, told DeSmog Canada.

“The assumption that Site C is clean and green is one that we actually need to scrutinize rather than assume,” she said.

Bakker, who oversaw the new greenhouse gas analysis, is one of several scholars who recently found the Site C project represents the largest amount of significant adverse environmental impacts ever reviewed under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act since its introduction into law.

She said although the joint federal-provincial review panel tasked with considering the Site C project did some good work, they were limited in resources and scope when it came to a fulsome project analysis. The panel did not consider the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the project.

“That’s the simple way to sum up why we’re doing what we’re doing,” she said.

Bakker said the report did not conduct an independent review of BC Hydro’s own greenhouse gas estimates for the project, but said, “even using their own numbers Site C is not cleaner or greener than other renewables.”

“Our analysis suggests that other renewables like wind and solar would help Canada achieve its climate change goals more quickly and cheaply and with much lower environmental impact than Site C.”

Bakker said the new report highlights the need for more thorough analysis of Site C’s environmental impacts. She added more research, which doesn’t rely on BC Hydro’s estimates, needs to be conducted.

“There’s much more to be done,” she said. “It would be great if this had been studied and geothermal had been examined as well.”

The Site C dam will power a proposed 1100-megawatt electricity facility, producing far more electricity than B.C. is projected to need for roughly two decades.

Local farmers, landowners and First Nations say the dam, which will flood 107 kilometres of the Peace River valley, will unnecessarily destroy wildlife habitat, First Nations archaeological and hunting sites and some of the province’s most productive agricultural land.

The chair of the Site C Joint Review Panel, Harry Swain, has come out against the project, saying B.C.’s domestic electricity demand has not significantly increased since 2007, meaning the province has no need for the estimated $9-billion project.

“I think we’re making a big mistake, a very expensive one,” Swain recently told DeSmog Canada. “Of the $9 billion it will cost, at least $7 billion will never be returned. You and I as rate payers will end up paying $7 billion bucks for something we get nothing for.”

“There is no need for Site C,” Swain said. “If there was a need, we could meet it with a variety of other renewable and smaller scale sources.”

Swain and the other panel members were prevented from making a recommendation on the Site C project, saying their review was too limited in scope and that the province consistently failed to investigate alternatives to the dam.

Bakker said the new greenhouse gas report highlights the need for more thorough and independent analysis of Site C. She urged the federal government to take the new information into consideration.

“The federal government committed to doing greenhouse gas assessments of all projects — upstream and comprehensive assessments,” Bakker said, saying both Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr promised as much in their January 27th statement on project reviews.

“We are sending a copy of this report to those ministers suggesting what we’ve done is a small input into what should be a much bigger process and asking who is doing that review, because that is what they’ve committed to.”

Bakker said how the federal government proceeds with the Site C project will determine whether or not Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet will honour their campaign promises and public mandates.

“The most significant precedent-setting litmus test in all of this is the First Nations issue,” she said.

“The fact that this government hasn’t publicly assessed whether Site C would infringe treaty rights, despite the fact that the joint review panel presented evidence that directly supports the claim that treaty infringements would occur, is a problem.”

“But we want to make sure that the broader discussion about balancing that against Canada’s climate change goals is not continuing on the basis of false assumptions.”

Image: W.A.C. Bennett Dam and the Williston Reservoir on the Peace River. Photo: Jayce Hawkins/DeSmog Canada

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