IMG_0469.jpg

Why It’s Not Too Late to Stop the Site C Dam

“Hydro’s demand forecasts are persistently and systematically wrong. There is no reason to believe that much new power, if any, will be required in the next 20 to 30 years. But if there is, there are several alternatives available which are markedly less expensive and less damaging to Aboriginal interests, fisheries and the environment generally, than Site C.”

Those are the words of Harry Swain, who chaired the review of the Site C dam, in an affidavit filed in federal court this week.

The BC Hydro Ratepayers Association is challenging the decision of the federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans to issue a permit authorizing destruction of fish habitat for the Site C dam on the basis that the minister neglected to assess the justification for the project.

Indeed, the justification for the project is the key sticking point for many British Columbians concerned about the economic consequences of building the $8.8 billion dam on the Peace River.

In new polling conducted by Insights West on behalf of DeSmog Canada, 73 per cent of British Columbians support sending the Site C dam for an independent review of both costs and demand.

“Hasn’t that already happened?” you might wonder. The short answer is no, because Tweet: .@BCLiberals exempted the most expensive public project in BC history from review by the UtilitiesCommission http://bit.ly/2geuUlK #bcpolithe BC Liberals exempted the most expensive public project in B.C. history from review by the B.C. Utilities Commission.

Even so, Swain’s panel insisted the project be reviewed by the utilities commission — which exists to ensure fair rates and that shareholders in public utilities are “afforded a reasonable opportunity to earn a fair return on their invested capital.” The province ignored that recommendation.

During rate design hearings this summer, the B.C. Utilities Commission learned that BC Hydro doesn’t plan to pay off the Site C dam until 70 years after it’s built — in 2094.

And that’s a best case scenario, if BC Hydro’s load forecasts turn out to be correct — despite being persistently wrong — and if the project comes in on budget, despite a 2014 Oxford University study that analyzed 245 large dam projects and found cost overruns were, on average, 96 per cent.

One mustn’t look further than the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam in Labrador, which is now estimated to be $4 billion over its 2012 estimated cost and is projected to lead to an increase of $150 per month for every household’s electricity bill, to see the very real risk of overestimating demand and underestimating cost.

“The project is identical to Site C in the sense that the project went ahead without proper due diligence and the business case was not adequately undertaken and in a short period of time major changes took place which resulted in a phenomenal escalation of costs,” Marc Eliesen, former CEO of BC Hydro, told DeSmog Canada.

Which brings us back to the new polling. Seven in 10 respondents support pausing construction of Site C to investigate alternatives to meet future power demand.

While Premier Christy Clark has promised to get to “the point of no return” before the next election, survey results suggest British Columbians prefer taking a more measured approach.

“We’re not too late to either cancel or suspend Site C while a full and impartial, objective review is taken,” Eliesen said. “There have been a number of major hydro developments in Canada that were subsequently cancelled.”

Previous polls by BC Hydro have indicated broad support for the dam by using a question that references “increasing power demand” — despite the fact electricity demand was the same in 2015 as it was in 2005.

The new Insights West polling indicates that if demand for more power arises in the future, nine in ten British Columbians support investing in energy efficiency measures (92 per cent) and adding more wind, solar and geothermal power to the grid as needed (also 92 per cent). Just over a third (37 per cent) support building large hydro dams.

Given that nearly $9 billion of public money is at risk here, and the power isn’t needed for at least a decade, it seems prudent to give this mega project the review it should have received in the first place. 

Emma Gilchrist is executive director of DeSmog.ca, an online magazine focused on energy and environment. You can reach her at emma@desmog.ca

New title

You’ve read all the way to the bottom of this article. That makes you some serious Narwhal material.

And since you’re here, we have a favour to ask. Our independent, ad-free journalism is made possible because the people who value our work also support it (did we mention our stories are free for all to read, not just those who can afford to pay?).

As a non-profit, reader-funded news organization, our goal isn’t to sell advertising or to please corporate bigwigs — it’s to bring evidence-based news and analysis to the surface for all Canadians. And at a time when most news organizations have been laying off reporters, we’ve hired five journalists over the past year.

Not only are we filling a void in environment coverage, but we’re also telling stories differently — by centring Indigenous voices, by building community and by doing it all as a people-powered, non-profit outlet supported by more than 3,500 members

The truth is we wouldn’t be here without you. Every single one of you who reads and shares our articles is a crucial part of building a new model for Canadian journalism that puts people before profit.

We know that these days the world’s problems can feel a *touch* overwhelming. It’s easy to feel like what we do doesn’t make any difference, but becoming a member of The Narwhal is one small way you truly can make a difference.

If you believe news organizations should report to their readers, not advertisers or shareholders, please become a monthly member of The Narwhal today for any amount you can afford.

In search of Haida Gwaii’s forest-dwelling hawk, one of the most endangered species on the planet

A dense fog rolls in from the ocean on a cool, wet summer morning in Gaw Old Masset, a small village at the north end...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Help power our ad-free, non‑profit journalism
Will you be one of 194?

For our budget to add up, we need to reach 3,700 members by Oct. 31. Will you help make our independent environmental journalism available to thousands of others? Bonus: all our members get charitable tax receipts.