The real reason the BC government is spending $9 billion on Site C

December 21, 2015

From a lookout high atop a windswept bluff, the scale of work already underway at Site C is daunting. Large tracts of boreal forest logged. Vast amounts of topsoil stripped away for a trailer city to house hundreds of workers. Gravel from the fish-bearing river excavated to build a roadbed that will eat into the riverbank.

Despite all this activity, actual construction of the Site C dam itself is far off. Only a tiny fraction of the projected $9 billion needed to build the most expensive megaproject in BC’s history has been spent. There is still plenty of time to halt this project and have the public discussion we should have had a long time ago: Why this questionable project at this time?

Nothing underscores the importance of this conversation more than the simple fact that we don’t need Site C’s power and won’t for some time – 2028 according to BC Hydro itself.  And Hydro’s estimate is based on outdated projections for sales to large industrial and commercial users, as well as the assumption that no alternative sources of power will be developed, like wind, solar or geothermal.

So what’s the rush? Why is our government pushing so hard for Site C? The answer lies in the theoretical emergence of an LNG industry in the province, a premise on which Premier Clark has staked her political future. According to BC Hydro’s filings with the BC Utilities Commission, only with LNG plants coming online would hydro consumption begin to outstrip domestic supply.

Despite the fact that LNG proponents like Shell and Petronas haven’t actually committed a cent to building any plants, the rush is on to supply “clean” power for these theoretical projects, in order to offset some of the considerable emissions they would produce.

In addition to Site C construction, BC Hydro is working on new transmission lines for the benefit of LNG proponents. One of these, in the Dawson Creek/Chetwynd area, has already cost all ratepayers $300 million according to Hydro’s latest estimates. Another two would easily bring the total price tag to over $1 billion.

Energy Minister Bill Bennett recently said that the government wants these other two transmission line extensions exempt from review by the BCUC, meaning that hydro ratepayers and taxpayers will never know whether the BCUC considers either project to be justified. They will also never know what the regulator thinks of the proposed Site C dam, because the government has refused to submit that project to BCUC review as well.

All of this is exceedingly troubling from a public policy perspective, especially on the heels of the international climate change conference in Paris. During that conference, Premier Clark claimed that there is no “low hanging fruit” left in BC as far as climate change fixes are concerned.

Really? How about saying no to an LNG industry that doesn’t and may never exist? And no to an unnecessary dam that will destroy some of the best farmland on earth so that fossil fuel companies can heat up our fast-warming planet even more?

Ben Parfitt is a resource policy analyst with the CCPA-BC.