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B.C. Hydro rejected alternatives to Site C dam, hearing told

FORT ST. JOHN — B.C. Hydro considered but rejected six alternatives to the Site C dam, including a series of seven small, cascading dams, the chief project engineer for the dam said Tuesday.

FORT ST. JOHN — B.C. Hydro considered but rejected six alternatives to the Site C dam, including a series of seven small, cascading dams, the chief project engineer for the dam said Tuesday.

Consultant John Nunn said that the seven dams had a smaller reservoir footprint than Site C but would have been more costly in terms of requiring multiple sites for infrastructure, access roads, work camps and transmission lines.

When it came to the most effective use of the river for hydroelectricity, Site C came out ahead, he said, adding that it was also an excellent site for topographic and geological reasons with access to gravel for construction.

A Joint Review Panel for the provincial and federal governments is reviewing B.C. Hydro's proposal for a $7.9-billion, 1,100-megawatt dam at Site C that would flood 83 kilometres of the Peace River Valley from approximately Fort St. John to Hudson's Hope.

The dam would be 1,050 metres long and 60 metres high and would also flood 14 kilometres of the Halfway River, 10 kilometres of the Moberly River, eight kilometres of Cache Creek, three kilometres of Farrell Creek and one kilometre of Lynx Creek.

Concerns have been expressed at the hearings about loss of farmland, wildlife habitat and heritage sites if the flooding proceeds.

Rick Hendriks, a consultant representing Treaty 8 First Nations, said the "interests of the First Nations are inferior" to B.C. Hydro's policy of maximizing the hydroelectric potential of a dam on the Peace River and said the panel's environmental review is restrained from taking a "meaningful look at alternative sites."

Hendriks supports a smaller dam at a location known as Site 7B, upstream from the Halfway River, that he said would produce 25 per cent of Site C's power but would flood just 10 per cent of the area. It would leave BC Hydro less vulnerable to being stuck with excess energy, he said, adding that by "building smaller, incremental projects to meet the actual load, you don't have to export the surplus.

Site 7B would also have "substantially reduced" environmental impacts, and would save Watson Slough, a key wetland, and have reduced impacts on fish species such as grayling and whitefish.

Hydro has calculated that the energy costs under a two-dam scenario — Site C and Site 7B — would be 49-per-cent higher than Site C alone. It will provide a detailed response to Hendriks' 7B-only scenario at a later date during the panel hearings.

Philip Raphals, another Treaty 8 consultant, said BC Hydro has not indicated a specific need for the 1,100 megawatts of power, only that it wants it to for future energy capacity.

Warning against building capacity that is not needed, he said: "Current market prices and long-term forecast market prices . . . make the export of Site C energy not cost effective, which means the oversizing of the project . . . is a significant disadvantage."

The Clean Energy Act requires B.C. to generate "at least 93 per cent of its electricity from clean or renewable resources and to build the infrastructure necessary to transmit that electricity." The province recently redefined self-sufficiency as the ability to meet customer demand on an average water year — not at historically low or critical water levels.

Alison Thompson, chair of the Calgary-based Canadian Geothermal Energy Association, told the panel that B.C. has one of the largest concentration of hot springs in the world, but that BC Hydro does not consider the industry to be a serious source of stable energy.

While B.C. has no operating geothermal projects, the sector is generating 3,300 megawatts in the U.S. and 1,000 megawatts in Mexico. B.C. could be a "powerhouse on the world stage, not a fringe player," Thompson said, adding her industry is an "inconvenient truth" to B.C. Hydro. Clean Energy B.C., which includes wind energy and run-of-river projects, did not reject the need for Site C, but noted this sector presents a viable energy alternative without the environmental impact of a major reservoir.

Marvin Shaffer, an adjunct professor in the public policy program at Simon Fraser University, said that Site C would not be necessary if the B.C. government reversed its decision to close the natural gas-fired Burrard thermal generating station in Port Moody.

"The need for Site C is clearly tied to the elimination of Burrard as a source of backup capacity," he said. "In the rare event it is the worst drought on record and spot market prices go through the roof, we can always operate the Burrard plant."

Shaffer produced his submission to the panel as a consultant to the Peace Valley Environmental Association,

He also argued that B.C. Hydro is bringing on new industrial customers such as the mining and oil and gas sectors at "low-cost heritage" rates averaging less $40 per megawatt hour, even though the cost of new sources is more than twice that amount. "They're attracting electricity-intensive industry with the promise of cheap power that they don't have."

Liz Logan, Tribal Chief with Treaty 8 Tribal Association, said that aboriginals are at an unfair disadvantage in the hearings concerning their ability to respond to massive volumes of hydro studies and documents.

"We need the capacity and expertise to help us make our decisions and we don't have that. We have a David and Goliath situation here."

West Moberly Chief Roland Willson said the province and BC Hydro have not engaged in meaningful talks with natives because their mind is already made up on Site C. "We are not presented with alternatives," he said. "That's not consultation."

Gary Oker, a former chief with the Doig River First Nation, said his people have ancient stories about giant animals that once roamed the land and devoured native people. Speaking to hydro, he said: "We see . . . the giant animal has returned."

Hearings will continue in the Peace River region until Dec. 19, then resume Jan. 6 to Jan. 23, after which the panel will have about 90 days to make its recommendations to the B.C. and federal governments.

During an earlier B.C. Hydro bid for Site C approval, the B.C. Utilities Commission in 1983 recommended that other energy sources be studied and ruled that projected electricity demands did not then justify the dam project.