A recent poll found only six in 10 British Columbians have heard of B.C. Hydro’s $8-billion proposal to build a third hydroelectric dam on the Peace River.
But the decision about whether to build the Site C dam will directly affect all British Columbians — from the implications for our electricity bills to the flooding of some of B.C.’s best agricultural land.
The project has been on the books for more than 30 years; now the provincial and federal governments are expected to decide on the project by Oct. 22.
“I only want to build Site C if it makes the most sense for the people of the province,” B.C.’s Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett told the Vancouver Sun recently.
So, does Site C make sense for the people of B.C.?
There are five key reasons why the Site C dam isn’t justified.
1. It’s bad business
Big hydro dams tend to cost a lot of money, take years to build and bring one massive lump of power online in one fell swoop.
The Site C dam is no exception. With a price tag of $8 billion, it is the largest proposed infrastructure project in Canada. In its first four years, the dam is expected to lose $800 million while it sells surplus power at a third of what it costs to produce it.
“We have absolutely no confidence that this is the least-cost plan,” says Richard Stout, executive director of the Association of Major Power Customers of B.C.
Building Site C would take eight years — an eternity in the world of energy markets. Consider this: In the past five years, solar costs have dropped 80 per cent, while wind costs have dropped 35 per cent.
2. There are better alternatives
The Clean Energy Association of B.C. recently put forth a portfolio of renewable options it says would cost $1 billion less than Site C over the next 70 years.
What’s more, the joint review panel took the B.C. government to task for failing to pursue research into B.C.’s geothermal resources over the last 31 years (the last time Site C was rejected).
Even with next to no research, B.C. Hydro has estimated geothermal energy could economically replace two-thirds of Site C’s power.
3. The power isn’t needed
The joint review panel said B.C. Hydro failed to prove that Site C’s power is needed in the immediate future.
Even if the liquefied natural gas industry takes off, it wouldn’t justify building the dam. LNG plants are likely to be powered by natural gas and even if they did use electricity, the power would be required before Site C became operational circa 2024, according to the panel.
4. We can’t afford to flood farmland
The Site C dam would affect 13,000 hectares of agricultural land — including flooding 3,800 hectares of farmland in the Agricultural Land Reserve, an area nearly twice the size of the city of Victoria.
That’s roughly equivalent to taking the agricultural land base in Delta out of production. Those Peace Valley lands could produce fresh fruits and vegetables for a million people, says agrologist Wendy Holm.
5. The Peace has paid its price
“The project would be accompanied by significant environmental and social costs, and the costs would not be borne by those who benefit,” wrote the review panel.
B.C.’s Peace region is already home to two mega hydro dams and 16,267 oil and gas well sites.
“We have become the cash register for the province … . Now our way of life is going to be interfered with again,” said Liz Logan, Treaty 8 Tribal Association Chief.
West Moberly Chief Roland Willson has vowed to challenge the decision in court if an environmental assessment certificate is granted.
In a nutshell: While mega dams may have been a bright idea in the 1960s, in 2014 there are smarter ways of generating electricity. Instead of toiling over an outdated project, let’s move on to 21st-century energy solutions.
Emma Gilchrist is deputy editor of DeSmog Canada.