By: Terry Hand
Written: June 01, 2014

To build, or not to build the site C dam, that is the question!

For most of us embarking on a major and expensive project usually means we have a good reason for doing so, which brings me to the question, WHY build a dam at all? According to BC Hydro Site C dam will: “provide key benefits for B.C., including energy, dependable capacity and flexibility, regional economic development, job creation, and benefits for communities and Aboriginal groups”. This in itself sounds like a good project and has all the right ‘buzz’ words to keep the average voter happy, but it doesn’t really answer the question of why are we building this dam in the first place?

According to BC Hydro: “our forecasts show demand for electricity will increase by approximately 40 percent during the next 20 years”. Forecast (fore-cast) verb to predict, or estimate (a future event or trend). This sounds to me very similar to gambling, 1) Gamble (gam-ble) verb take risky action in the hope of a desired result. 2) noun an act of gambling; an enterprise undertaken or attempted with a risk of loss and a chance of profit or success.

For about fifteen years retired economist Erik Andersen has been monitoring Hydro’s accounting practices, their financial health and more importantly the cost of electricity to British Columbians. Recently Erik wrote an  article which rebukes Hydro’s claim of a 40 percent increased demand for electricity over the next 20 years.

Do we really need more electricity? What should be considered is that BC Hydro (according to the Joint Review Panel), has failed to prove that British Columbia needs the additional energy which site C would generate. Not only that, but the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) looked into the merits of Site C as a location for hydroelectric generation in 1980 and recommended it be deferred stating, “The commission is not satisfied that Hydro has demonstrated that a 1983 construction start-up date is justified…or that it is preferable to all other sources [of power].” It appears their [BCUC] position has not changed since. More recently the joint review panel stated, “The panel concludes that the proponent has not fully demonstrated the need for the project on the timetable set forth.” The Liberals are not listening. Why?

These points alone relegate a ‘forecast’ of 40 percent increase in power demand, down to that of a ‘gamble’, a 7.9 billion dollar gamble at that. If the same estimation methods which were used on the BC Place roof were also used to estimate the construction of site C there is little doubt the cost will be considerably more than 8 billion dollars; even a 10 percent overrun (not unheard of) would add 790 million to the cost. Then there is the question of interest to consider. The funny thing about interest is, it eats while we sleep. It never stops eating away at the people’s pocketbook.

Sidebar: From the joint review panel: “If ministers are inclined to proceed, they may wish to consider referring the load forecast and demand side management plan details to the BC Utilities Commission.” This is unlikely to happen now since the Liberal government has excluded the BCUC from providing any input into the project process. This is totally unacceptable to British Columbians!

On 26 May 2014, the Peace River Regional District (PRRD) sent a letter to premier Christy Clark and her cabinet, pleading with the Liberal government to have the BCUC review the project’s costs and the subsequent impact on ratepayers, before the final decision is made, as this would better serve the public interest. (Link to letter)

What are the Liberals trying to hide?

Some media have supported the government’s efforts to sell this project to British Columbians by (2) falsely quoting the review panel and by completely ignoring the fact that 3,800 hectares of prime farmland land and forests will be swallowed up. Is there a relationship between the construction of the site C dam and the future demand for water used in fracking wells? Is there a connection between proposed fracking sites and the changes to the ALR?

Costs come in many forms and apart from the enormous cost in dollars to the people of BC there are even larger costs in terms of the environment. The area which will be flooded under the proposed construction would flood 5,000 hectares of land, approximately 3,800 hectares of which is some of the most valuable agricultural land in British Columbia. There will be displacement of farmers and Indigenous people in the region. These costs are incalculable and must be considered above and beyond any monetary price tag.

The farmland that is about to be submerged will produce food for BC indefinitely and will reduce our dependency on imported food, which supply would surely dry up in the event of some unknown calamity, such as a trucking strike, or other serious event. Weigh this against the fact that a dam has a lifespan of 50 – 100 years or even less if mother nature waves her hand, or human error rears its ugly head. It is not difficult to realize that when the life of that dam comes to an end in 50 -100 years we, that is to say you and I, will still be paying for its construction. Then there is the problem and additional cost of removing the dam safely, and what does one do with all that backfill, deteriorated concrete and steel? This following (4) linked article gives more information about hydro including the lifespan of dams, and how dams can impact the environment.

We [people] have an obligation to act as stewards in protecting our natural resources for our children and future generations. We have an inherent responsibility to protect at all cost by making our voices heard on the site C issue. We must postpone or stop this project, and collectively we must look at the many varied alternatives available. Even financially strapped Spain is taking action with alternative (5) energy sources.

We at BC Refed believe that the collective knowledge of all British Columbians can resolve issues such as this through innovation, collaboration and using the knowledge and skills we possess. Look around you, all you see was imagined, designed, built and created not by politicians or CEOs, but by the skills of designers, engineers, scientists, doctors, trades people and labourers. This concept of people power is the very mandate of BC Refed through the process of Direct Democracy – the power of decision is in the hands of the people at all times, not just at election time.

In summary we cannot allow impatient, devil-may-care governments, politicians and profit-hungry corporations to force this upon us, for once that land is submerged, it is irrevocably lost.

Say ‘NO’ to Site C!

Terry Hand is an independent non-commercial writer and member of BC Refed.

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