There's a reason that the BC Liberals didn't send the Site C Dam for a customary review when they unearthed the previously rejected hydroelectric mega-project in 2010. They knew the results wouldn't support building it. Now after construction was already force-started, a recently release BC Utility Commission (BCUC) includes some damning findings:
- Cancelling the project would cost $1.8 billion, on top of 2.1 billion which will have been spent by the end of the year.
- Completing the project would cost over $10 billion. Almost 2 billion over budget.
- Unresolved risks include issues with tension cracks, cost overruns and changes in technology leading to lower-than-predicted energy demands.
- “Increasingly viable alternative energy sources such as wind, geothermal and industrial curtailment could provide similar benefits to ratepayers as the Site C project, with an equal or lower unit energy cost.”
- BC Hydro's projected energy needs are "excessively optimistic"
In short, we have been lied to and taxpayers are on the hook for billions because of government and corporate recklessness. Additionally, the BCUC report was very limited in its scope, and did not deal with necessary issues such as:
The construction of the dam violates the rights of the Treaty 8 First Nations in the area, who were guaranteed the rights to hunt, trap, fish and continue their traditional way of life on the land. This will be impossible after flooding 107 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries.
Site C also violates the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which requires free, prior, and informed consent from Indigenous Peoples for the construction of projects on their traditional lands and territories. Site C does not have this consent, and would destroy hundreds of cultural sites, gravesites, and sacred areas.
As West Moberly First Nation Chief Roland Willson points outs, “If you're going to talk about reconciliation... Site C should be scrapped, pulled off the shelf, burnt so it can never come back again and we move forward on the alternatives package.”
It Would Destroy Necessary Farmland
The largest-ever exclusion of land from the Agricultural Land Reserve was made by the BC Liberals in 2015 to permit the flooding and destruction of this unique and valuable farmland.
Wendy Holm, a professional agrologist who provided expert testimony to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act/Environmental Assessment Office joint panel on Site C wrote, “B.C. is food-deficient in vegetables; we currently supply only 43 per cent of the B.C. market for fresh vegetables that can be grown in this province. The alluvial soils to be flooded to produce overpriced power for the Site C dam are capable of producing sufficient fresh vegetables to provide the nutritional needs of a million people. Forever.”
We Don't Need the Power
To begin with, BC Hydro has never been honest about power consumption requirements or the viable alternatives to Site C. An independent analysis provided to the BCUC by the auditing firm Deloitte found between 1964 and 2016, BC Hydro overestimated future electricity demand in B.C. 77 per cent of the time.
BC Hydro also told the BCUC that it had ruled out solar energy because it will cost $97/MWh in 2025. After questioning, they admitted the cost of solar is already half that at $48/MWh.
A recent UBC report found that Site C is now much more expensive than an alternative consisting primarily of wind power, pumped storage, and energy conservation. The report found that according to BC Hydro’s own forecasts, predicted electricity demand has dropped significantly. Site C electricity will not be fully required for nearly a decade after the project is finished and if demand growth does not keep up with BC Hydro’s current forecasts, power from Site C would likely need to be sold at a loss.
What About the Jobs Though?
To summarize, Site C: is billions over budget, late, violates indigenous rights, destroys unique farmland and provides expensive power we likely won't need. So what's the argument for building it?
Jobs. There are over 2000 people working on the construction site, with many more spin-off jobs in communities like nearby Fort St. John.
The first thing is to point out that the responsibility for this situation is with BC Hydro, the BC Liberals, and the corporate construction interests that pushed this project forward even though they knew it was a bad deal and a shaky investment. They are the ones who put peoples’ livelihoods in jeopardy by promising them jobs on a ridiculous project.
Is building an unnecessary and destructive dam really the only way to employ people? Of course not. That land specifically is fertile and unique, and already a coalition between the Treaty 8 Tribal Association, Peace Valley Landowner Association, Peace Valley Environment Association and Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative presented an alternative vision for the valley to the Joint Review Panel considering the Site C project.
Discussing the economic impact is not enough, although there is also a solution for it. Simply reduce BC Hydro work hours to 30 hours a week with no reduction in wages. This would mean the current 2000 Site C workers could be employed working on other projects, and hundreds more would need to be hired and trained as well.
Cancelling the project would also save literally billions which could be put to great use in education infrastructure, and the creation of sustainable jobs that could actually support those families in the long-term. All that is required is the political will and some long-term planning.
Unfortunately, even with the damning BCUC Site C report and other issues, NDP Premier John Horgan has still remained non-committal. He has also said he won't consider the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights related to Site C for the incomprehensible reason that this would be “retrospective”.
What Should Happen Now?
The cancellation of the project needs to happen immediately. Every day prolonging the decision wastes more and more taxpayer money. The BC NDP/Green government are in a position to show leadership in respecting indigenous rights and building a sustainable world during a time of obvious climate crisis.
As well as cancellation, we need to also demand an independent public inquiry into how we were forced into the Site C mess to begin with. There has be a major lack of accountability, obvious deceptions, and already billions of our taxpayer dollars wasted. An independent public inquiry would deal with the workers, farmers, indigenous, environmental and other concerns, as well as examining the obviously flawed decision-making process without government interference.
Fortunately, the momentum is against the project and towards accountability. Site C went from relative obscurity to major provincial election issue thanks to a public campaign, and recently 120,000 signatures calling for the cancellation of the Dam were delivered to the provincial government. Right now is an incredibly crucial time, and we need keep the pressure on!
Stop Site C!
Independent Public Inquiry Now!
Follow Thomas Davies on Twitter: @thomasdavies59
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