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Need for Site C Dam exaggerated as public hearings start next month

Posted November 7, 2013 by Damien Gillis in WATER
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Site C Dam heads to public hearings next month

Public hearings into the controversial, $8 Billion Site C Dam are set to commence next month, as the Joint Review Panel for the project indicated today that proponent BC Hydro has filled in some key gaps identified in its proposal.

The process will kick off on December 9 in Fort St. John and is scheduled to wrap up by the end of January, with a final recommendation on the project expected mid-year.

Do we really need Site C Dam?

BC Hydro maintains the need for the project is strong – a contention that has been challenged repeatedly in these pages.

“The need for the project is there certainly in the long term, it’s long-term planning. It, in fact, may be needed sooner, particularly from a capacity perspective,” Hydro spokesperson Dave Conway told media, citing a growth in demand to supply liquefied natural gas (LNG), mining and other industrial sectors.

Conway also referenced anticipated growth in population and use of electronic devices in defence of the need for a new dam.

But there are some serious holes in Hydro’s story.

BC’s electrical consumption flat

First off, despite considerable growth in population and electronic devices over the past decade, BC’s electrical consumption has remained pretty well flat. According to Stats BC, the province was a net exporter of 5,800 Gigawatt hours (GWhrs) of power last year – an excess of more than 10% of our actual demand. That figure is trending upward, as BC is awash in private power, while at the same time doing well with conservation.

Hydro predicted a growth in demand of 40% over the next two decades in its recent draft Integrated Resource Plan, but the utility has a long history of overestimating power needs, as independent economist Erik Andersen has detailed in The Common Sense Canadian.

Thirty years ago, when Site C was first proposed, British Columbians were threatened with brown-outs if the dam wasn’t constructed. Needless to say, this scary scenario never came close to materializing.

LNG a whole different animal

That said, the idea of powering the enormously energy-intensive, proposed LNG industry does introduce massive new electrical demands for the province. But this notion is fraught with a litany of problems, such as:

  • The dam isn’t expected to be completed until 2022-2023 at the earliest – which is too late for proposed LNG plants to depend on.
  • BC’s taxpayers and ratepayers need to ask themselves whether they want to spend $8 billion (likely far more, given the typical cost overruns of dams in general, not to mention this government’s routine mismanagement of capital projects) on a dam to provide subsidized power to the oil and gas industry. Site C will only compound already skyrocketing power bills for consumers.
  • The dam carries considerable environmental and food security trade-offs as it would flood close to 60,000 acres of wildlife habitat and prime farmland in the beautiful Peace River Valley. This at a time when the government is allegedly set to dismantle the Agricultural Land Commission to remove pesky farmland as an obstacle to oil and gas development.

Dam faces strong opposition

Local First Nations, environmental groups and landowners are supported by organizations beyond the region too, such as the Vancouver-based Wilderness Committee.

Says the organization’s National Campaign Director Joe Foy on today’s announcement:

There’s 100 kilometres of river valley — a huge amount of farmland — that would be flooded. I don’t know if the people in the south have locked on that yet. While that river is still running, we’ve got some fight in us.

The real question

Site C is often justified in terms of powering 450,000 homes, which is an unfair characterization, since BC looks to be a net exporter of power for years to come. When the government or crown corporation acknowledges that Site C is really about powering industry, at least they’re being more honest with the public. But in a day and age when we produce just 40% of our own food in BC, when power bills are going through the roof, when we’re running sizeable deficits and racking up debt for future generations, the question is this:

Should taxpayers shell out billions to destroy a massive amount of quality agricultural and forest land – all to provide highy-subsidized power to the oil and gas industry?

This is the question that needs to be front and centre at these public hearings beginning next month.

The Joint Review Panel is currently accepting applications to speak at the hearings.

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About the Author

Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.

17 Comments


  1.  
    Rod Stuart

    This is obviously a load of Greenpus Luddite propaganda. Get with the program.




    •  
      Damien Gillis

      No, it’s a factual assessment of the situation, Rod. If anything, it’s a typically conservative viewpoint that seeks to save taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars from wasteful, unnecessary government spending.

      Your lack of critical engagement with a single fact presented in the piece makes your point meaningless.




  2.  
    Sandra Apsassin

    No Dam Way Site C, my late grandmother lived in the area in early times before settlers arrived here and one of our a Great Chief of Treaty 8 is buried within the area. Do you Government have no feelings and why do you keep selling power if you don’t have enough!




  3.  
    xplorexpress

    Absolutly not. Stop selling our electricity for super cheap to the americans and we will have enough for us without doing these insanities. Our electricity is sold to americans for extremely cheap but to us–canadians–the price is exhorbitant and rising. Something is not right in this equation.

    Our lands and farms are precious. What good to have electricity and nothing to eat?

    Give your head a shake BCHydro!




  4.  
    m l johnstone

    unbelievable that in these times they would even think about flooding farmland




  5.  
    Hugh

    What happens when the inevitable hydro rate hikes kick in? People and businesses cut back power use.




  6.  
    Nathan Prince

    As a member of the Treaty 8 First Nations, I’ve been against this project since the beginning… This dam will kill whole generations of fish stock – look at the Mackenzie Lake – same thing happened when BC Hydro threw a dam and sunk numerous cultural sites and graveyards from First Nations families in the 80s… this project is nothing but a sham to power plants and have taxpayers foot the bill… quit drowning land and start building windmills or solar fields… what a waste of breathing space.




  7.  
    Jeff

    It is “my” opinion that being that the dam won’t be finished in time for the proposed LNG plant/s the power is slated for the Oil & Gas industry and also to be exported out of the country. They want the taxpayers to flit the bill so they can make more $$$… A lot more.




  8.  
    Damien Gillis

    Our food security is under assault all over the province. 500 acres of prime Delta farmland on the chopping block for housing development too:

    http://commonsensecanadian.ca/deltas-southlands-canadas-longest-battle-farmland/

    Not to mention the gutting of the 40-year-old Agricultural Land Commission to clear the way for oil and gas development:

    http://commonsensecanadian.ca/REPORTED_ELSEWHERE-detail/bcs-agricultural-land-commission-assault/




  9.  
    John de Visser

    ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!!
    You people have no soul. Your behavior is reprehensible, and blatantly criminal. You want to destroy 60,000 acres of habitat and some of the most fertile agricultural land in the world?
    Just get a gun and shoot yourselves in the head. Put your ignorance out of our misery.





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