Common Sense Canadian

No rate shock from cancelling Site C: Head of review panel

Posted December 4, 2017 by Damien Gillis in WATER

Harry Swain leading the Joint Review Panel into Site C (Photo: JRP)

At a press conference earlier today, Harry Swain, head of the Joint Review Panel into Site C Dam, disputed recent claims that the costs of cancelling Site C Dam would have to be borne by ratepayers in a short timeframe that causes rates to spike. Swain made the comments as a part of a wide-ranging critique of fear-mongering coming from the pro-dam Allied Hydro Council, the Liberal Opposition, and a loaded letter from the government’s own deputy ministers. He explained:

There is no requirement that the sunk costs be paid immediately. There are lots of precedents in regulatory proceedings in Canada and the United States for these costs to be spread out over a reasonable period of time, and so I don’t think that is going to be the source of a rate shock for BC.

Swain suggested the BCUC’s projected remediation costs were too high as well. “We are still mired in this sunk cost fallacy. Probably the one area where I disagreed with the BCUC was their contribution of about $1.9 Billion for remediation. I think that’s too high…I don’t think it’s a real issue.”

Swain also shot down other common attacks of the BC Utilities Commission’s report on Site C, such as its use of the lower end of Hydro’s demand forecasts:

It was severely critical of BC Hydro’s load forecasting ability…noting that in forecasts going back fifty years, 77% of the time, they had been high to way-too-high. They showed the increased attractiveness of the termination scenario, the lower the actual load turns out to be. In other words, if you adopted the load forecast that was given by BC Hydro, which the BCUC was constrained to do, you could be drawn to the notion that we needed the power early on. The Utilities Commission said, “Nah”. The low forecast – they had a band, high, medium, low – is the one that we would use and there are a number of considerations that could make the reality less than that.

“Even by Hydro’s account, we don’t need new power until somewhere in the middle of the 2030’s,” added Swain. “By better load forecasting, that’s probably put off to the 2040’s.”

Swain was highly dismissive of the two deputy ministers, Dave Nikolejsin and Lori Wanamaker, who challenged the BCUC report, including its use of low-end demand forecasting, questioning whether they had even bothered to read it.

Swain also picked apart the contention of the Allied Hydro Council – which is made up of unions seeking jobs from Site C construction – that Site C is important for “decarbonization” – a “serious, serious issue”, he acknowledged. “British Columbia is not the greatest sinner in this respect [and] has considerable capacity for further generation that does not emit carbon dioxide or methane, that does not involve damming a river.”

The argument that we cannot integrate renewable energy into the system because of its intermittency and its non-dispatchability doesn’t work very well. First off, we have more storage than just about anybody else…Second, we have some million-and-half acre-feet [of storage] coming back to us [from the Columbia River Dams] in 2024 – coincidentally, the date that Site C is supposed to be finished – which is non-treaty storage and ours to do with as we like. Even BC Hydro says that we can integrate on the order of more than a third of renewables in the existing system without new storage.

Finally, he noted that Site C, essentially a large run-of-river project as opposed to a storage dam, has only 0.4% of the storage capacity of the Williston Reservoir – making the argument for Site C over other renewables like wind and solar a moot point.

Swain’s comments come as the NDP cabinet is rumoured to be on the verge of announcing its decision on the project.


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.



    One thing Horgan should get clear, rate increases will be part of the NDP legacy whether the cancelled Site C or not. The corporate media hacks will preach this from their ivory towers ad nauseam. Christy will never be tarred with this messy white elephant debacle. She has done the work of the corporate interests and will get off free and clear. Every political land mine that Christy left including her massive debt will be blamed on Horgan. I hope he realises those who are not his friends and when the project is finished, what part of the environment does he sacrifice to keep the construction industry afloat temporarily? When it is all gone, what then?

    Doris Dalton

    The NDP are as unsatisfactory as the Liberals. We get no support for wanting freedom from so-called Smart meters, and they do not support the first-nations rights at Site C. We want better for our province. Next time, we will vote smarter.


    I’m afraid the BC NDP aren’t going to be our answer and certainly not our environments answer. I so wanted to believe they would lead with integrity……

    John's Aghast

    You want to talk about “sunk costs”? Then figure out the costs of a dam failure a la Mt. Polley. Figure out the Billion dollar settlement for the First Nation’s lawsuit. (Plus the legal fees).
    For goodness sake, and Rafe Mair’s, shut the god dam thing DOWN!


    The NDP should have canned all the BCUC appointees and the Liberal deadwood at Hydro before revisiting this matter. If they really wanted real numbers and a fair asessment.
    Let’s hope Horgan’s not just another Lyin Brian, or Crispy Clark in trousers.


    So, when Premier Horgan told a group of concerned citizens in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn in West Kelowna on Sunday afternoon, his concerns over the 4 billion already spent that cancelling the project would accelerate the payback of, significantly, compared to the 70 year amortisation period of the completed project cost of around 13 billion dollars, he’s mistaken.

    As it always appears to be about money, perhaps we should be talking about the violation of mandates, like the Liberal legislation to grant licenses to “independent power producers” (IPPs) coinciding with the violation of of the mandate that created BC HYDRO in the first place. That same piece of legislation also granted IPPs a guaranteed target market for the power they produce, namely BC HYDRO, legislated into a buy high, sell low situation.

    This is but one example of a breach of public trust, and that’s criminal. As such, it calls for a seizure of all that can be justified as proceeds of crime. As for Premier Horgan’s concerns about the more immediate cost of terminating Site C, he ought to rest assured that his Attorney General’s Office will get right to work on this and many more breaches of the public trust that they are all mandated to uphold.


      Agreed, and with regard to the criminal acts, crusty and her thugs should be in jail and the liberal party coppers emptied along with their personal assets just to pay for what you mentioned. The liberal coppers should be responsible for other appalling breeches of trust – giving water away to that disgusting trans national corporation Nestle.


    fearing that that Orange is the Red and Blue on this decision … oh my …

    Mary Lowther

    Given that the decrease in usage by British Columbians has become a significant problem for BC Hydro, I think it’s ridiculous to continue with the site C project.

    Mark Poole

    Right now this is a Liberal boondoggle……….If the NDP decide to continue the project they will own it…..all of it.


    It is time to clean house in Hydro. I am still paying extortion fees for this stupid costly dangerous smart meter program. Tear the whole thing down and start again as we and
    our children’s children will be paying for political short sightedness.


    Talk about separating the wheat from the chaff! Well done Harry Swain. Should be two deputy minister departures and two openings.

    Ron Wilton

    Bravo Harry! John, are you listening?

    Maestro Mike

    BC has an abundance of hydro power: BCUC has found that there is likely no need for Site C’s extra power?
    Site C is projected to cost us 10 – 12 billion dollars providing no further geotechnical problems arise, in which case the sky’s the limit.
    On the other hand, the least expensive power is now being produced with Off Shore Wind with the new turbines expected to deliver a massive 15 MW each: At a rough cost of 14 million dollars per turbine installed (and likely cheaper by the dozen), this works out at less than 1 dollar per watt.

    The invariably windy Hecate Strait with a nominal depth of only 15 metres is ideally suited for Off Shore Wind which can be built and paid for incrementally as and when demand for extra power is needed. With sufficient Turbines such a wind farm would easily provide cheaper power in excess of Site C… This from JWN Energy:
    Worried about Bird Strikes:
    Most importantly, Off Shore Wind would not offend FN Treaties with its potentially expensive compensation. (See Labrador’s Muskrat Falls?) … Nor be an eyesore, nor would it destroy irreplaceable agricultural land. These cannot be assigned a dollar value!
    Denmark has deferred building its Wind turbines until 2025, when they will be built with larger more efficient units’ further off shore. They still are planning to go ahead!
    As for job creation, land based infrastructure would be needed in the Northeast to service an Off Shore Wind project, employing many of the workers displaced with the cancelling of Site C.

    Some say, “You have to run two (or more) systems in parallel—a green system and a traditional system to fill the gaps when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.
    Compared to Site C, this can be achieved far more cheaply even with intermittent renewables.
    How you might ask?
    The existing Williston reservoir behind the WAC Bennet Dam provides the water for the 10 turbines which are now operating and supplying our more than ample 13,100 GWH of power in BC.

    Absent the likely need for NG liquidation, the system is presently designed to deliver sufficient power output to meet domestic peak demands: At such times all turbines are in operation and the spillways are fully open thus depleting the water in the reservoir.

    Intermittent wind or solar power and conservation (BC Hydro’s Smart Program) will offset the need for this depletion of water which will remain in the reservoir conserving power as stored backup when necessary.
    Combining this latent storage with the nascent adoption of EV’s with Vehicle to Grid capability, also known as LOAD BALANCING, will obviate the necessity for Site C.

    Cheryl Brown

    If the NDP is looking for a way to lose credibility with environmentalists and those of us concerned with costs, they will approve Site C. If they want to be the same as the Liberals, continuing with an unnecessary, expensive and environmentally dangerous project, they will approve Site C. If they approve Site C, I, and many, will never trust them or vote for them again. How will they be any different from the Liberals?

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