Category Archives: WATER

Canada takes water for granted amid melting snowpacks, glaciers

Glacier National Park in BC's Kootenays has seen decreasing snowpacks in recent years (Sesivany/Jiri Eischmann/Wikipedia)
BC’s Glacier National Park has seen decreasing snowpacks in recent years (Sesivany/Jiri Eischmann/Wikipedia)

How long can you go without water? You could probably survive a few weeks without water for cooking. If you stopped washing, the threat to your life might only come from people who can’t stand the smell. But most people won’t live for more than three days without water to drink. It makes sense: our bodies are about 65 per cent water.

According to the United Nations, about 750 million people lack access to safe water — that’s one in nine! One child dies every minute from a water-related disease and 1.2 billion people, a fifth of the global population, live in areas where water is scarce. And it’s not just in other countries. As of January, at least 1,838 drinking water advisories were in effect in Canada, including 169 in 126 First Nations communities — some ongoing for years.

The myth of abundance

With Canada’s abundant glaciers, lakes, rivers and streams, we often take water for granted. (In my home province, we give it away to large corporations that bottle and sell it back to us at exorbitant prices!) We shouldn’t be so complacent. People in California thought they had enough water to fill swimming pools, water gardens and yards, support a fertile agricultural industry and shoot massive volumes into the ground to fracture shale deposits to release the oil they contain. Now, with the state in its fourth year of severe drought, regulators are considering emergency legislation and have imposed restrictions to deal with shortages.

California running dry

Droughts in California and elsewhere are serious warnings about what we could face in Canada and around the world as growing human populations and industry require ever more water, and as climate change wreaks havoc on the Earth’s hydrologic cycle, causing drought in some areas and flooding in others.

World faces 40% water shortfall by 2030

According to a UN report, as water supplies dwindle, demand from manufacturing, thermal electricity generation and domestic uses will increase 55 per cent by 2050. The report, “Water for a Sustainable World”, says that unless we find better ways to manage water, the world could face a 40 per cent shortfall by 2030. About 20 per cent of the world’s aquifers are already overexploited.

Water shortages and unsafe water lead to many problems, including food scarcity and crop failure, increased poverty and disease, ecosystem collapse, problems for industry and increasing conflicts over dwindling supplies.

As individuals, we should do everything possible to conserve water, but avoiding massive shortages of clean water will take concerted action at all levels of society. The UN report concludes:

[quote]The global water crisis is one of governance, much more than of resource availability, and this is where the bulk of the action is required in order to achieve a water secure world.[/quote]

Conservation is the key

Water conservation is the best way to ensure we have enough to go around. Recycling wastewater and reserving clean water for drinking, moving away from water-intensive agricultural practices, reducing water pollution and avoiding industrial activities that use excessive amounts of water are also important. The report states that the growing demand for meat, large homes, motor vehicles, appliances and other energy-consuming devices “involves increased water consumption for both production and use.” And while population is a factor, the report shows the increase in water demand is double the rate of population growth.

At the policy level, better supply and sanitation infrastructure and improved management are essential. Protecting natural assets such as forests and wetlands that purify and store water and reduce flooding will help, especially in light of expected increases in natural disasters as the world continues to warm. Of course, doing all we can to reduce climate change and its consequences is also crucial.

The report also notes the world’s current obsession with economic growth has “come at a significant social and environmental cost,” including greater demands on water resources.

Not just about water

Getting a handle on water management and conservation concerns us all. It’s also about social justice, as the poor feel the brunt of negative impacts from water pollution and shortages.

As the UN report points out, “It is now universally accepted that water is an essential primary natural resource upon which nearly all social and economic activities and ecosystem functions depend.” Water makes life possible. We must never take it for granted.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Lawyer warns LNG industry- Don't count on power from Site C dam

Lawyer warns LNG industry: Don’t count on power from Site C dam

Lawyer warns LNG industry- Don't count on power from Site C dam
Lawyer Rob Botterell represents First Nations and landowners in the Peace Valley region

The following is an open letter sent by lawyer Rob Botterell to the BC LNG Alliance, key BC Liberal ministers, and Treaty 8 First Nations. Site C Dam is being looked to as a possible source for the additional power required for proposed LNG plants on the BC coast.

Dear Respected First Nations, LNG Industry and BC Government Leaders:

In my capacity as a lawyer who has represented First Nations for many years, I am writing to you about the relationship between the planned Site C dam and the proposed new LNG export industry.

Premier Christy Clark announced the approval of the Site C dam on December 16th, 2014, but the dam lacks First Nations’ support and the social licence necessary to proceed. Currently, seven strong court challenges from First Nations and non-First Nations are underway. Construction of Site C is delayed at least until summer 2015.

True reconciliation of First Nations, LNG Sector and BC government interests requires full respect for, and accommodation of, First Nations’ constitutionally protected treaty rights, title and interests. The Site C dam would adversely impact First Nations’ treaty rights, title and interests in a massive and irreversible way. This devastating impact is completely unnecessary when cost competitive, renewable and non-renewable energy alternatives to Site C exist.

Contrary to the Premier’s statements, these energy alternatives would also provide combined short, medium and long term economic benefits to First Nations’ governments, contractors and community members that far outweigh any economic benefits from Site C.

For those First Nations who are engaged in impact and benefit agreement (lBA) negotiations with LNG sector companies or the province, I respectfully urge you to insist on IBA provisions that require the use of electrical power sources other than Site C by those LNG sector companies.

For those LNG Sector companies and BC government ministries involved in such discussions, I urge you to respect the legitimate interests of BC First Nations and agree to incorporate such provisions in IBAs.

An energy future that respects First Nations’ treaty rights, title and interests in the Peace River Valley is long overdue.

Yours truly,

Robert H. Botterell, LLB, MBA, FIBC

Shocking critique from Site C Panel Chair should have govt pulling plug

Shocking critique from Site C Panel Chair should have govt pulling plug

Shocking critique from Site C Panel Chair should have govt pulling plug
Site C Joint Review Panel, with Chair Harry Swain seated in middle (250 News)

In a highly unorthodox move for a person in his position, the chair of the Joint Review Panel for Site C Dam has come out with harsh words for the $9 Billion project and the BC government’s hurry to get it built.

Harry Swain, a former federal deputy minister with deep experience in the environmental assessment business, made the comments in an eye-opening interview with Desmog Canada’s Emma Gilchrist, almost a year after the panel he led issued its report. Speaking for himself, Swain said:

[quote]There’s a whole bunch of unanswered questions, some of which would be markedly advanced by waiting three or four years. And you’d still be within the period of time, even by Hydro’s bullish forecasts, when you’re going to need the juice.[/quote]

The province and BC Hydro, by contrast, want shovels in the ground on the project – which would flood or disrupt 30,000 acres of prime farmland – as early as this summer.

Cost and need questioned

Recent changes to environmental assessment laws in Canada mean review panels no longer make decisions on projects,  instead issuing recommendations to Cabinet, which has the ultimate say. Swain agrees with this approach, noting to Gilchrist, “I’m still strongly of the view that review panels are advisors and governments get paid to make the decisions and live with the consequences at the next election.”

To that end, Swain’s panel gave the provincial and federal governments plenty of food for thought in a 471-page report  that raised tough questions about the economic case and need for the project.

And with good reason. In just the few months between the province issuing Site C’s environmental certificate to confirming the project will proceed, the cost ballooned by nearly another billion dollars. This from a government with a long track record of doubling the cost of major capital projects on its watch.

As our resident economist Erik Andersen has demonstrated time and time again in these pages, the power from Site C is simply not needed – not now, nor far into the future. BC’s electrical demand has flatlined, thanks to increased conservation and a decline in industrial demand, and Hydro has consistently, vastly overestimated future demand.

Swain echoed this point in his recent interview. “Frankly, I think their low-demand figure was probably overstated,” he noted. “So far there is no evidence that even their low usage scenario is likely to take place.”

To this point, the stated need for Site C has changed several times, including powering LNG and a new justification that emerged before the panel – that BC could sell this excess power to California.

A $350 million/year loss

The only trouble with this plan is that it’s a losing proposition for BC ratepayers and taxpayers. With power trading consistently for $30/megawatt hour on the spot market and Site C’s anticipated cost at over $100/MWh, it’s not hard to see how the project could end up costing the public far more than the crippling $9 Billion sticker price and financing.

In fact, the panel projected an $800 million operating loss for the project in its first four years. Dan Potts, retired head of the Association of Major Power Users of BC, pegs this figure even higher, at $350 million a year loss going forward.

Then there’s the matter of the risk the project’s escalating cost poses to the province’s credit rating – enough of a concern that it prompted Finance Minister Mike de Jong to take a last-minute trip to Toronto, before announcing Site C would proceed, to meet with ratings agencies and plead the province’s case. So far, we’ve held onto our Triple-A rating. But how long will that last with massive new debts like these and the likelihood of major cost overruns?

Energy watchdog stripped of oversight

Swain is also highly critical of the government’s process in reviewing the project, especially stripping the public’s energy watchdog, the BC Utilities Commission, of its oversight. Says Swain:

[quote]Knowing that the province had decided to exempt the project from the scrutiny of the utilities commission, we nonetheless felt that that was not good public policy and recommended otherwise. They of course gave us the back of their hand.[/quote]

The BCUC specializes in reviewing proposed projects and energy plans based on their need and value to the public. Swain’s panel was not as well equipped to review these issues, as he now acknowledges. That requires much, much more time and expertise,” he noted to Gilchrist. “Moreover it is a job that the utilities commission is specifically set up to be able to do.”

Alternatives ignored

Swain calls the government and Hydro’s failure to investigate alternatives to Site C “a dereliction of duty.” While reports from the geothermal industry suggest this untapped energy source could provide for all of the province’s future needs, it has received little to no attention from a government hellbent on this antiquated dam.

The province or the province and its wholly owned subsidiary BC Hydro should have taken to heart the admonitions of the utilities commission 32 years ago and done some of the basic work that would allow an industry to develop,” Swain told DeSmog Canada. “But they didn’t do it, so there we are.”

First Nations not going away

The panel’s terms of reference restricted it to merely cataloguing First Nations concerns about the project. “We were not to pass an opinion on them,” noted Swain. “We were not to say whether consultation had been adequate and so on and forth. If you are forbidden to talk about that, you can not come to a conclusion about the overall project.”

But the review panel and the governments which issued the project’s environmental certificates only delayed and intensified the threat from First Nations to derail the project. Site C now faces multiple provincial and federal lawsuits, already in progress, from First Nations and farmers. These legal challenges are based, essentially, on the BC Liberal government’s choice to ignore many of the panel’s most critical findings, relating to cost and need.

Recent attempts by BC Hydro to speed up hearings in order to facilitate a summer construction start failed to persuade a federal judge. Then, just last week, the Blueberry River First Nations upped the ante with an ambitious civil claim against the province over longstanding treaty violations. Central among their concerns is Site C, for which they acknowledged they may seek an injunction as part of this lawsuit.

This just doesn’t happen

The most striking fact of Mr. Swain’s recent interview is that it happened at all. I’ve been documenting environmental assessments at the provincial and federal level for close to a decade now and you simply don’t see this. Panel chairs don’t comment publicly on political decisions that relate to their recommendations after they’ve rendered them.

The fact that Mr. Swain felt compelled to unburden himself of his frustration with the government’s haste in building Site C should – on top of all the other noteworthy critiques from agrologists, economists, lawyers, citizens and First Nations – give us all pause. It should convince this government to take a deep breath and reevaluate the most costly capital project in the province’s history.

But then, a government that demands this kind of public chastising is probably the least likely to listen to it.


Federal Court denies BC Hydro’s request to hurry up Site C challenge

Peace Valley ranchers Ken and Arlene Boon are plaintiffs in several Site C Dam challenges (Damien Gillis)
Peace Valley ranchers Ken and Arlene Boon are plaintiffs in several Site C Dam challenges (Damien Gillis)

A federal court judge has denied BC Hydro’s motion to rush a legal challenge against the crown corporation’s planned Site C Dam project. Hydro sought to expedite the hearing in May in order to keep to its planned construction start this summer – after receiving its provincial and federal environmental certificates late in 2014 – but that’s now up in the air.

According to a media advisory from the plaintiff, the Peace Valley Landowners’ Association (PVLA), the hearing will likely be scheduled for sometime this summer, depending on the court’s availability. Hydro argued that such a delay would cost the utility money, but the judge gave more weight to the plaintiff’s need for time to prepare its case.

Need, financial case for Site C challenged

The case is being brought by lawyer and ex-TD Bank Comptroller Rob Botterell on behalf of many of the landowners in the Peace Valley whose farms would be flooded or disrupted by the dam. Their challenge is built partly on the fact that the Liberal Government excluded the public’s independent energy watchdog, the BC Utilities Commission, from reviewing the project. The regulator was built precisely for this purpose: to examine proposed energy projects and plans based on their need and value to taxpayers and ratepayers.

This step, along with the provincial government’s decision to ignore the strong misgivings of the Joint Review Panel surrounding the need and financial case for the project constitute excessive political interference in the plaintiff’s view. Noted Botterell in a media advisory on the eve of the project’s approval last year:

[quote]Public infrastructure decisions of the size and scope of Site C…require the most thorough public scrutiny. It is simply unacceptable to make such decisions behind closed doors, release limited explanatory information, and conduct public policy by news conference sound bite. For the largest public infrastructure decision in provincial history we deserve better: open, transparent, and unfettered review of Site C’s economics  by the independent and expert BC Utilities Commission.[/quote]

Government ignored its own rules

The PVLA’s case is also anchored in the fact that the provincial government violated the very rules that it laid out in the terms of reference for the Site C review. According to the PVLA:

[quote]The Ministers relied upon a referral package from the Environmental Assessment Office that declared several key Panel recommendations to be beyond the scope of the Panel’s mandate. The PVLA Petition is based on a thorough review of the documents which set the scope of the Panel’s mandate, and which reveal that the Panel was not only permitted but was expressly required to assess the very economic impacts of the Project that were the subject of the recommendations the Ministers failed to consider. (emphasis added)[/quote]

They argue the government was not permitted to simply set aside the panel’s concerns about project need and cost – which has already increased by nearly a billion dollars from the time of the hearings to the approval announcement, now weighing in at $9 Billion – by far the most expensive capital project in BC history.

Four challenges heard together

In the federal court’s recent ruling on the case, it also decreed that three other plaintiffs bringing similar cases – two Alberta First Nations and BC’s Treaty 8 First Nations – present their arguments at the same summer hearing, alongside the PVLA.

Meanwhile, two more legal challenges in BC provincial court have a joint preliminary hearing on February 25. Following that, the PVLA’s provincial judicial review petition will begin being heard on April 20, with a similar petition by BC’s Treaty 8 First Nations yet to be scheduled.

The PVLA has already raised close to $100,000 for its legal challenges of Site C Dam.

Why BC Hydro always overestimates future power demand- Economist

Why BC Hydro always overestimates future power demand: Economist


Why BC Hydro always overestimates future power demand- Economist

What BC Hydro says about its own work clearly establishes the forecast as a foundation document for future planning for new generation and distribution investments:

[quote]Load forecasting is central to BC Hydro’s long-term planning, medium-term investment, and short-term operational and forecasting activities. (1)[/quote]

Because of this importance, the forecast needs to be as accurate as possible and that is where matters get interesting.

Getting the numbers wrong

An illustration of getting the numbers wrong can be seen on page 21 of the 2012 Load Forecast: “Comparison of 2011 and 2012 Forecasts”. There is a forecasting error of about 4% in each year for the period 2013 through to 2032. BC Hydro discovered that it had projected total demand numbers in 2011 that it subsequently reduced 12 months later, by about 4% for each of the following 20 years.

Case in point for year 2017; the 2011 forecasted demand value was 4,219 GWhrs more than was presented in Forecast Year 2012, one year later. This amount of error is the equivalence of the projected annual output of the proposed Site C dam or $9 billion of borrowed money.

This is not a one-off event, just part of a pattern across the past decade. For example, from the 2007 Forecast, the demand value for 2012 was projected to be 57,201 GWhrs for the year. Actual reported sales, in GWhrs (2), were 52,197; 5,004 less than forecasted in 2007. This was a forecasting error of 9% for only 5 years on from its presentation.

Industrial power demand on the decline

By the 2012 Forecast BC Hydro was beginning to recognize that its previously held opinion of future demand was wrong. For example:

[quote]The residential forecast is below last year’s forecast for all years of the forecast due to lower housing starts and account projections, and lower loads anticipated from EVs…Industrial sales are projected to be lower than last year’s forecast.(3)[/quote]

This was a very belated recognition of a condition that was evident starting about 2007. Sales to large industrial customers had been steady at about 16,000 GWhrs per year in the first half of the decade, but certainly not increasing and thereby providing no supportive evidence of growth of demand for this customer category.

To no one’s surprise 2008 sales to large industrials was the start of a downward trend. In 2009 sales were 14,303 GWhrs, in 2010 13,020 GWhrs, where they have flat-lined right up to March of 2014 (last report available).

Commercial and light industrial too…

Regarding the sales outlook for the customer category “commercial and light industrial”, BC Hydro wrote: “Total commercial forecast is below the 2011 Forecast in the initial period of the forecast; this primarily reflects lower commercial distribution sales driven by slower growing economic drivers.”

What gives?

Now, dear reader, you might rightly ask yourself why has and does BC Hydro gets its forecasting wrong. The answer or answers are not so easy to discern but they are most likely because of using model entry data of poor quality, thereby compromising projections. For residential customers, the “forecast is the product of accounts and use per account. The account forecast is driven by projections of regional housing starts.”

Graph 1

For commercial customers, “The key drivers of these end-use models are regional economic variables (i.e., commercial output [Gross Domestic Product (GDP)]), employment, retail sales, and non-economic variables such as weather and average stock efficiency of the various end uses of electricity.” For large industrial customers:

[quote]GDP growth projections are used to develop the forecast. (4)[/quote]

Political science

Common to all customer categories is the forecast for Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is where BC Hydro loses control by taking the GDP outlook from the BC Ministry of Finance. The Government’s outlook on GDP has been consistently bullish, simply because its preparation has too large a political dimension. Government budget presentations universally project an increase for year two greater than for the upcoming year. To do otherwise would be a career-ending action.

Rising consumer costs = more conservation

As to the residential forecast it focuses on the outlook for meter installations. People are the consumers of electricity not addresses of meters. It was clear from the evidence presented at the hearing on the installation of the “smart meter” that one customer sometimes had multiple meters. In urban areas, where real estate prices have increased dramatically, population densification has been a trend, meaning that more than two people can often be behind one meter.

BC Hydro does prepare their forecasts being mindful of price elasticity. Yet resistance to higher rates, and ones destined to increase at accelerating rates, has possibly not been adequately appreciated by BC Hydro.

An additional driver used by BC Hydro when preparing the forecast of residential demand is “personal income”. There are two factors that degrade the use of personal income data. The first is the trend of exporting high-income, value-added jobs from the province. The second is the progressive increase in service fees and rates that shrink disposable incomes. Decreasing ridership on BC ferries is a good example of this dynamic.

Need for Site C unproven

There is no argument that BC Hydro has a history of wrongly exaggerating the outlook for electricity demand. This could be because some of the input data for its modeling are politically contaminated. The construction of Site C, a $9 billion matter using borrowed money, is not even close to having the support of a believable forecast of demand. The sloppy business case for this dam is a disgrace and an insult to the citizens of BC.

(1) BC Hydro Electric Load Forecast: 2012; page 7
(2) BC Hydro Annual Report for Fiscal 2012
(3) BC Hydro 2012 Load Forecast; page 11
(4) Ibid; page 8

Law suits, govt errors may sink Site C Dam

Site C Dam: Govt ignores own rules, faces multiple lawsuits

Peace Valley ranchers Ken and Arlene Boon are part of several law suits (Damien Gillis)
Peace Valley ranchers Ken and Arlene Boon are part of several lawsuits over Site C Dam (Damien Gillis)

UPDATE – 2:30 PM PST: The BC Liberal government has approved Site C Dam, with construction tabled to start this summer.

Even if the BC Liberal government decides today to approve the now $8.5 billion Site C dam, the project still faces some big legal hurdles – based on mistakes the government made following the environmental review process.

In a nutshell, Site C faces six lawsuits from three different groups – each bringing both provincial and federal challenges. The plaintiffs include Alberta First Nations, BC First Nations and the Peace Valley Landowners’ Association (PVLA). Each case boils down to two main issues that linger from the Joint Review Panel’s indecisive verdict on the project earlier this year.

The first issue is the fact that the need for the project has still not been demonstrated. The second is the lack of fiscal due diligence surrounding the project.

Rob Botterell, former Comptroller for TD Bank in BC and the lead lawyer representing the landowners, reminds taxpayers, “At $8.5 Billion+, this would be the largest public infrastructure expenditure in the history of the province – the equivalent of 19 fast ferries.”

Independent regulator had its hands tied

Botterell’s case is built partly on the fact that the Liberal Government excluded the public’s independent energy watchdog, the BC Utilities Commission, from reviewing the project. The regulator was built precisely for this purpose: to examine proposed energy projects and plans based on their need and value to taxpayers and ratepayers.

The fact that the regulator was deliberately barred from doing its job on Site C constitutes gross political interference which may be legally actionable, in Botterell’s view. In a release prior to today’s announcement on the project, he noted:

[quote]Public infrastructure decisions of the size and scope of Site C…require the most thorough public scrutiny. It is simply unacceptable to make such decisions behind closed doors, release limited explanatory information, and conduct public policy by news conference sound bite. For the largest public infrastructure decision in provincial history we deserve better: open, transparent, and unfettered review of Site C’s economics  by the independent and expert BC Utilities Commission.[/quote]

Botterell’s clients, a group of landowners in the Peace River Valley – some 30,000 acres of which would be flooded or disrupted by the project – have been granted a hearing at the BC Supreme Court on April 20. They will be seeking a Judicial Review that quashes the government’s issuance of the environmental certificate for Site C in October.

The PVLA is alleging that Cabinet erred in dismissing key portions of the Joint Review Panel’s findings on the project. While the JRP neither recommended nor argued against Site C, it found some gaping holes in the case for the project, which the government has thus far completely ignored.

BC govt breaks its own rules, gets sued

According to a legal backgrounder on the PVLA’s case, these issues include the overall need for the project – which was not demonstrated throughout the hearings – and the “uncertain economic effects of the Site C Project, including the Project cost, Site C electricity costs, and revenue requirements for the Project.”

This is the crux of the case: According to the PVLA’s legal petition, in ignoring these key findings from the panel, the government violated the very rules that it laid out in the terms of reference for the Site C review.

[quote]The Ministers relied upon a referral package from the Environmental Assessment Office that declared several key Panel recommendations to be beyond the scope of the Panel’s mandate. The PVLA Petition is based on a thorough review of the documents which set the scope of the Panel’s mandate, and which reveal that the Panel was not only permitted but was expressly required to assess the very economic impacts of the Project that were the subject of the recommendations the Ministers failed to consider. (emphasis added)[/quote]

In other words, the Liberal government set the rules for the review process, then broke them as soon as they became inconvenient. Project cost and need are no mere trivial matters and to cast them aside and proceed with Site C is highly irresponsible – and possibly illegal, according to this suit.

“The Ministers were not permitted under the Environmental Assessment Act to ignore the Panel’s findings and recommendations about the significant problems and uncertainties relating to Project and electricity cost estimates, load-forecasts, and valuation of alternatives for the Project,” say the plaintiffs.

And these are far from the only warning signs that should compel the government to halt the project or defer its decision.

Project’s cost keeps climbing

For starters, there’s the almost billion-dollar increase to the project’s sticker price leading up to the government’s announcement – now up to $8.775 Billion, making it the most expensive capital project in BC history. This from a government with a long track record of doubling initial estimates on much smaller capital projects – far, far worse than the NDP’s fiscal record in the 90s.

With dams particularly notorious for going over budget, there is no reason to expect Site C not to balloon further in cost.

BC’s credit rating in jeopardy

This would be compounded if Site C cost BC its Triple-A credit rating – a justifiable fear only made more real by Finance Minister Mike de Jong’s last-minute trip to meet with ratings agencies in Toronto on the eve of this announcement.

A lower credit rating means a higher cost of borrowing, hence a more costly dam – not to mention other fiscal challenges across the board. This last-minute trip by de Jong also begs the question: If you’ve already made the decision to proceed with Site C, then why go to Toronto now; if you haven’t, then why not leave more time to carefully contemplate your findings before rushing to announce your decision?

With soaring debt at BC Hydro, plus over $100 Billion in hidden taxpayer obligations (from private power contracts, public-private-partnership deals and the like) and close to $70 Billion in conventional provincial debt, BC’s credit rating should be in jeopardy.

Remember, when the NDP left power in the early 2000s, our provincial debt was a mere $34 billion, with none of these extra costs. Pile on Site C Dam, plus these hidden obligations – which are debt by another name – and the Liberals will have raised the real burden to BC taxpayers by over 5 fold since coming to power!

Already, we’ve seen skyrocketing power bills in recent years – which we can only expect to intensify if Site C proceeds.

No need for Site C

This will be compounded by the lack of need for the project, as we learned throughout the JRP’s hearings. This notion has been reinforced by both the premier and BC Hydro’s confused messaging around the project.

At first, Site C was to power BC’s homes, but when we became a solid net exporter of power in recent years – according to BC Stats – the rationale morphed into powering energy-intensive LNG projects. But BC Hydro undermined that statement during the JRP hearings, saying it was instead to export excess power to California – likely a money-losing proposition for BC.

Then, just last week, Christy Clark went back on her LNG argument, admitting that Site C was not in fact required for that industry. Even Hydro acknowledges we won’t need the power from Site C until 2022 at the earliest, but the crown corporation has a long history of exaggerating demand, and, thanks to improved conservation, BC’s power consumption has barely risen since the early 2000s and shows no signs of increasing – an important fact Hydro ignores.

Buy high, sell low

Because the need isn’t there, and because Site C would be one of the most expensive new energy options available to British Columbians, every watt will be produced at a loss as we dump unused power on the North American grid – which pays something like $30-35/megawatt hour for power which will cost us around $100 to produce.

This led the retired head of the Major Power Users’ Association of BC, Dan Potts, to predict a $350 million/year operating loss for taxpayers from Site C . “This project is turning gold into lead,” said Potts at a recent Vancouver press conference on the project.

[quote]It’s going to have a legacy of wealth destruction…It’s going to sap the province’s ability to raise money and borrow money, to do other things, such as infrastructure, hospitals, schools – all the things we need to do.[/quote]

First Nations lawyer up too

Finally, in addition to both provincial and federal lawsuits from the Peace Valley landowners, Site C faces legal challenges from BC’s Treaty 8 First Nations, as well as separate actions from Alberta’s Treaty 8 First Nations.

Knowing the victorious track record of Aboriginal court cases in Canada of late, even if the Liberal government makes the mistake of forging ahead with Site C Dam, it can expect to run headlong into a wall of legal challenges.

IPPs even worse rip-off than Site C Dam, SFU economist warns

IPPs an even worse rip-off than Site C Dam, SFU economist warns

IPPs instead of Site C Dam? Don't go there, says SFU economist
Construction of a private power project on the Ashlu River (Photo: Range Life)

The following article by renknowned energy expert and SFU economist Dr. Marvin Shaffer is republished from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Policy Note

You would think that the fiasco of the government forcing BC Hydro in recent years to buy run-of-river and other IPP supply that it didn’t need, resulting in losses of hundreds of millions of dollars per year, would have put that unfortunate policy on the back burner for a long time.

Not so. Clean Energy BC, the lobby group very ably representing IPPs in the province, has released a report claiming that BC Hydro could save $750 million to $1 billion if it were to buy a basket of run-of-river, wind, biomass and other IPP supply instead of building Site C. And apparently Minister Bennett is looking at that option as an alternative to Site C.

No reason to believe private power lobby

There is, of course, little reason to believe IPP supply would provide cost savings of $750 million to $1 billion relative to Site C. The estimates of such cost savings assume that IPP supply can be secured by BC Hydro at an average cost of $74/MWh, some 40% less than the average $125/MWh price BC Hydro contracted to pay after its last call for new supply.

The estimated cost savings also ignore the relatively low value of run-of-river and wind supply, run-of-river because of the disproportionate amount of energy produced in the springtime and wind because of the intermittent nature of the supply and consequent need for constant back-up. And, the estimated savings ignore differences in the cost of capital between publicly financed and private supply, and differences in the contractual rights to the projects at the end of initial contract periods.

From bad to worse

One can only hope that Minister Bennett does not jump from one bad idea (building Site C even though BC Hydro does not need that supply in the foreseeable future) to an even worse idea (acquiring high cost, low value IPP supply that we equally don’t need).

There is a far better strategy that BC Hydro should pursue.

What Hydro really needs

What BC Hydro really needs in the short to medium term is back-up for its hydro-electric system — assurance it will be able to meet all of its requirements even in drought conditions when hydro production is constrained. As well it will need more peak generating capacity — the ability to meet requirements in very heavy load hours periods.

The most cost-effective way to meet those needs is with the installation of additional generating capacity at BC Hydro’s existing hydroelectric plants — the so-called Resource Smart projects — and with strategically located natural gas turbines — available if needed but otherwise not run. The IPP run-of-river and wind projects don’t provide what BC Hydro needs and while Site C could, it would provide far in excess of what is required.

Minister Bennett would do well by deferring the development of Site C. Maybe one day it will be needed and a case could then be made that it is in the broader public interest notwithstanding the very legitimate objections of those most directly impacted by the flooding it entails. But it isn’t needed right now.

And nor is a return to the forced purchase of IPP supply. Been there. Done that. Don’t need to do it again.


Evidence shows no need for Site C Dam: Economist to Energy Minister

Energy Minister Bill Bennett
Energy Minister Bill Bennett

Dear Minister Bennett,

I know you have heard it all so I guess it is now all about the legacy you and your cabinet colleagues are willing to create. Thinking in terms of demand for electricity in BC, the reported record of sales by BC Hydro has flat-lined at about 50,000 GWhrs between 2008 and now. BC Hydro reports sales for four categories of customers.

Even with a 1.2% annual population growth, as estimated by BC Statistics, sales on a per capital basis are have been trending lower. It is a fact, long denied by the executives of BC Ferries, that higher rates cause demand to shrink. Known as price elasticity, customers start searching for ways to reduce consumption right up to the extremes of going off-grid or moving out of BC.

Light industrial and commercial customers are doing the same.

Large Industrial customers started reducing their demand in 2006 when the annual sales for this category was 16,428 GWhrs. By Fiscal 2014 reported sales were down to 13,994 GWhrs, a drop of about 14%.

Where reported annual sales go berserk is for the “Other” category. In 2006 sales to “Others” was reported to be 1,838 GWhrs with about 2,000 GWhrs being the annual total until 2013 when it spiked to 7,417 GWhrs only to crash in 2014 to 2,558 GWhrs. Until there is disclosure as who are the “Others” in BC , inclusion of this category, in making up any demand outlook, is irresponsible. The Auditor’s notes suggest that in fact sales to “others” are sales to customers outside of BC.

What is blinding obvious from these numbers is that BCH already has or has access to the generation of 125% of the projected output of Site C. One could speculate that with what BCH already has they have the existing condition that saves an expenditure of $8-10 billion.

Creating a story about growing future demand for electricity in to engage in self-delusion. In-spite of BC Hydro spending billions and contracting for tens of billions more, over the period 2006 through to 2014, reported total domestic sales (including the dubious sales to “Others”) have been stubbornly stuck at 52/53,000 GWhrs. Growth in total revenues is only coming to BC Hydro by rate increases, not increases in demand.

There is a vast difference between need and want. Since there is no credible evidence of need for more electricity in BC, in the foreseeable future, Site C is only an expensive indulgence serving the interests of the construction industry but at a big cost to BC citizens who ultimately shoulder the financial liabilities of BC Hydro follies. It is ironic that all BC Hydro customers, other than residential, operate with limited liability status so they could care less if BC Hydro is crippled by excessive liabilities, yet they are the customers it seems the government listens to most closely.


Erik Andersen



As California drought drives up BC food prices…a dam to flood our best farmland?

As California drought drives up BC food prices...a dam to flood our best farmland
California’s Central Valley is facing record drought conditions

As British Columbians share a meal this weekend, giving thanks for the food with which we are so blessed, year-round, let us pause for a moment to consider where so much of it comes from: California.

Let us also say a prayer for the last truly productive tracts of local farmland we have left, now threatened by industrial development – first and foremost being the Peace River Valley, in northeast BC, where the proposed Site C Dam could wash away enough good agricultural terrain to feed a million people.

BC depends on food imports

The fact is BC now grows less than half of the food it consumes, and the places we depend on for our imports may not be able to continue providing them into the future. As Randy Shore pointed out in the Vancouver Sun this past Friday, a record drought in California may drive up food prices in BC by as much as 34% this year.

Shore was referring to a recent study commissioned by Vancity on BC’s food security. Says the study’s author, Brent Mansfield of the UBC faculty of land and food systems:

[quote]As the drought deepens in California and elsewhere, we need to understand what that means for consumers, for governments and for the business of agriculture here in B.C.[/quote]

With 67% of of our fruits and vegetables now being imported from the US – and half of that from California – BC is vulnerable to changing conditions amongst those suppliers. Thus a severe drought in California’s Central Valley means British Columbians should brace for paying 34% more for Californian lettuce and 22% more for broccoli, according to the University of Arizona and University of Guelph.

Then why flood our best farmland?

A sampling of the diverse produce grown at the Peterson market garden in the 1980s (photo: Larry Peterson)
A sampling of the diverse produce grown at the Peterson market garden in the 1980s (photo: Larry Peterson)

All this makes the notion of destroying local food production capacity seem downright crazy. Nowhere is this more evident than with the proposed Site C Dam, whose power is only necessary, we’re told by our government, to power the enormously energy-intensive, proposed LNG industry – or to free up excess power for export to…irony of ironies – California.

Site C – this $8 billion-plus, taxpayer-funded dam that would increase our provincial debt by more than 10% and won’t benefit the people or businesses of the province one iota – would cause the single largest loss of farmland in the history of the Agricultural Land Reserve. It would drown or disrupt over 30,000 acres of amazing farmland.

Of course, the Agricultural Land Commission – the public’s supposedly arm’s length watchdog whose job it is to review and often oppose such planned assaults on our food security – was barred by a meddling government from reviewing Site C.

Yet the Joint Review Panel investigating Site C Dam heard from some of the country’s top independent agrologists just how much damage the project would do, and what makes this land so valuable.

The secret of the Peace Valley’s amazing farmland

Peace Valley extraordinary farmland could feed million people-Site C Dam
The Peace River Valley (Damien Gillis)

For starters, the Peace River’s largely east-west orientation means the valley gets more sun, thus experiencing longer growing days and seasons than other land that far north. “The best farmland in BC is in the southern valleys,” expert agrologist Evelyn Wolterson told the review panel. “The notable exception is the Peace River Valley.”

Other factors like lower wind speeds, excellent Spring moisture, and a longer frost-free period mean, counterintuitively, that “crop yield goes up as you go from the south to the north,” Wolterson explained.

[quote]These are all elements of this valley that make it absolutely unique…not only in the region but in all of British Columbia, and perhaps Western Canada.[/quote]

These factors, combined with high-grade alluvial soils mean the Peace Valley can rival and even exceed the Lower Mainland’s Fraser Valley breadbasket for productivity.

For instance, Larry Peterson, who ran a successful market garden in the Peace Valley with his wife Lynda in the 1970s and 80s, got 13.6 tonnes per acre for potatoes, compared with the average yield in the Lower Fraser Valley of only 10.2 tonnes per acre.

Hydro downplayed Valley’s value

The valley’s agricultural attributes have been “very dramatically” downplayed by project proponent BC Hydro, says Wendy Holm, a former president of the BC Association of Agrologists.

[quote]The land to be flooded by Site C is capable of producing high-yielding fresh fruits and vegetables for over a million people.[/quote]

Yet Hydro and the BC government act like Site C’s impact on farmland is small potatoes.

The reality is the large flood reserve Hydro has been accumulating for years – buying up farmland throughout the region and sitting on it in preparation for the dam – coupled with the spectre of the project that has loomed over the valley for over 3 decades now, have severely constrained local agricultural investment and development, creating a false picture of the region’s potential for food production.

So this Thanksgiving, as we pass the Brussels sprouts that are actually from California, let us take a moment to reflect on the value of healthy, local food production. And then, after the turkey-induced haze has worn off, tell the Harper Cabinet – in advance of its anticipated Oct. 22 ruling on Site C – that flooding our best remaining farmland for energy we don’t need just plain doesn’t make sense.

BC sitting on enough geothermal to power whole province, say new maps

BC sitting on enough geothermal to power whole province: New maps

BC sitting on enough geothermal to power whole province, say new maps
Steam rising from the Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station in Iceland (Photo: Gretar Ívarsson / Wikipedia)

By Erin Flegg – republished with permission from

At a time when B.C.’s politicians are considering flooding the Peace Valley for the Site C hydroelectric dam, a new project by the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association says the province could be sitting on a figurative gold mine of power with low environmental impact.

The project used publicly available data to produce a database of maps and supporting information that show all the areas in B.C.that have the potential to produce geothermal energy. The project reports that, using existing technology, the province could produce between 5,500 and 6,600 megawatts of power — enough to power the whole province.

Ironically, the information CanGEA used comes mainly from the oil and gas industry, which is required by law to report on things like well depth and temperature.

The tip of the iceberg?

Significantly, information is only available for 23 percent of the province, indicating that once data becomes available for the remainder of the province, the estimates for geothermal energy production should be even higher.

In addition to comprehensive data about conditions below the surface, the report also identifies areas that, based on surface characteristics, show promise. These areas are primarily in the northeast of B.C. where access via roads and other infrastructure are already in place, largely thanks to natural gas development. Factors like these diminish initial exploration costs, a primary barrier to commercial geothermal development in Canada, making it more economically viable.

Canadian Geothermal Energy Association chair Alison Thompson said the information conforms to the highest global standards for determining energy potential.

“We have over 20,000 data points. We actually have real date. These are not estimates, there is no extrapolation,” she said, adding the report and the maps will be useful to industry looking to conduct explorations for sites in B.C.

A sustainable alternative to Site C Dam

Audio: Why Site C Dam is a bad deal for taxpayers, environment
The proposed Site C Dam would flood or disrupt over 30,000 acres of prime farmland

Geothermal energy could provide an alternative to large, expensive and disruptive projects such as the proposed Site C dam, which would flood an area the size of Victoria in the Agricultural Land Reserve. The joint review panel reviewing the Site C project took the B.C.government to task for failing to heed advice to explore geothermal as an alternative to building another mega dam for 31 years.

The low level of effort is surprising, especially if it results in a plan that involves large and possibly avoidable environmental and social costs,”  the panel wrote.

Geothermal power can be build out incrementally to meet demand, rather than building one big project like the Site C dam.

A firm source of renewable energy 

Geothermal power plants provide a firm source of base load power, similar to a hydro dam. Dr. Stephen Grasby, a geochemist with Natural Resources Canada, says the environmental footprint of geothermal energy is smaller than other renewable energy sources, such as wind and hydro.

[quote]For instance, the surface area required to have developments like a wind farm, that takes a large surface area and has other associated issues with things like bird kill.[/quote]

Geothermal energy requires only a well and a heat exchange system.

“Drilling is relatively low impact,” Grasby said, adding with a laugh, “Worst case scenario is you accidentally discover oil or something.”

Drilling would be controlled by the same regulations that already monitor any kind of well drilling in the province.

Canada alone in ignoring its geothermal potential

Canada is currently the only major country located along the Pacific Rim’s Ring of Fire not producing geothermal energy. A Geological Survey of Canada report recently noted that northeast B.C. has the “highest potential for immediate development of geothermal energy” anywhere in the country.

The Site C joint review panel recommended that, regardless of the decision taken on Site C, that BC Hydro establish a research and development budget for the engineering characterization of geographically diverse renewable resources, such as geothermal.

If the senior governments were doing their job, there would be no need for this recommendation,” the panel added.

Erin Flegg is a freelance writer and journalist, and her work appears in the Vancouver Observer, Xtra West and This Magazine. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia.