Category Archives: WATER

Former TD Bank Comptroller: Site C Dam too costly, unnecessary

Ex-TD Bank Comptroller: Site C Dam too costly, unnecessary, rushed

Former TD Bank Comptroller: Site C Dam too costly, unnecessary
Site C Dam will unnecessarily cost taxpayers billions, says one financial expert

The following is a transcript of Rob Botterell’s recent speech to the BC Select Committee on Finance and Government Services. Mr. Botterell is a lawyer, former senior government official and former comptroller of TD Bank’s BC division.

I’m here today to talk about the pending Site C decision and the budget and fiscal implications. This project will be the biggest public infrastructure project in the next 20 years if it proceeds. It’s estimated, currently, to cost $8 billion, which would increase the provincial debt by over 10 percent. We don’t have accurate information on costs, so it could well be more than that.

Time is short. By my calculation, I will be reviewing $800 million of government spending every minute, so I would ask you to please review the materials that are in your kit, all of which is in the public domain. Further to the previous presenter, I would encourage you, in particular, to have a look at the report on energy alternatives in the right- hand side of the folder, which covers many of the items that were discussed just now.

I’m not going to deal with First Nations issues, but I do want to say that those who suggest that the courts will somehow pay less attention or do less to protect treaty rights, such as those of West Moberly, as compared to proven aboriginal title of Tsilhqot’in, are mistaken.

BC’s credit rating in jeopardy

While it’s true that B.C. has a triple-A rating, it’s also true that there are some storm clouds on the horizon. In May Moody’s gave B.C. a negative outlook due to the accumulation of provincial debt.

It’s my submission that it’s hard to understand how, if we can avoid part or all of it, adding $8 billion to the provincial debt helps to reverse that negative outlook. I think that’s a critical consideration in terms of the work. I’m sure you’re hearing many presentations on how taxpayer-supported debt could be used to provide much-needed infrastructure. I really encourage you to think about that as I make my presentation.

Need for dam not established: Review Panel

What would happen if you were going to the bank to borrow $8 billion for Site C? The question came up: “Well, is Site C needed?” The answer you would have to give is that the joint federal-provincial review panel concluded that the need for Site C has not been established. If the next question was, “How much is this going to cost?” you would have to say that the joint review panel concluded that they didn’t have the information, time or resources to determine whether the $7.9 billion cost is accurate.

If you were asked, “How much would B.C. Hydro likely forecast Site C losing in the first four years of operation?” you’d have to say that the joint review panel forecasts that it’s going to lose $800 million. And then the bank officer might say: “Well, what other alternatives were looked at?” You’d have to say that the joint review panel was either prohibited from considering — or did not have the information to sufficiently explore geothermal, wind, run-of-river hydro and other renewables, excepting power under the Columbia River treaty or burning natural gas to provide power.

Burning gas OK for LNG, but not for BC’s power needs?

Oh, you might say: “That’s interesting. What did the joint review panel have to say about natural gas?” Well, this is what the panel said: “Finally, if it is acceptable to burn natural gas to provide power to compress, cool and transport B.C. natural gas for Asian markets, where its fate is combustion anyway, why not save transport and environmental costs and take care of domestic needs?”

Then you might be asked: “Well, how much could the government save in taxpayer-supported debt by using natural gas?” Some $6.5 billion is the likely savings. How much a year? One expert — and the information is in your kit — says that currently you could save $350 million a year in operating costs to produce the same amount of electricity.


What about greenhouse gas emissions? If you’re saving $6.5 billion in capital and $350 million a year in operating, you’ve got room to buy carbon credits. So what should we do? What did the joint review panel recommend? “Well, it should go to the B.C. Utilities Commission.” What’s been the response of the Minister of Energy and the Premier? “Well, the B.C. Utilities Commission doesn’t have the capacity to look at it, and we’re going have KPMG do a little bit more research.”

Utilities Commission barred from reviewing Site C

My submission to you is that doing some KPMG research now — that hasn’t seen the light of day, that won’t see the light of day if it ever sees the light of day until after a decision on Site C is made — is no substitute for B.C. Utilities Commission open and transparent and accountable review. Those are key — key — commitments of this government and previous governments.

I’d submit that if the government decides to disregard the adamant opposition of First Nations, it’s fiscally irresponsible — particularly for an $8 billion project — to proceed without first referring this to the B.C. Utilities Commission so they can do the homework that the joint review panel said still needs to be done. If KPMG has done some internal work, that can go to the Utilities Commission and save the Utilities Commission some effort.

What’s the big rush?

We have the time. The joint review panel said that we don’t need power till 2028. And they did take into account LNG, contrary to Minister Bennett’s submission.

So here we are. We’ve got a huge opportunity here to get this right. What I would like to urge every one of you to do is to think carefully about what your constituents and the people that you’ve heard from during these hearings would like you to do. What they’d like you to do is to make sure that the cost is accurate, so that we know what’s going on and we’re doing this in the least costly way possible.

In the consultation document there’s a key phrase here, in terms of taxpayer-supported infrastructure: “It is important to build needed infrastructure, but we need to limit our borrowing and keep debt affordable.”

From my perspective and in my submission, the right thing for this committee to do is to recommend that this matter be referred to the B.C. Utilities Commission and, if capacity of the B.C. Utilities Commission is at issue — after all, they reviewed Site C before, so they know what they’re doing; they’re set up to do this — that you recommend that the funding be set aside in next year’s budget to provide for a full, expert and independent review by the B.C. Utilities Commission.

This isn’t $800,000. This isn’t a mortgage for my house. This isn’t a mortgage. This is $8 billion at a minimum. What if it turns out to be $15 billion? I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes if that review hasn’t been done.

What’s the harm in doing the homework? Maybe the Utilities Commission will come back and say: “You know what? Site C is the best.” But everything in your folder and everything we’ve seen over the last few months suggests that we need to have a thorough look at this before making a final decision and that it shouldn’t be something rushed into.

Suzuki- Site C Dam would swamp First Nations treaty rights

Suzuki: Site C Dam would swamp First Nations’ treaty rights

First Nations and farmers join forces at the 2012 "Paddle for the Peace" to oppose Site C Dam (photo: Damien Gillis)
First Nations and farmers join forces at “Paddle for the Peace” to oppose Site C (Damien Gillis)

B.C. First Nations chiefs recently travelled to Ottawa to urge the federal government to pull the plug on the costliest infrastructure project in the country. At an estimated $7.9 billion and growing, the proposed Site C Dam on the beautiful Peace River in northeastern B.C. has been criticized for spiralling costs, questions about whether the electricity it would produce is even needed, and concerns about the environmental and social impacts of flooding thousands of hectares of prime farmland, irreplaceable cultural sites and wildlife habitat. The government is expected to make a decision in October.

[quote]If built, Site C would violate First Nations’ rights under Treaty 8, rendering them irrelevant to the point of mockery.[/quote]

Treaty 8 rights at risk

BC Chiefs Roland Wilson, Liz Logan and Stewart Phillip taking Site C opposition to Ottawa (Liz Logan/ Twitter)

While in Ottawa, First Nations leaders also reminded politicians that the Peace River Valley is the traditional territory of the Dane-zaa, and Canada has clear obligations to them under the 1899 Treaty 8. Years of case law, as well as the recent Supreme Court of Canada Tsilhqot’in decision, confirm that First Nations must have a say on industrial development on their lands.

If built, Site C would violate First Nations’ rights under Treaty 8, rendering them irrelevant to the point of mockery. Treaty 8 guarantees First Nations the right to hunt and fish “for as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows.” But are treaty promises even worth the paper they’re written on when hunting grounds will be drowned under water, moose populations decimated and fish contaminated with toxic methyl mercury from decaying vegetation?

Site C would also obliterate hundreds of graves and ceremonial sites, and so hinder cultural and traditional practices. Hunting, fishing, collecting medicinal plants and visiting sacred sites are activities by which First Nations maintain their cultural and spiritual identity and connection to the land. How long will Treaty 8 First Nations be able to sustain a vibrant, living culture when the dam devastates their land and communities?

“Significant adverse effects”

These questions are not hypothetical. A Joint Review Panel, convened by the federal and B.C. governments, concluded Site C would significantly harm Treaty 8 First Nations. The panel found the dam would have “significant adverse effects” on fishing, hunting and trapping, and on other traditional land uses — and not just in B.C., but downstream where the Peace River enters Alberta. According to the panel, most of these adverse effects would be impossible to mitigate.

Peace Valley’s unique natural assets

In standing up for the Peace Valley and saying “no” to the Site C Dam, Treaty 8 First Nations’ leaders are acting not only on their own behalf, but also for other Canadians, including local farming communities with which they have co-existed for generations. Together, these rural communities are reminding the government and the rest of us that the Peace Valley offers immense bounty and natural wealth through fishing, hunting and potential for food production, and is too valuable to be sacrificed for industrial development.

A recent study by David Suzuki Foundation economists also found that, each year, the Peace River Valley and surrounding areas provide billions of dollars in beneficial ecological services like pollination, water filtration and flood control.


The Peace Valley has productive soils and a unique microclimate ideally suited to producing a wide range of crops. According to three senior agricultural experts who testified before the Joint Review Panel, the east-west Peace River Valley’s deep alluvial soils, long northern daylight in the growing season and microclimate for agriculture could produce fruits and vegetables to meet the nutritional needs of over a million people a year!

The California drought this past summer reminds us that relying on imported food makes us vulnerable. B.C. already imports over 57 per cent of the fresh vegetables British Columbians consume each year, much of which could be grown in the province. The situation is similar elsewhere in Canada.

Recent court cases are a wake-up call for politicians. When it comes to decisions that could irrevocably affect them, the days of running roughshod over First Nations are over. B.C.’s Treaty 8 First Nations have already borne the brunt of decades of industrial development on their lands, including two earlier Peace River dams. They have also found common cause with local communities fighting to save family farms and ranches.

Building the Site C Dam and flooding the Peace Valley would be more than folly; it would be a tragedy for First Nations, agriculture and the environment.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Ontario and Northern Canada Director-General Faisal Moola.

Hudson's Hope issues water quality advisory as heavy metals detected

Hudson’s Hope issues water quality advisory as heavy metals detected

Hudson's Hope issues water quality advisory as heavy metals detected
Hudson’s Hope, BC (

A water quality advisory has been issued by the District of Hudson’s Hope, in northeast BC.

Residents are being warned not to drink or use water from Lynx and Brenot Creeks.

The district advises against using it for “drinking water, livestock watering, and irrigation due to the presence of heavy metals at concentrations above the Canadian Water Quality Guidelines.”

“Boiling water will not make the water potable,” the district warns.

[quote]Abstain from using the water until further notice.


The contaminants discovered include:

  • aluminum
  • arsenic
  • barium
  • cadmium
  • chromium
  • iron
  • lead
  • manganese
  • uranium

The source of the contamination – and whether it is related to local shale gas activity – is unclear at the moment.

The Ministry of Environment has been alerted of the situation, the advisory notes.

[quote]The district is conducting additional investigations and will provide updated information as soon as available.[/quote]

District Office contact: 250-783-9901 /

Peace Valley farmland, ecosystems worth $8 Billion a year-study

Peace Valley farmland, ecosystems worth $8 Billion a year: study

Peace Valley farmland, ecosystems worth $8 Billion a year-study
The Peace River Valley is one of Canada’s most fertile regions (Damien Gillis)

Keeping the Peace Valley’s farmland and ecosystems intact would be worth $7.9 billion to $8.6 billion a year, says a new study from the David Suzuki Foundation.

The region, in northeast BC, is under threat from the proposed Site C Dam – which would flood or disturb over 30,000 acres of prime agricultural land – along with natural gas fracking operations, logging, mining and other forms of industrialization. The study is a follow-up to an earlier report which analyzed the area via satellite imagery, determining that some 67% of its landmass had been impacted by multiple layers of industrial activity.

Region’s ecosystems provide many valuable services

Industrial impacts on Peace region (indicated in red),  from previous DSF report
Industrial impacts throughout Peace region – indicated in red (from previous DSF report)

This latest report, which involved 3 years of intense data collection, analysis and review, tabulates the economic value of preserving what remains of the valley’s natural values. “These ecosystems play a critical role in providing clean air, clean water, habitat for wildlife and many other ecological benefits that sustain the health and well-being of local residents, and contribute to the cultural and traditional ways of First Nations,” says DSF.

The services provided by the 5.6 million-hectare region’s diverse ecosystems include “water supply, air filtration, flood and erosion control, habitat for wildlife and agricultural pollinators, carbon storage and other benefits.”

“We’re concerned because the strain on the Peace River Watershed’s farmland and natural ecosystems will only increase with the B.C. government’s plan for increased oil and gas development, including liquefied natural gas, as well as large infrastructure projects such as the proposed Site C Dam,” says the Foundation’s Dr. Faisal Moola.

Farmland could feed a million people

At the environmental assessment hearings into the $8 Billion proposed Site C Dam, expert agrologists Wendy Holm and Evelyn Wolterson told the Joint Review Panel that the land in the proposed flood and impact zone could feed a million people. This is due to the extraordinary soils and climate conditions of the valley, 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…It is our opinion that the public interest is better served [by] agriculture and other uses for this valley, rather than a hundred years of power production.[/quote]

$7 Billion/year in carbon sequestration

The Suzuki report also calculates the value of the region’s forests, grasslands and wetlands in terms of carbon storage, pegged at $6.7 billion to $7.4 billion a year, with other ecosystem services contributing $1.2 billion a year.

Says Moola, “…our study shows that remaining farmland and natural areas have an incredible ability to generate natural wealth.”

[quote]We’re concerned because the strain on the Peace River Watershed’s farmland and natural ecosystems will only increase with the B.C. government’s plan for increased oil and gas development, including liquefied natural gas, as well as large infrastructure projects such as the proposed Site C Dam.[/quote]

Site C review panel worried about cumulative impacts

While the Joint Review Panel opted not to render a definitive verdict on the dam in its report, released in May, it did echo DSF’s concerns about the cumulative effects of multiple projects in the region, compounding the dam’s impacts. “Whether the Project proceeds or not, there is a need for a government-led regional environmental assessment including a baseline study and the establishment of environmental thresholds for use in evaluating the effects of multiple, projects,” the Panel stated.

First Nations back report

Chief Roland Wilson of West Moberly First Nations echoed the Suzuki Foundation report, noting that his people “have been blessed with forests, rushing rivers and rolling grasslands that have sustained our communities for thousands of years. However, the cumulative effects of industrial development in our territories have been massive and can’t be mitigated. They’ve had an enormous impact on our treaty rights as First Nations people.”

According to Moola, various aboriginal representatives helped guide the Suzuki report with their traditional knowledge of the area. “First Nations helped decide the study area, identify data sources, and review the work – including ensuring that we accurately reflected the place names, and other references to their Dane_Zaa culture”.

Many of these aboriginal voices are represented verbatim in the 2013 DSF-published report, Passages for the Peacewhich includes interviews with elders, hunters, artists and other community members describing the role the land plays in their lives and the value of natural capital in their culture and economy.  

Many Treaty 8 First Nations throughout the region have opposed the dam, joining forces with local farmers and landowners.

Site C decision expected in September

The federal Cabinet is expected to render a decision on the dam in September. Says Moola, “We hope this report encourages discussion about how natural areas and farmland in B.C.’s irreplaceable Peace Region are valued — and undervalued — when decisions are made that could destroy the region’s natural wealth.”


Under Liberals, big projects often double in cost

Under BC Liberals, big projects often double in cost…Why would Site C Dam be any different?

Under BC Liberals, big projects routinely double in budget...Why would Site C be any different
Seeing red: The roof on BC Place Stadium is just one of many cost overruns on the BC Liberals’ watch

Oh, for the days of the fast ferries…compared to what we have now.

Most British Columbians will recall Premier Glen Clark’s late 1990’s boondoggle, which saw the construction of three new coastal vessels balloon from a projected $210 million to nearly $460 million.

How could we forget? After the relentless salvos from pundits like Vaughan Palmer and Mike Smyth led to the NDP government’s collapse, in every election cycle since, the incumbent BC Liberals have dragged out these ghost ships to bolster their own economic credentials. To Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark, the fast ferries are the gift that keeps on giving.

Liberal fiscal record sets new lows

The Fast ferries scandal sank the NDP
The Fast ferries scandal sank the NDP

The only problem is the Liberals’ own fiscal fiascos absolutely dwarf those of their NDP predecessors – though they’re consistently able to get away with it.

Sure, Mr. Palmer has poked holes in the government’s laughable election promise of a debt-free BC and raised red flags over the government’s routine cost overruns, but the pundits’ knives have been decidedly less sharp over the past 13 years. Unlike the NDP, Liberal governments face no real consequences for their misdeeds.

With the Liberals on track to double the $34 Billion provincial debt they inherited from what history would now suggest was a surprisingly restrained NDP, it’s high time for an update to their fiscal report card. (That debt doesn’t even include an additional $100 Billion in contractual taxpayer obligations, like private power contracts, which they’ve swept under rug).

This is especially important with projects like the $8 Billion proposed Site C Dam currently under review (and if you believe that sticker price, I’ve got some pond-front property in northern Alberta you may be interested in).

In the real world, budgets don’t double

On that last point, Fort St. John businessman Bob Fedderly put the Liberals’ woeful record of project management in perspective when I interviewed him recently about Site C, which he and a growing number of businesspeople are opposed to.

“If you look back over the last 10 or 12 years to every project of any magnitude, it’s ballooned right out of proportion – two times, three times is not uncommon,” Fedderly noted. “This is a pattern that’s appearing on project cost management.”

Contrasting the government’s track record with his own companies’ construction projects, he acknowledged a 10% margin for error was acceptable – but no more than that.

[quote]In the real world of people building houses, they don’t double in price.[/quote]

How bad is the government’s legacy with major capital projects? Pretty darned awful. Here are a few lowlights:

1. Port Mann Bridge/Hwy 1 widening: 550% of initial estimate

Artist's drawing of new Port Mann Bridge
Artist’s drawing of new Port Mann Bridge

According to The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, “Originally, the government said the cost of improvements to the Port Mann would be $600 million. That ballooned to $1.5 billion in 2006 when the government announced it would twin the bridge. Now, the total cost of the project is expected to be $3.3 billion” (that’s $2.46 Billion, rising to $3.3 Billion including operation and maintenance costs).

Extra demerits for a serious design flaw that led to falling ice bombs, putting passengers at risk and ringing up $400,000 in insurance claims for ICBC.

2.  BC Place Stadium roof upgrade: 514% of initial estimate

While the official line is that the upgrade to BC Place Stadium skyrocketed from $365 to $514 million, a January 2008 letter from operator PAVCO’s Chairman David Podmore to Vancouver City Manager Judy Rogers pegged the total cost at just $100 million. I’m no architect, but that seems like a reasonable price, whereas $514 million does not. After all, Seattle built a perfectly good stadium for its Seahawks in 2002 for just $360 million. All we got is a roof.

Extra demerits for design flaws which restricted the retractable roof’s ability to…well, retract.

3. Northwest Transmission Line: 182% of initial estimate

Crown corporation BC Hydro’s construction of the Northwest Transmission Line – designed to power an assortment of proposed mines in the Sacred Headwaters region of the province – has nearly doubled from initial estimates of $404 million to the most recent tally of $736 million (expect the final number to be considerably higher).

Extra demerits for management error that could cost BC $130 million in federal “green infrastructure” support for the project. The Liberal government received the grant to electrify the village of Iskut, getting it off diesel power. All the province had to do was file a plan for the spur with the feds by June 30, 2012 – but it missed its deadline by nearly a year, meaning that, technically, the BC public is on the hook to repay the entire $130 million.

4. Vancouver Convention Centre: 178% of initial estimate

The Vancouver Convention Centre (Wikipedia)
The Vancouver Convention Centre (Wikipedia)

For all its LEED certifications and architectural attributes, the Vancouver Convention Centre also exploded from estimates of under $500 million to nearly $900 million by its 2009 completion.

What’s worse, all this could have been avoided if the Liberal government simply followed its own critique of the NDP’s fast ferries experience – namely, not having people without construction experience overseeing the project (i.e. Liberal powerbroker Ken Dobell) and being sure to have finalized plans for the contractor to execute. Lacking the latter, a fixed-price contract proved impossible to nail down.

5. South Fraser Perimeter Road: 169% of initial estimate

Perhaps the only way for the Liberal government to assert it’s on time and on budget with a major project is to lie about it, as this unnecessary, convoluted truck highway through Delta and Surrey demonstrates. Laila Yuile, a blogger and one of the province’s shrewdest transportation project watchdogs, recalled last year that initial estimates for the project ranged from $700-800 million.


By the time it was completed in 2013, it was a year late and the cost had risen to $1.264 Billion – significantly more than a revised estimate of around a billion dollars. But that didn’t stop the government from boasting that its project was “on time and on budget”. As Vaughan Palmer quipped at the time, “Regular readers of this space will be familiar with the more flexible approach that the B.C. Liberals have taken toward the concept of being on time and on budget.”

Why won’t the NDP stand up for itself?

Perhaps the biggest mystery in all of this is the NDP opposition’s failure to call the government out for its dismal fiscal record. How “Mr. Nice Guy” Adrian Dix saw fit to let the Liberals off the hook for this series of blunders that make the fast ferry overruns look like pocket change is baffling. It cost them the last election, as I noted in the aftermath of that sorry affair.

Liberal record a harbinger of Site C boondoggle

Alberta concerned about downstream impacts of BC's Site C Dam proposal
Proposed Site C Dam on Peace River

These numbers and examples of the Liberals’ fiscal ineptitude should be of real concern to BC taxpayers today as we ponder projects like Site C Dam – whose $8 Billion estimate (making it one of the highest-priced  government infrastructure undertakings in Canadian history) is surely only the tip of the iceberg. Dams, as a rule, are highly prone to cost overruns – the World Bank estimates an average of 27% around the globe.

This is a project that will not serve the homes and businesses of BC, which are already self-sufficient in electricity far into the foreseeable future – rather, we’re told it’s to power liquefied natural gas production or to export to California (likely at a considerable loss for some time).

When you factor in the usual Liberal premium of doubling the cost, it’s not hard to see how this dam could sink us in more ways than one.

Site C Dam threatens BC's credit rating- Hudson's Hope Mayor, Council

Site C Dam threatens BC’s credit rating: Hudson’s Hope Mayor, Council


Site C Dam would harm BC's credit rating- Hudson's Hope Mayor, Council

The following is a July 15 open letter to Premier Christy Clark from the District of Hudson’s Hope – near the location of the proposed Site C reservoir. 

Dear Premier Clark,

Re: British Columbia Utilities Commission Review of Proposed Site C Dam Project

I am writing to urgently request that you refer the proposed Site C Dam Project to the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) for further review of project costs, alternatives to Site C, and related issues prior to making a decision on this project.

Prudent fiscal management requires further review of  Site C

The District of Hudson’s Hope, a community of 1,100 people in the heart of the Peace River Valley, will be more adversely impacted than any other municipality by the proposed Site C dam.

Understandably, we wish to ensure that these adverse community and environmental impacts and the $7.9 billion cost of the proposed Site C project are justified and necessary for meeting British Columbia’s future electricity needs.

The proposed $7.9 billion Site C project may also be the largest provincial public expenditure of the next 20 years, adding over 10% to our growing $62 billion provincial debt. BC taxpayers, whether they live in Hudson’s Hope, Penticton, Surrey, Comox, Coquitlam, Prince George, Vancouver, Delta, Victoria or any other BC community, reasonably expect the government to subject Site C project costs and alternatives to open, rigorous and independent review with full procedural safeguards before committing to such a large capital expenditure.


Rating agencies such as Moody’s call this prudent fiscal management. When Moody’s reaffirmed B.C.’s triple-A credit rating in May of this year, it was accompanied by a negative outlook due to accumulation of provincial debt. Moody’s said:

[quote]The negative outlook reflects the risks to the province’s ability to reverse the recent accumulation in debt given a softened economic outlook, weaker commodity prices and continued expense pressures.[/quote]

What better way to demonstrate prudent fiscal management than to subject Site C project costs and alternatives to open, rigorous and independent scrutiny by the BCUC?

Yet this is not what has happened – at least to date. The Site C Joint Review Panel (JRP) was prevented by a combination of BC law, public policy, terms of reference, and a lack of information from fully scrutinizing key project elements including project costs and alternatives to Site C (1). 

However, this did not prevent the JRP from flagging its concerns about project costs: “The Panel cannot conclude on the likely accuracy of Project cost estimates [by BC Hydro] because it does not have the information, time or resources. This affects all further calculations of unit costs, revenue requirements and rates.”

Or asking questions about alternatives such as natural gas:

[quote]Finally, if it is acceptable to burn natural gas to provide power to compress, cool, and transport B.C. natural gas for Asian markets, where its fate is combustion anyway, why not save transport and environmental costs and take care of domestic needs?[/quote]

To ensure proper scrutiny, the JRP recommended on May 1st, 2014 in its 457 page final report that a number of matters be referred to the BCUC for further review (2).

The JRP noted,”… available resources could provide adequate energy and capacity until at least 2028″ and accordingly there is time available for the BCUC to do this work. However, Minister of Energy and Mines, Bill Bennett was quick to dismiss further scrutiny. On May 8th, 2014, the same day as the report’s public release, Minister Bennett said:

[quote] …I think that the work has been done and I think subjecting it to another review after all the years the project has been studied is not a good use of public money …[/quote]

Madame Premier, this defies prudent fiscal management. BC needs to complete its homework on Site C.

Hudson’s Hope, BC taxpayers and rating agencies such as Moody’s need to be fully satisfied that this $7.9 billion project will not be characterized as a white elephant that transformed the beautiful Peace River Valley into a dam reservoir, increased the provincial debt by over 10%, and put BC’s strong fiscal management record at risk.

Urban Systems report supports need for BCUC review

Recognizing these major uncertainties, the District of Hudson’s Hope retained Urban Systems Ltd. to review the findings of the JRP Report, and compile information from the proposed project’s Environmental Impact Statement, BC Hydro’s Integrated Resource Plan, and other relevant resources and data to examine the following key question:

[quote]Are the anticipated community and environmental impacts, and high-costs of the proposed Site C project justified and necessary for meeting British Columbia’s future electricity needs?[/quote]

We are attaching a copy of the Urban Systems report entitled, “A Review of the Proposed Site C Clean Energy Project: Exploring the Alternativesfor your consideration.

The JRP concluded that BC Hydro has not fully demonstrated the need for this project on the timetable set forth and Urban Systems has also concluded that a commitment to the proposed Site C is project is likely premature: “The material cited within this document suggests that a commitment to the proposed Site C project is likely premature before the British Columbia Utilities Commission undertakes a review of the proposed project costs and long-term energy needs, including the comparative costs and benefits of potential alternatives. And as the JRP notes there is time to do this work.”

Urban Systems reviewed 5 alternative scenarios to Site C including retrofits and upgrades, geothermal, other renewables and enhanced demand side management, natural gas/cogeneration, and emerging technologies. Urban Systems concludes: ” … there are likely alternatives which could be cost-competitive and viable to meet future electricity needs.”

A preliminary comparison of selected alternatives to Site C suggests that BC could pursue these alternatives and potentially save over $ 5 billion in project costs. The “accumulation of debt” by the province would be significantly reduced. Please refer to Table A.

Finally, Urban Systems cautions that emerging trends could result in a risk to ratepayers: ‘

[quote]Three trends are occurring simultaneously that could substantially reduce the need for the proposed Site C project and affect BC Hydro’s forecasted revenues, thus limiting its ability to pay for such an asset over its 70 year amortization period. These three trends include: increases in BC Hydro electrical rates, the decreasing cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules, and the commercialization of micro grid enabling technologies.[/quote]


With the benefit of the information contained in this letter, I urge you to do what is fiscally prudent and makes common sense – refer the proposed Site e project to the BeUC for open, rigorous and independent review of project costs, forecasted revenues and less costly alternatives to Site e prior to making a decision on this project.

To do anything less for the largest and most expensive public project in Be in the next 20 years is imprudent, especially for a government that prides itself on its triple-A credit rating. I would appreciate a written response from you by July 31st, 2014.

Table A


1 JRP findings:

• The Panel concludes that, basing a $7.9 billion Project on a 20-year demand forecast without an explicit 20-year scenario of prices [by BC Hydro] is not good practice. Electricity prices will strongly affect demand, including Liquefied Natural Gas facility demand.

• The Panel concludes that demand management does not appear to command the same degree of analytic effort [by BC Hydro] as does new supply.

• The Panel concludes that a failure [of BC Hydro] to pursue research of the last 30 years into B.C.’s geothermal resources has left BC Hydro without information about a resource that BC Hydro thinks may offer up to 700 megawatts of firm, economic power with low environmental costs.

2 Please refer to JRP recommendations 46,47,48 and 49.

Fortis, US mull massive Similkameen dam; Where is BC govt?

Fortis, US mull massive Similkameen dam; Where is BC govt?

US, Canadian dams threaten Similkameen Valley-BC govt doesn't care
A popular recreation site, the Similkameen Valley is threatened by dams (Photo:

By Ken Farquharson

The Similkameen River valley provides one of the most popular and scenic travel routes in BC. The campsites strung along the river, swimming at Bromley Rock, the old mining town of Hedley, the fruit stands of Keremeos, the wineries of Cawston, and the transition to the sage brush of the Okanagan, make for a varied and memorable BC travel experience. The river provides kayak and canoe runs for both the expert and the novice, and is one of only two free flowing transboundary rivers in southern BC that is not either managed for hydropower or in protected status of some sort.

However all is not serene in the Similkameen Valley, and the cause of this is the curious lack of interest of the BC government to protect the public interest in proposals to change the Similkameen River, the heart of the Valley.

BC govt sitting on sidelines of proposed US dam

The story starts in 2007 when the Okanogan Public Utility District, the small utility serving Okanogan County in Washington, applied to the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to study a dam proposed at Shankers Bend in Washington, which would flood the BC section of the Similkameen valley as far upstream as Cawston.

Given the lesson learned from the argument over the Skagit Valley from 1969 to 1983 that it is essential to participate early in the regulatory process, the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society ( CPAWS) immediately filed with FERC as intervenors. The BC government sat back, and, although Minister Barry Penner  was made well aware of the potential impacts in BC, declined to file as an intervenor leaving it to the ONA, CPAWS and the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen  to register their objections. The PUD eventually withdrew its application.

Fortis applies for 165m-high dam on Similkameen

In 2013, Fortis BC, the local utility, applied for permits to conduct studies on the Crown land required for the reservoir ( 20km long) and the dam site  for a 165m-high concrete dam in the Similkameen Canyon, 15km upstream from Princeton, with a generation capacity of 45-55MW. If the final proposed capacity is below 50MW, the project may not be required to go through the environmental assessment process.  As the plant is proposed as a market generator, it would not have to be reviewed by the BC Utilities Commission, as the cost would not be rolled into the utility’s rate base. It is possible the project could escape review entirely.

Map of proposed dam site on the Similkameen River
Map of proposed dam site on the Similkameen River

Fortis conceded in a meeting with the Regional District on 22 May this year that the project may not be economical based on generation alone and that it had already approached downstream parties in the US with interests in generation and irrigation as to whether they would be prepared to pay for the downstream benefits created by the project.

This action was confirmed by information that the Washington State Department of Ecology had allocated $1.6M in its budget for 2015-17 for a payment to Fortis for “Evaluation of a proposed hydropower and water supply….shared cost and water supply for Washington and Oregon” – no mention of BC needs.

This allotment was confirmed by the Director, Office of the Columbia River, Washington Department of Ecology, to Steve Arstad, editor of the Keremeos Review, on 9 June, when he advised that

[quote]Fortis was interested in developing a contract with us for scheduled releases of some of the water stored behind the dam. The timing of the releases would coincide with when water would be needed in Washington for instream and out-of-stream uses. The term of the contract would be for 50 years.[/quote]

It is clear, therefore, that if the project proceeds, control of the river would pass to Fortis and downstream US interests.

Fortis would be sole beneficiary of agreements

The Columbia River Treaty gave BC half the value of the downstream benefits in the US from provision of water storage in BC. The province took that money for itself. Queries to the BC Comptroller of Water Resources resulted in advice that, for this project, the province was leaving Fortis to negotiate any downstream agreements, and that Fortis would be the sole beneficiary of these agreements.  It should be noted that any agreement made between Fortis and US interests will be between private parties and thus not subject to Freedom of Information requests.

The BC Water Regulations allow the province to collect a fee from any licensee benefiting from payments from downstream generators in the US for benefits received for power generation, but have no such provision for benefits generated from flood control or water storage.

Province derelict of duty

In respect to this project, the province appears derelict in its management of the river in a number of ways, permitting Fortis to negotiate contracts that would mean control passing to US interests, not ensuring that the province would benefit from all downstream benefits, and lastly not having done the work to determine the future water needs of the BC section of the Similkameen Valley before contracts may be signed for water storage for US interests. It is possible BC interests could be locked out of access to such storage if it had all been negotiated away by Fortis.

There is already enough evidence to state that Fortis should be advised now by the province that this project is not in the public interest. Should the province continue to dither, there is a real risk that BC could lose control of this valued river, a public resource, for a sub-marginal project, with the benefits going solely to the shareholders of Fortis and downstream interests in Washington. The people of BC surely deserve better from our politicians and bureaucrats in planning for the future of this beautiful river and valley.


Why Site C Dam is a bad deal for taxpayers, environment

Site C Dam: “The benefits are clear”…as mud

Why Site C Dam is a bad deal for taxpayers, environment
A section of the Peace Valley that stands to be flooded for Site C Dam (Photo: Andrea Morison)

The Joint Review Panel into the $10 Billion* proposed Site C Dam released its findings on the project today.

In a summary (read full report here), it stated:

[quote]The benefits are clear. Despite high initial costs, and some uncertainty about when the power would be needed, the Project would provide a large and long – term increment of firm energy and capacity at a price that would benefit future generations. [/quote]

But there is nothing clear about the panel’s report – which leaves the waters as muddy as the banks of the mighty Peace River.

Panel offers more questions than answers

Says Andrea Morison of the Peace Valley Environment Association, “We see this as a recommendation, and there are many significant concerns that the panel has brought forward, starting with the need for the project.”

On that note, the panel conceded that BC Hydro has not adequately demonstrated the need for the project – which it clearly hasn’t. It also noted a list of unanswered environmental questions and found that “the Project would significantly affect the current use of land and resources for traditional purposes by Aboriginal peoples.”

Locating the dam within the broad web of industrial activities which already cover the region – with many more on the horizon – the panel stated, “whether the Project proceeds or not, there is a need for a government-led regional environmental assessment including a baseline study and the establishment of environmental thresholds for use in evaluating the effects of multiple, projects…The Panel recommends that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency undertake, on an urgent basis, an update of its guidance on cumulative effects assessment.”

And yet, in the big picture, the review held up the project as a net environmental benefit – apparently favouring its purported climate benefits over the obvious ecological impacts it carries. “It would do this in a way that would produce a vastly smaller burden of greenhouse gases than any alternative save nuclear power, which B.C. has prohibited.” Unless, of course, we don’t need the power at all…

Further complicating things is the fact that in the new era of environmental assessment in Canada, the panel itself only makes recommendations – “The decision on whether the Project proceeds is made by elected officials,” it notes. A final decision from senior levels of government on the project isn’t expected for 6 months.

This has the effect of offloading the accountability for the panel’s findings onto other parties, and it has gone the extra mile in that regard, with its “on the one hand, on the other hand” language.

That said, at first glance, the document would appear to be an overall endorsement for the project – and that’s certainly how the Liberal government will interpret it.

Panel raised hopes through hearing

The panel offered the dam’s critics some hope throughout December and January hearings in northeast BC, appearing to give proponent BC Hydro a hard time on issues ranging from the impossible challenge for citizens to engage meaningfully with its 15,000-page technical application in just one month’s time, to the utility’s dismissal of important agricultural values in the Peace River Region that would be flooded.

Yet its final verdict, for the most part, fits into a pattern of rubber stamps issued by environmental assessments for major industrial projects like the recently-approved Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. As I noted in these pages following that decision, there is a troubling trend in these assessments – the inevitable conclusion that the purported economic benefits somehow outweigh the project’s impacts.

In the case of Site C, having reviewed the project closely for years now myself, it is clear that this is simply not the case. Like the Enbridge project before it, it is not incumbent on the assessor to support these conclusions with proof.

Here are 4 big reasons why the benefits of Site C do not outweigh the costs:

1. There is simply no need for the power

Throughout this latest period of Site C’s 30-year saga, we’ve heard the justification for the project morph into radically different permutations. First, we were told Site C would power 500,000 homes in BC. Except, as we’ve repeatedly demonstrated in these pages, that’s not true. BC’s power consumption has flatlined. We’re now in surplus power position for the longterm foreseeable future. Site C has nothing to do with BC’s homes.

Next, we heard it was essential to power the government’s much-vaunted liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry on the coast – a notion that was undermined by Hydro’s befuddled attempt to address LNG in its latest energy planning document. It is clear the utility has no idea how to handle LNG and Site C is but a minor, hypothetical piece of the puzzle.

Finally, during the hearing itself, the reason changed to exporting excess power to California – raising the question: how can we trust a government and utility that are continually changing their story on the dam.

Moreover, this presents a bizarre irony: At a time when we can no longer depend on cheap agricultural imports from California due to the extreme drought it faces, we are now proposing to flood some of our best farmland in order to export power to California. Go figure.

2. Flooding enough farmland to feed a million people

On that note, as the panel heard loud and clear from esteemed agrologists Wendy Holm and Evelyn Wolterson – contrary to BC Hydro’s assertions – the Peace Valley contains some of Canada’s best farmland. The 30,000-plus acre tract that would be flooded or disrupted by the dam could feed a million people. That’s a quarter of BC’s citizens. In the words of Wolterson:

[quote] It is our opinion that the public interest is better served [by] agriculture and other uses for this valley, rather than a hundred years of power production…Power has other alternatives; agriculture doesn’t.[/quote]

Good point. Too bad it fell largely on deaf ears.

3. Get ready for huge cost overruns

$10 Billion Site C Dam: You pay, no sayAny cost-benefit analys depends partly on knowing the real cost side of the equation. Clearly, there are significant environmental and food security costs from the proposed dam, but what about the financial costs?

The panel rightly acknowledged doubts about the accuracy of Hydro’s $8 Billion price tag for the project. Don’t forget, this is a government whose overseeing of large capital projects makes the NDP’s fast ferry fiasco look like the paragon of good project management. From the convention centre to the stadium roof to the Port Mann Bridge, the BC Liberal government boasts a track record of cost overruns routinely in the 50-100% range.

Couple that with the notorious inflation for dams around the world (27% on average, according to the World Bank), and we’ll call Site C $10 Billion – conservatively. This on top of deepening debt and deficits from this government – not to mention skyrocketing power bills, which will keep rising as a result of this project.

4. Serious grassroots and First Nations opposition

Local “Cowboys and Indians” – the landowners and Treaty 8 First Nations whose farms and territories would be flooded by the dam – have made it clear where they stand on this project. They’ve put themselves on the line many times before to stop the dam – and consistently won.

The panel’s ruling – muddy though it is – will likely be embraced by the Liberal Government as an approval, which puts First Nations and citizens on a path to conflict with the province in the coming months and years.

Whether it be from the lack of need for the project, the lingering geotechnical challenges it faces (though they won’t admit it, Hydro still doesn’t really know how to build the thing), the financial burden it presents to a province already deeply in debt, the growing awareness of the importance of food security in an era of climate change, or the opposition it will face on the ground, this dam is still a long, long way from being built.

BC NDP leadership race down to John Horgan

NDP Leader Horgan opposes BC’s proposed Site C Dam

BC NDP leadership race down to John Horgan
Newly-minted BC NDP Leader John Horgan has come out against the proposed Site C Dam

VANCOUVER – B.C. New Democratic Party Leader John Horgan is raising concerns about the proposed Site C hydroelectric dam, just days before an environmental review on the project becomes public.

The dam proposed by BC Hydro would be the third on northeastern B.C.’s Peace River and would flood about 55 square kilometres of land along 83 kilometres of river valley.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency conducted hearings in December and January, submitted its report to the federal government last week and is expected to post the document online Thursday.

Horgan says it’s a good project, except for the fact B.C. doesn’t need the energy, First Nations oppose it and the dam would destroy so much agricultural land.

He says he wants a third party to answer some legitimate questions like when will the province actually need the power and how much should the people pay for it.

The Crown utility has said the dam is a clean, cost-effective source of much-needed electricity for British Columbia.

“The BC Liberals have made a mess of BC Hydro,” says Horgan.


We have 28 per cent rate increases coming down the pipe. We have deferred debt. We have long-term debt, and we have projects that are wildly over budget.



David Suzuki-Trading water for fuel is fracking crazy

David Suzuki: Trading water for fuel is fracking crazy

David Suzuki-Trading water for fuel is fracking crazy
Fracking protest in New Brunswick (photo: Colin McPhail)

It would be difficult to live without oil and gas. But it would be impossible to live without water. Yet, in our mad rush to extract and sell every drop of gas and oil as quickly as possible, we’re trading precious water for fossil fuels.

A recent report, “Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress”, shows the severity of the problem. Alberta and B.C. are among eight North American regions examined in the study by Ceres, a U.S.-based nonprofit advocating for sustainability leadership.

Fracking happening is regions of “high water stress”

One of the most disturbing findings is that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is using enormous amounts of water in areas that can scarcely afford it. The report notes that close to half the oil and gas wells recently fracked in the U.S. “are in regions with high or extremely high water stress” and more than 55 per cent are in areas experiencing drought.

In Colorado and California, almost all wells – 97 and 96 per cent, respectively – are in regions with high or extremely high water stress, meaning more than 80 per cent of available surface and groundwater has already been allocated for municipalities, industry and agriculture. A quarter of Alberta wells are in areas with medium to high water stress.

Fracking will compound California’s 500-year drought

Drought and fracking have already caused some small communities in Texas to run out of water altogether, and parts of California are headed for the same fate. As we continue to extract and burn ever greater amounts of oil, gas and coal, climate change is getting worse, which will likely lead to more droughts in some areas and flooding in others.

California’s drought may be the worst in 500 years, according to B. Lynn Ingram, an earth and planetary sciences professor at the University of California, Berkeley. That’s causing a shortage of water for drinking and agriculture, and for salmon and other fish that spawn in streams and rivers. With no rain to scrub the air, pollution in the Los Angeles area has returned to dangerous levels of decades past.

BC, Alberta could face similar problems

Because of lack of information from industry and inconsistencies in water volume reporting, Ceres’ Western Canada data analysis “represents a very small proportion of the overall activity taking place.” Researchers determined, though, that Alberta fracking operations have started using more “brackish/saline” groundwater instead of freshwater. The report cautions that this practice needs more study “given the potential for brackish water to be used in the future for drinking water” and the fact that withdrawing salty groundwater “can also adversely impact interconnected freshwater resources.”

Although B.C. fracking operations are now mainly in low water stress regions, reduced precipitation and snowpack, low river levels and even drought conditions in some areas – likely because of climate change – raise concerns about the government’s plan to rapidly expand the industry. The report cites a “lack of regulation around groundwater withdrawals” and cumulative impacts on First Nations lands as issues with current fracking.

“Everything must go”

Ceres’ study only looks at fracking impacts on freshwater supplies, and offers recommendations to reduce those, including recycling water, using brackish or wastewater, strengthening regulations and finding better ways to dispose of fracking wastewater. But the drilling method comes with other environmental problems, from groundwater contamination to massive ecosystem and habitat disruption – even small earth tremors – all done in the name of short-term gain.

It’s important to heed the conclusions and recommendations of this study and others, but given the problems with fracking, and other forms of extraction, we must find ways to control our insatiable fossil fuel demand. That burning these – often wastefully – contributes to climate change, and our methods of extraction exacerbate the problems, should make us take a good look at how we’re treating this planet and everything on it, including ourselves and generations to come. It’s a reminder that we need to conserve energy in every way possible.

In the short term, we must realize that we have better ways to create jobs and build the economy than holding an “everything must go” sale on our precious resources. In the longer term, we must rethink our outdated economic systems, which were devised for times when resources were plentiful and infrastructure was scarce. Our highest priorities must be the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil that provides food and the biodiversity that keeps us alive and healthy.

With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.