At a press conference earlier today, Harry Swain, head of the Joint Review Panel into Site C Dam, disputed recent claims that the costs of cancelling Site C Dam would have to be borne by ratepayers in a short timeframe that causes rates to spike. Swain made the comments as a part of a wide-ranging critique of fear-mongering coming from the pro-dam Allied Hydro Council, the Liberal Opposition, and a loaded letter from the government’s own deputy ministers. He explained:
[quote]There is no requirement that the sunk costs be paid immediately. There are lots of precedents in regulatory proceedings in Canada and the United States for these costs to be spread out over a reasonable period of time, and so I don’t think that is going to be the source of a rate shock for BC.[/quote]
Swain suggested the BCUC’s projected remediation costs were too high as well. “We are still mired in this sunk cost fallacy. Probably the one area where I disagreed with the BCUC was their contribution of about $1.9 Billion for remediation. I think that’s too high…I don’t think it’s a real issue.”
Swain also shot down other common attacks of the BC Utilities Commission’s report on Site C, such as its use of the lower end of Hydro’s demand forecasts:
[quote]It was severely critical of BC Hydro’s load forecasting ability…noting that in forecasts going back fifty years, 77% of the time, they had been high to way-too-high. They showed the increased attractiveness of the termination scenario, the lower the actual load turns out to be. In other words, if you adopted the load forecast that was given by BC Hydro, which the BCUC was constrained to do, you could be drawn to the notion that we needed the power early on. The Utilities Commission said, “Nah”. The low forecast – they had a band, high, medium, low – is the one that we would use and there are a number of considerations that could make the reality less than that.[/quote]
“Even by Hydro’s account, we don’t need new power until somewhere in the middle of the 2030’s,” added Swain. “By better load forecasting, that’s probably put off to the 2040’s.”
Swain was highly dismissive of the two deputy ministers, Dave Nikolejsin and Lori Wanamaker, who challenged the BCUC report, including its use of low-end demand forecasting, questioning whether they had even bothered to read it.
Swain also picked apart the contention of the Allied Hydro Council – which is made up of unions seeking jobs from Site C construction – that Site C is important for “decarbonization” – a “serious, serious issue”, he acknowledged. “British Columbia is not the greatest sinner in this respect [and] has considerable capacity for further generation that does not emit carbon dioxide or methane, that does not involve damming a river.”
[quote]The argument that we cannot integrate renewable energy into the system because of its intermittency and its non-dispatchability doesn’t work very well. First off, we have more storage than just about anybody else…Second, we have some million-and-half acre-feet [of storage] coming back to us [from the Columbia River Dams] in 2024 – coincidentally, the date that Site C is supposed to be finished – which is non-treaty storage and ours to do with as we like. Even BC Hydro says that we can integrate on the order of more than a third of renewables in the existing system without new storage.[/quote]
Finally, he noted that Site C, essentially a large run-of-river project as opposed to a storage dam, has only 0.4% of the storage capacity of the Williston Reservoir – making the argument for Site C over other renewables like wind and solar a moot point.
Swain’s comments come as the NDP cabinet is rumoured to be on the verge of announcing its decision on the project.