One of two proposed loacations for Site C Dam (Damien Gillis photo)

Site C Dam: A Bad Deal for British Columbians


EDITOR’S NOTE: This letter was originally published in the Prince George Citizen, in response to a previous article on Site C Dam.

I live in the Peace Valley, upstream of the proposed Site C dam.  That has led to a lifetime interest in electricity policy.  I read with interest the recent article entitled, “Site C update: more power, more cost.” (July 27) which states, “BC ratepayers will be forking over the estimated $7.9 billion to build the Site C hydro-electric dam on the Peace River…”

Hydro customers do guarantee the corporation’s debt although very few of us give that much thought.  There’s been no need so long as the debt remained stable, was prudently managed, and publicly available.  But things have changed.  After many years of remaining stable, the debt load in the past three years has steadily climbed and those figures do not include the longterm contractual obligations for supply from BC independent power producers, which the province requires Hydro to use.  The public is refused access to those contracts.  How willing should ratepayers be to guarantee an additional $7.9 billion without having the right to scrutinize what they are already on the hook for?

The article says we need Site C because provincial demand is expected to rise 40% in 20 years.  In the past, Hydro ratepayers could – and did – use BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) hearings to hold Hydro and its government handlers to account for their claims.  But last year, the Energy Act removed Site C and ten other projects from BCUC oversight.  Now ratepayers are told they’ll pay the costs but are denied a forum to check the need for and suitability of those costs.

Last year’s Energy Act requires BC to be ‘self-sufficient’ in electricity.  All generation must occur within the province.  Hydro must be able to meet the province’s future need under “the most adverse sequence of stream flows within historical record.”  So self-sufficiency is to protect our electricity supply in times of drought.  Why, then, would we build another dam and reservoir that would be subject to the same drought we’re trying to protect ourselves from?  Surely it would make more sense to diversify our source of supply so that when droughts do occur, we have other sources (natural gas, geothermal, wind, solar) available.   

According to the article, Site C is “extremely cost-effective” at $87-95 per megawatt.  The comparable cited is $125/Megawatt for the green energy call – a most expensive source.  I’m told that firm power with delivery in 2012 was recently quoted at $27-35 on the Pacific Northwest wholesale market.  Longterm predictions are chancy but the projected $81-85 for 2030 doesn’t make Site C look shiny either.  It appears that Site C can only be called “extremely cost-effective” if cheaper sources are somehow eliminated.  The self-sufficiency requirement has created artificially expensive electricity in BC.

Ratepayers have every right to call “Foul!” when they are taken for granted in the manner we are seeing.  Every avenue they might use to protect their interests is blocked.  They are expected to swallow the rate increases and guarantee the risk, all while having no control over the policy.  That’s wrong.

Gwen Johansson has served on numerous energy-related endeavours.  She co-chaired  the Northeast Energy & Mines Advisory Committee; served on  BC Hydro’s Integrated Electricity Planning Committee; is a former BC Hydro Director and a former member of  the BC Energy Council.  She lives in the Peace Valley near Hudson’s Hope. 


4 thoughts on “Site C Dam: A Bad Deal for British Columbians

  1. I am sure I read quite some time back, the site C dam was also for the dirty tar sands? Correct me please, if I am wrong.

    Fracking should be totally outlawed. In some states in the U.S. they can light the water from their faucets on fire. I also read, they can do the same in, Southern Alberta. What will it take, to stop government greed? Will common sense ever win?

    There has to be a stop, on polluting our underground water, lakes, rivers and streams. Fracking makes a hell of a mess of the underground water, it spreads for miles.

    The run of the rivers, has destroyed salmon runs. The Bute river salmon run was depended upon by, bears, eagles and many other wild creatures.

    All I can say is, if we don’t get rid of this evil BC Liberal government, this province will be utterly destroyed.

    All our eco systems are under serious distress. The filthy diseased fish farms, have to go. We have to stop, the Enbridge pipeline and the dirty oil tankers. We have to stop, the drilling of oil and gas wells off BC’s coast. There has been a 6.1 earthquake in the Queen Charlotte’s. And of course, the last one around Vancouver Island. An off shore disaster, for sure.

  2. BC Hydro is a public utility. This company is owned collectively by the citizens of BC.

    Now the present government, in particular one man in that government, the former leader, has entered into an agreement for the purchase of power from private producers.

    That agreement was signed by him and no-one else. While the claim advanced may be that this signature was on our behalf, therefore, by any standards of purchase, we have a right to view the goods previous to purchase. We, the citizens of BC have the right to view any and all agreements pertaining to the signature itself. Without perusing the agreement we are obligated to pay for nothing.

    It is the identical process used, or lack thereof, for the HST, for BC Rail, for fish farms, for the South Perimeter Rd. and on and on. It is this government’s MO; their standard operating procedure.

    If this had been done out in the open, for all to see, the whole idea would not have been approved by the citizens of this province or the entire legislature.

    If the geology is indeed a silt bed this substance is notoriously unstable at all times; adding a tremendous amount of weight over top does nothing but exacerbate that instability.

  3. I just returned from a week of filming in the region for a forthcoming documentary on Site C. Besides the gorgeous landscape that would be flooded for this project; besides the productive agricultural land and wildlife habitat that would be lost; besides the disastrous economics that Gwen deals with in her article; besides the fact that this power is not for us, but rather for natural gas fracking and coal mining projects…perhaps the single most compelling reason to reconsider Site C is the instability of the land under the would-be dam. The Williston Reservoir, west of the proposed Site C Dam, has seen major erosion far beyond its intended borders – and I understand the geology of the planned Site C reservoir is even more problematic. Mostly made up of alluvial silt, it doesn’t contain the bedrock of the Bennett and Peace Canyon dams. Hydro is searching for shale to anchor the dam to, without much luck, I gather. The key question for Hydro and the Clark Government is: can this dam even be safely built? If not, Site C is a non-starter…which it should be for all the other above reasons anyway.

  4. Exactly…..if the water is low, it is low. No amount of increase in hydroelectric power capacity (private or public) will reduce the possible reliance on alternate sources at some times of the year, or indeed for some years in total. Hydroelectric IPP’s are in areas where low waterflow is an even bigger problem than for BC Hydro legacy dams…and on top of that….they freeze solid..just when we would need the electricity most. On the Sunshine Coast they must bottom-drain high alpine lakes and divert waterfalls to try and offset this…but what will they do after the second low snowpack year and the lake hasn’t “filled up” the 60 feet it has been drawn down? They are not “run of river” and absolutely do not reduce the amount of fossil fuel generated electricity used. They are far from the existing grids and can only be viable if built in clusters of many powerhouses. The increased future demand is driven by the resource extraction industry in the north and export for private profit in the south, not by the consumption of residential ratepayers.

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