The proposed Site C dam in northeast B.C. has a new projected price tag of almost $8 billion, and has moved to the first stage of an environmental review.

B.C. Hydro says an updated design for the dam shows the project would cost $7.9 billion at today's prices for labour, equipment and materials.

Five years ago, the cost estimate for the Peace River project was less than $3 billion. That jumped to $6.6 billion by 2010. Much of the increase is due to an upgrade to the old design, said BC Hydro's Dave Conway.

"The project description report actually provides a general overview of the Site C project, describes key upgrades to the now over 30-year-old historic design that we've upgraded meet current seismic safety and environmental guidelines," said Conway.

Boondoggle fears

B.C. NDP energy critic John Horgan doesn't believe we've heard the end of the spiralling costs.

"I'm not convinced we're at the final figure today," said Horgan Wednesday. "I think we've got a couple of billion dollars more to go before we're done."

Horgan added that the government's decision last year to exempt Site C from scrutiny by the BC Utilities Commission could allow the project to become a multi-billion-dollar boondoggle.

But B.C. Hydro said that despite the higher cost, the price of electricity the dam would produce would make Site C among the most cost-effective options available to meet B.C.'s future electricity needs, and could operate for 100 years.

The dam would also flood hundreds of hectares of land and is opposed by several First Nations and other residents in the Peace River region.

Hydro said it's submitted a project description report to federal and provincial environmental assessment agencies, and once the report is accepted the formal assessment will begin.