B.C. has approved the $8.8 billion Site C dam — a massive hydroelectric project that would flood a large area of the Peace River Valley in northeastern B.C.

In making the announcement, Premier Christy Clark said the Site C Clean Energy Project will provide B.C. residents with a reliable source of power for the next 100 years for the least cost to the taxpayer.

“Affordable, reliable, clean electricity is the backbone of British Columbia’s economy,” said Clark. “Site C will support our quality of life for decades to come and will enable continued investment and a growing economy.”

Energy Minister Bill Bennett said B.C.’s electricity rates are the third lowest in North America and the fourth lowest for commercial and industrial users.

But he said B.C.’s population is expected to increase by more than a million people and the province's electricity demand to grow by 40 per cent over the next 20 years


An artist's rendering shows how the Peace River's Site C dam would appear after completion. (BC Hydro)

Even though Site C itself will only generate eight per cent of B.C.’s total electricity needs, Bennett said it is a vital part of the overall electricity plan.

He said no one knows what the cost of coal or natural gas will be over the next 20 years, and hydroelectric power has the advantage of being relatively clean.

First Nations, environmentalists, opposed

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs is drawing a line in the sand declaring that Site C "will never see the light of day."

" We believe it to be an incredibly short-sighted and stupid decision, said Grand Chief Stewart Philip."It's not about the money. It's about the environment, it's about the land — about constitutional rights, treaty rights and so on and so forth. It's about a way of life."

Treaty 8 First Nations, some of whom were displaced by the W.A.C Bennett dam when it was built, say they will fight construction of the Site C project. The hydroelectric project would dramatically alter a large area of northeastern B.C. flooding more than 5,500 hectares of land over an 83-kilometre stretch of valley. 

SCOC First Nations Tsilhqot'in

Chief Bernie Mack, of the Esdilagh First Nation, wears hand made gloves while holding a drum during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the Tsilhqot'in First Nation, granting it land title to 438,000-hectares of land on Thursday June 26, 2014. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

In a letter to the minister, they demand the government repeal the Columbia River Treaty with the United States, which provides downstream benefits they say allow the U.S. to receive B.C. power at a fraction of its cost. They also said B.C. could fill its electrical needs through independent power producers utilizing renewable solar, wind, water and geothermal energy.

The First Nations Summit, representing a majority of First Nations and Tribal Councils in B.C., issued a statement denouncing the decision, noting it will result in extensive flooding within the traditional territories of Treaty 8 nations.

"This approach is unacceptable and an affront to the cultivation of constructive government-to-government relations between the provincial government and BC First Nations," it said in a statement.

West Moberly First Nation Chief Roland Willson said his band is not opposed to resource development, but his people don't want to see the flooding of this land, which has many sacred sites on it.

"We said no to the destruction of that valley … it's the last chunk of valley that we have and it's vitally important," he said. "We have to make a decision here that will have implications for many, many decades."

The Peace Valley Environment Association said B.C. had made the biggest mistake in its history, noting that with five court cases opposing Site C already under way, it will cost the government millions in legal fees and years in the courts

"At this time, it would make far more sense for BC to pause and develop an energy plan for the province. There is no rush to build Site C," it said.

BC Hydro estimates Site C would generate an estimated 1,100 megawatts of capacity, or enough to power the equivalent of 450,000 homes.

Reaction on social media 

CBC followed the reaction on social media to the government's announcement that it had approved the Site C dam.

With files from Dan Burritt, Jason Proctor and The Canadian Press