A federal-provincial Joint Review Panel has made 50 recommendations on the proposed $8 billion Site C dam on the Peace River in Northern B.C., concluding there are clear benefits to the project.

"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," said the panel's summary.

However, it questioned the timetable for the project, and left the final decision on the future of the 1,100 megawatt hydroelectric dam in the hands of B.C. and federal ministers.

The recommendations were laid out in the panel's report released to the public on Thursday. They covered environmental, economic, social, health and First Nations concerns.

"The panel concludes that B.C. will need new energy and new capacity at some point," said a statement issued by the panel along with the report.

"Site C would be the least expensive of the alternatives, and its cost advantages would increase with the passing decades as inflation makes alternatives more costly."

However, it also questioned the timetable proposed for the project.

"The panel concludes that the proponent has not fully demonstrated the need for the project on the timetable set forth."

"If ministers are inclined to proceed, they may wish to consider referring the load forecast and demand side management plan details to the BC Utilities Commission."

The recommendations include a wide range of considerations including:

  • Minimum flow rates.
  • Downstream effects.
  • Acid rock and metal leaching.
  • Ecological habitat mapping.
  • Effects on wetlands and migratory birds.
  • Rare plant conservation.
  • First Nations plant use.
  • Control of herbicide and pesticide use.
  • Endangered species protection.
  • Compensation for trapping and other land use.
  • Road safety during construction.
  • Effects on local municipalities.
  • Aboriginal employment and training.
  • Dust control.
  • Ground water monitoring.
  • Methylmercury monitoring in fish.

The panel sent the report to the federal and provincial governments for review last week. The federal and provincial governments now have up to six months to make a decision on the future of the project.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark has said the additional power is needed for natural gas plants proposed for the region.

Energy lawyer David Austin says he expects approval will hinge on cost, not environmental concerns.

"The decisionmakers just key in on the cost of the project, and not all the other things that are just as important, if not more important than cost."

He cautions major hydroelectric projects are difficult to justify, because they take so long to build.

"It's very difficult to say whether there is the need for Site C because the earliest in service date is 2024. From the time you start building the project, to the time you complete the project, the world can turn," said Austin.

In the 80s, the B.C. Utilities Commission rejected Site C, ruling the need wasn't there. This time the province has exempted the project from BCUC review.

Map: dams on the Peace River


With files from Marissa Harvey