British Columbia

B.C. Utilities Commission admits mistakes in Site C report but says conclusions still valid

Two reports on the effect cancelling the Site C dam would have on jobs and energy costs in B.C. were released this week, as the province questioned how the B.C. Utilities Commission arrived at some conclusions in its analysis of the project.

Conflicting reports also released offering different views on dam's effect on B.C. jobs and energy costs

A report released by UBC's Program on Water Governance stated pursuing alternative energy projects such as the Bear Mountain wind farm in Dawson Creek would create more long-term jobs for the province than continued construction and completion of the Site C dam. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

The B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) says it has discovered errors in some price forecast calculations made in its preliminary report on the Site C dam but maintains "the corrections do not change the panel's findings."

The admission comes in response to a letter containing several questions sent Nov. 15 to the BCUC by the provincial deputy ministers responsible for energy and finance.

The letter asks for information on the commission's findings alternative energy projects could be as good or better for B.C. ratepayers and that BC Hydro's projected energy needs are "excessively optimistic."

The Site C dam is being built near Fort St. John in B.C.'s northeast. It's completion would flood 5,500 hectares of the Peace River Valley and provide energy to power the equivalent of around 500,000 homes. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Among the questions:

  • Did the BCUC include money already spent on Site C when calculating how cancellation of Site C could affect BC Hydro rates.
  • Is BC Hydro is expected to pay for alternative energy projects if Site C is cancelled.
  • Does the BCUC agree cancelling Site C would lead to a 10 per cent BC Hydro rate increase to pay off the costs within 10 years.
The BCUC did not advise whether cancelling or continuing construction of Site C would be better for the province, instead it noted both scenarios come with unique risks. (B.C. Utilities Commission)

The deputy ministers also questioned how the BCUC arrived at its projected energy needs, asking: "Did the Commission assume lower demand ... because it is forecasting a period of lower economic growth for the province in which major power consumers such as mining, forestry, technology and commercial sectors are in decline?" and whether the commission accounted for the province using more electricity, as it tries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The BCUC says despite the errors in some price forecast calculations, the panel's conclusion is still valid. However, it is still investigating other queries. 

The NDP government has committed to making a decision on the megadam's future by Dec. 31.

Two reports on the effect cancelling the Site C dam would have on jobs and energy costs in B.C. were also released this week.

Sunk costs questioned—

A report delivered the same day as the provincial query by the union group Allied Hydro Council of B.C. (AHC) raised many of the same questions, directly accusing the BCUC of not accounting for sunk costs and claiming the rapid adoption of electric vehicles would lead to greater power needs than the commission projected.

The Allied Hydro Council of B.C. said the BCUC did not account for the growing interest in using electric cars in British Columbia when analyzing the province's projected power needs. (Getty Images for Go Ultra Low)

That report was rebutted by UBC's Program on Water Governance, which said the AHC had made "factual errors and false claims" and said the AHC's projected power needs "would be 10 times the load growth actually observed from 2010 to 2016."

Wayne Peppard, with the AHC, noted any excess power could be sold to other markets reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

"This power is not just for us," he said.

More jobs from alternative energy: UBC

The UBC program also released a study stating alternative energy projects and conservation efforts would create more jobs than Site C. 

Program director Karen Bakker said the study found that the Site C dam generates four jobs for every million dollars spent, while conservation programs would create about 30 jobs for every million dollars spent.

"Those are long-term sustainable jobs and a lot of them are in the Peace region," said Bakker, a UBC professor and Canada Research Chair in political ecology.

The Program on Water Governance report from UBC compared jobs created by continuing to build Site C to jobs created by pursuing portfolios of alternative energy and conservation projects using numbers from BC Hydro and the B.C. Utilities Commission. (UBC Program on Water Governance)

Bakker said she is "extremely confident" in the projections, which are based on data from BC Hydro and industry standards.

She also said she's concerned opinion and fact are being conflated in the debate surrounding Site C.

Bob Peever of BC Hydro gives a tour of the Site C Dam location near Fort St. John in April, 2017. The dam's completion would flood 5,500 hectares of the Peace River Valley and provide energy to power the equivalent of around 500,000 homes. (Jonathon Hayward/Canadian Press)

"I'm very concerned at the degree of false claims and misleading information that is now circulating," she said. "I don't want this to be us against them ... my uncle worked on the Bennett Dam. I have a great respect for people who do that work."

"It's just, we're researchers, so we put out the numbers ... if we are not distinguishing between rigorous research ... and a four-page report with no sources and no numbers, then we're not doing a service to the public."


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Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story provided inaccurate figures about the ratio of jobs created by the Site C dam compared to alternatives.
    Nov 18, 2017 3:22 PM PT

About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.