British Columbia

Does B.C. need Site C to power massive LNG project?

It's the equivalent of adding more than 185,000 new households to B.C.'s electrical grid. Once it’s up and running, LNG Canada will be BC Hydro’s third largest customer.

'We can deliver the power required with or without Site C,' BC Hydro says of LNG Canada

In 2014, LNG Canada signed an agreement with BC Hydro to connect to the province's electric grid. (CBC)

It's the equivalent of adding more than 185,000 new households to B.C.'s electrical grid. Once it's up and running, LNG Canada will be BC Hydro's third largest customer.

So, where will all that electricity come from?

For some environmentalists and politicians, there's only one obvious answer: the controversial and legally contested Site C project.

The province refutes any connection between the hydroelectric dam and LNG Canada, and yet, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver argues approval of the massive liquefied natural gas plant means B.C. taxpayers will be "taking on the enormous public debt required to build Site C."

Some have even suggested the NDP government was laying the groundwork for LNG Canada when it approved the $10.7-billion Site C dam late last year. That includes prominent environmentalist David Suzuki.

"One of the things that is really weird is, why did this government … which opposed the development of the dam at Site C, approve Site C?" Suzuki asked on CBC's The Early Edition.  "Now it becomes very clear: because they're going to develop LNG, which is a very energy demanding thing."

Province denies connection

It's a charge the B.C. government firmly denies. In an email, an energy ministry spokesperson said the approval of Site C had nothing to do with LNG — it was about protecting taxpayers from the $4-billion cost of cancelling the dam.

In fact, BC Hydro spokesperson Mora Scott wrote in an email, "LNG Canada's power needs can be met with existing electricity generation. We can deliver the power required with or without Site C."

Even if Site C construction is delayed or cancelled by the courts in response to legal challenges, that won't affect LNG Canada, according to the province.

It's been four years since LNG Canada signed a deal with BC Hydro to hook up to the electrical grid. In the intervening years, BC Hydro used the project's energy requirements when it forecast a surging demand for electricity that could be met by Site C.

Only about 20 per cent of LNG Canada's power needs will be supplied by the electrical grid. The rest — including the energy necessary to compress, chill and convert natural gas to its liquid form — will be supplied by the gas itself.

LNG Canada will burn fossil fuels to convert natural gas to liquid form. (CBC)

The province has estimated the company's operations would initially add about 2,000 gigawatt hours to B.C.'s annual electrical load — for comparison, the average household uses about 0.01 gigawatt hours per year.

That means LNG Canada would use about 40 per cent of the energy produced by Site C, which is expected to produce about 5,100 gigawatt hours every year.

'We have enough spare capacity'

But the dam isn't the only potential source of electricity for the plant, according to Werner Antweiler, an economics professor at UBC's Sauder School of Business who studies the energy sector.

"We have enough spare capacity at the moment," he told CBC. "When I look at the amount of electricity we're exporting to the United States, that's roughly 5,000 gigawatt hours a year."

Still, he believes British Columbians will need to have a discussion about whether future LNG projects — including the planned second phase of LNG Canada — are fully electrified, rather than relying on fossil fuels to liquefy the natural gas.

"I could see significant environmental benefits coming from electrification," Antweiler said. "That would require, in fact, much more electricity than is currently available."

However, he said he'd prefer to see alternative sources like wind and geothermal energy used to meet that increasing demand.

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