British Columbia

Independent report sets stage for Site C dam to be killed or carry on

An independent report exploring the economics of the $8.8-billion Site C dam is expected Nov. 1, setting the stage for B.C.'s NDP government to either kill or move forward on the controversial energy project by year's end.

Final fate of energy project to be determined within 2 months

Bob Peever is the construction manager for BC Hydro's Site C dam. (Richard Zussman/CBC)

An independent report exploring the economics of the $8.8-billion Site C dam is expected Nov. 1, setting the stage for B.C.'s NDP government to either kill or move forward on the controversial energy project by year's end.

The B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) review will outline the anticipated costs of continuing construction of the dam in northeast B.C., suspending construction or ending the project altogether.

The Site C dam would flood more than 5,500 hectares of land along the Peace River, including traditional lands and heritage sites used by Treaty 8 First Nations. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

It will look specifically at how each scenario would affect the energy bills of British Columbians and the ability of the province to provide power to its residents.

The report was a key election promise from the B.C. NDP and will affect the fate of thousands of workers employed in constructing the dam, as well as ranchers and First Nations whose land is impacted by the project.

Election promise

Prior to Site C's announcement in 2010, it was standard practice for governments to send energy projects to be reviewed by the BCUC, which is tasked with making sure British Columbians pay fair rates for energy and ICBC costs.

Former B.C. Premier Christy Clark argued the Site C dam would ensure B.C.'s energy self-sufficiency for the next 100 years at a reliable cost to the taxpayer. (CBC)

However, the governing B.C. Liberals refused to do so, instead relying on data provided by BC Hydro to argue the dam is needed to meet future energy needs. 

After forming government in summer 2017, the B.C. NDP sent the project for review, keeping one of its key election promises.

Premier John Horgan said the review should have been conducted years ago, "so the public could have confidence it's the right choice."

Report focused on energy needs, costs

In September, BCUC CEO David Morton said he expected the final report to provide solid answers about some costs while other information, such as the province's future energy needs, might be more difficult to determine.

The Site C dam would be just southwest of Fort St. John in B.C.'s Peace River Valley. (sitecproject.com)

"It's unlikely that one would be able to say definitively that, in 2035, we need, you know, this many units of energy," he explained

"It's more likely to be a range. What we will do is provide some guidance of how to understand that range and what the implications of being at the higher end of the range and the lower end of the range are and what the impact of that on the costs will be."

He also said the report will look at the viability of alternatives to Site C, such as increased wind or geothermal energy production.

Locals await their 'fate'

For those closest to the project, the report holds personal stakes.

A stand of trees has been removed from what used to be Ken and Arelene Boons' property, before it was expropriated by BC Hydro. To their right are yellow stakes, purchased by people around the world to show their opposition to the Site C dam. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

"We are very interested to know what our fate is going to be," said Byron Stewart, acting mayor of Fort St. John which is less than 15 kilometres away from the construction site.

Over 2,000 people are employed at the dam, and it has the support of the Independent Contractors and Business Association and the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), a union representing about half of those workers.

"Many people ... have already built their lives around the project," the union wrote on a website in favour of Site C. The review, they argued, is "putting over 2,000 workers in a position of uncertainty."

The Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) created a website called 'People of Site C' to profile some of the workers affected by the dam's future. (CLAC)

Meanwhile, landowners such as Ken and Arlene Boon, are waiting to find out if they will be forced out of their homes if the dam goes ahead. Ken Boon said the report is "much needed" after years of debate.

The City of Fort St. John has remained neutral on the project, focusing instead on maximizing the benefits that flow to the city as a result of the added jobs and activity in the region.

Even so, Stewart said, knowing definitively whether the project will proceed or be killed will be better than the "limbo" the city is dealing with right now.

"There is uncertainty of investment, uncertainty of our future, so we're patiently trying to wait for the report to come out, so we know what our future is," he explained. 

"We want a decision, one way or another."​​

Final decision by 2018, after consultation with First Nations

Prep work for construction of the Site C dam takes place along the Peace River in 2016. According to BC Hydro, 2,357 people were employed by Site C in August, 2017. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

Energy Minister Michelle Mungall said a final decision on the project will be made by 2018.

She also said that in addition to the BCUC report, her government will be consulting First Nations affected by the project as required by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

"It's very important that First Nations views and interests be respected," she said.

"We are anticipating that we'll have a decision ... based on the best interests of British Columbians by the end of this year."

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 unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.

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