British Columbia

Site C dam: How we got here and what you need to know

The Site C hydroelectric dam is the third of four major dams initially proposed in the mid-1950s for the Peace River Valley in northeastern B.C.

Dam first proposed in the 1950s as the third in a series of four dams, two of which were built

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

The Site C hydroelectric dam is the third of four major dams initially proposed in the mid-1950s for the Peace River Valley in northeastern B.C.

The three dams were designed to be part of a power-generating package that reuses water for each dam downstream.

The WAC Bennett on the Williston Lake Reservoir, near Hudson’s Hope (BC Hydro)

When it was completed, the dam was the largest earth-filled structure ever built, creating the Williston Lake reservoir, the largest lake in British Columbia.

Site A, the first in the series, became the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, which was built in 1967, 19 kilometres west of Hudson's Hope.

Construction of the dam and reservoir sparked significant controversy because it flooded 350,000 acres of forested-land, causing loss of biodiversity and timber and mineral rights.

It also resulted in the removal of a number of residents, including the Sekani First Nation, whose displacement BC Hydro admitted in 1977, led to social isolation and had a significant impact on Sekani culture.

The Peace Canyon dam lies just 23-kilometres downstream on the Peace River. It reuses water that has already generated electricity at the Bennett Dam. (B.C. Hydro)

In 1980,  the Peace Canyon Dam or Site B was built 23 kilometres downstream from the W.A.C. Bennett Dam.

Fifty metres tall and 534 metres long, the dam re-uses water already used to generate electricity from the WAC Bennett Dam.

Site C, third in the series

Early plans developed in the 1950s called for the third dam, Site C to be built 83 kilometres downstream from the Peace Canyon Dam, about seven kilometres southwest of Fort St. John, but it was never built.

An artist's rendering shows how the Peace River's Site C dam would appear after completion. (BC Hydro)
The provincial government rejected the Site C dam proposal in 1982 and again in 1989 following B.C. Utilities Commission hearings, deciding it didn't need the extra electricity.

Plans for the fourth dam in the series, Site E, to be built near the B.C.- Alberta border were shelved during the 1982 hearing.

However, for the last 10 years, BC Hydro has been sounding the alarm about the growing demand for electricity.

In  April 2010, the B.C. government under then premier Gordon Campbell, resurrected the Site C proposal and moved it to the regulatory review phase.

BC Hydro says the dam will provide approximately 1100 megawatts of power, generating about 4,600 gigawatt hours of electricity each year — enough electricity to power more than 400,000 homes.

Because it is the third project in a one-river system, Hydro says Site C will gain significant efficiencies as it will use water already stored in the WAC Bennett Dam's Williston Lake Reservoir.

Hydro claims Site C will generate about 30 per cent of the energy produced at the W.A.C Bennett Dam, with only five per cent of the reservoir area.

A view shows a portion of the Peace River Valley that would be flooded by the construction of the Site C dam (Peace Valley Environmental Association/YouTube)
The original announcement called for the site to be operational for domestic energy production by 2020 but it is already behind that schedule by a number of years.

Once construction starts, it's estimated the dam will take about eight years to build and cost about $8.5 billion.

Opposition to Site C

B.C. Hydro forecasts it will need additional sources of electricity by 2028. It purposely calls the dam, the "Site C Clean Energy Project" claiming it will produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions for the amount of energy supplied than any other source except nuclear power.

The dam reservoir would require the flooding of approximately 5,500 hectares of land and more than 83 kilometres of river valley along the Peace River and its tributaries.

This would include over 3,000 hectares of wildlife habitats, heritage sites, and Class 1 and Class 2 agricultural land.

Members of the Treaty 8 First Nations boycotted the official announcement ceremony at the Bennett Dam in April 2010 and have launched a lawsuit opposed the dam. The First Nations say the destruction of the valley and the obliteration of a number of sacred sites would have a devastating impact.

Local farmers are also opposed to the loss of land for agriculture and environmentalists opposed the loss of wildlife habitat.

Click here for BC Hydro animation of Site C construction


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?