British Columbia

Quesnel mayor worried Site C approval will lead to forestry downturn in 2018

Bob Simpson is worried the approval of Site C will have an immediate impact on forestry towns, as BC Hydro will have a reduced need for biomass from the lumber industry in order to meet energy needs in the province.

Bob Simpson believes megadam will lower need for biomass to produce energy

Crews cut trees earlier this fall as part of an ongoing Firesmart strategy by Parks Canada, aimed at removing trees, branches and deadfall near towns like Banff. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Quesnel mayor Bob Simpson is worried the approval of Site C will have an immediate impact on forestry towns, as BC Hydro will have a reduced need for biomass from the lumber industry in order to meet energy needs in the province.

The provincial power provider has several contracts in place to purchase power produced by companies that convert wood waste, or biomass, into electricity. Sources include wood chips and sawdust from mills, and slash from roadsides and logging sites.

Simpson said now that the provincial NDP has granted approval for the Site C dam to proceed, he believes BC Hydro will choose not to renew those contracts as they will no longer need the electricity that biomass produces. 
Quesnel mayor Bob Simpson. (Mayor Bob Simpson/Facebook)

"It's added a high degree of uncertainty into that whole sector," he told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk, adding that he's heard BC Hydro will be paying biomass producers lower rates for power if the contracts are renewed. 

In an email, BC Hydro spokesperson David Conway confirmed contracts are being renewed at lower rates but said Site C was not the reason.

"BC Hydro has been renewing contracts with independent power producers at prices less than what they were paid under the original contracts, recognizing that those producers have typically recovered most of their capital costs over their original contract terms," he said.

However, during technical briefings on Site C in October Bob Lindstrom, of the lobby group B.C. Pulp and Paper Coalition, said it would be virtually impossible for bioenergy to be produced at lower rates.

"[BC Hydro's] plan is to only renew half the power at half the price, in simple terms," he said.

"That probably means no renewals, because that would not be an acceptable level for us."

Following the dam's approval by the NDP, Lindstrom told CBC he expected BC Hydro to be less interested in pursuing bioenergy.

"If Site C did not go ahead, then I believe that BC Hydro would have more interest in cost-effective, renewable solutions, such as biomass power, to meet their power projections," he said, adding he believed there would still be benefits to expanding the use of bioenergy in the province even with Site C.

The completion of Site would flood 5,500 hectares of the Peace River Valley and provide energy to power the equivalent of about 500,000 homes. (BC Hydro)

Conway said BC Hydro is still interested in the industry.

"Even with power from Site C, BC Hydro will require power from additional sources in the future. Biomass facilities provide firm, reliable power that helps us meet demand when we need power the most — on the coldest, darkest days of the year."

Simpson, however, said he doesn't see how biomass could compete with Site C and believes it is now up to the province to find an alternative use for wood waste in order to create jobs, and get rid of waste that would otherwise provide fuel for forest fires.

"If it's not power, what is it, because that wood waste needs to be dealt with," he said.

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.