The Site C dam is a proposed 1,100 megawatt hydro dam on the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia, Canada.Below you will find an overview section describing the Site C dam project and the controversy surrounding its construction, followed by our latest news and analysis on the subject.
(Photo credit: Don Hoffmann)
Overview of the Site C Dam Project
The Site C dam has been proposed since the 1970s and, if built, would be the third dam built on the Peace River. With a price tag of $8.8 billion, the Site C dam is the most expensive public project in B.C. history.
The B.C. government gave Site C the go-ahead in December 2014, but the dam is facing several court challenges from landowners and First Nations who oppose flooding 83 kilometres of fertile farm land in the Peace Valley.
The B.C. government has argued the dam is the most cost-effective way to meet the province’s electricity needs and has rejected repeated calls for an independent review of costs by the B.C. Utilities Commission.
Harry Swain, the chair of the joint federal-provincial panel that reviewed the Site C dam, panned the B.C. government’s actions on the dam in March 2015, in comments called “unprecedented” by environmental law experts.
Construction started on the dam in fall 2015 and B.C. Premier Christy Clark has vowed to get it past the “point of no return.” Protesters prevented logging at historic Rocky Mountain Fort for two months, but BC Hydro won an injunction against them in early March and the protesters removed their camp.
Four legal cases are still in the courts and questions about the need for the electricity remain. First Nations and community groups opposed to the dam are now calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to halt construction permits until the court cases have been heard.
Interested in getting our weekly round-up of the latest news on the Site C Dam and other major issues in Canada? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter!
DeSmog Canada's latest news coverage on the Site C Dam
Nothing remains at the Rocky Mountain Fort site where Peace Valley farmers and First Nations camped for 60 days in the hopes of stopping clear-cut logging for the Site C dam. The camp was dismantled in March and the old-growth spruce and cottonwood forest was logged, as BC Hydro prepares to convert the Class 1 heritage site into a Site C waste rock dump.
But one notable thing still stands: the civil lawsuit BC Hydro filed in January against five campers and a supporter, a suit the B.C. Civil Liberties Association describes as a matter “of grave concern.”
The 13-page lawsuit accuses six Peace Valley residents of conspiracy, intimidation, trespass, creating a public and a private nuisance, and “intentional interference with economic relations by unlawful means.”
Most worrisome for the people named is that the suit seeks financial damages for BC Hydro that could result in the loss of their homes, life savings or other assets. Five of the six already stand to lose their houses, farms, land or traditional territory to the nearly $9 billion Peace River dam.
Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), says the association is extremely concerned about the civil suit because it could put a chill on freedom of expression. It might cause others “to think twice before they talk about their political opinion.”
Top-level scientists and academics from across Canada are calling on the federal government to put the brakes on construction of the Site C dam and, in an unusual move, the call is being supported by the Royal Society of Canada.
A stinging criticism of the assessment process, lack of consideration for First Nations concerns and the B.C. government’s decision to start construction despite ongoing court cases, was released at an Ottawa news conference Tuesday with a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a statement asking that the federal government not issue any more permits for the hydroelectric mega-project until there have been additional reviews and the courts have decided on First Nations court cases.
A “Statement of Concern” signed by 250 scientists and academics, amounting to a Who’s-Who of Canadian academia, asks that the B.C. government submit the project for review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, something suggested by Joint Review Panel, but rejected by the provincial government.
There should also be a review by the Department of Justice to analyze whether the project infringes on aboriginal and treaty rights, the statement says.
“Based on evidence raised across our many disciplines, the undersigned scholars have concluded that there were significant gaps and inadequacies in the regulatory review and environmental assessment process for the Site C Project,” says the statement.
“Our assessment is that this process did not accord with the commitments of both the federal and provincial government to reconciliation with, and legal obligations to First Nations, protection of the environment and evidence-based decision making with scientific integrity.”
Work — including clearing of old-growth forest in the surrounding area, construction of a work camp and letting of contracts, which the B.C. government says are worth billions of dollars — has already started on the dam that will flood the Peace River valley to create an 83-kilometre reservoir at a cost of almost $9-billion.
Abandoned oil and gas wells in Alberta are on the rise — but where many see a growing liability, Alberta’s fledgling geothermal industry sees massive opportunity.
“We’ve got these old wells that we know are hot and we’re going to fill them with cement and walk away,” says Tim Davies, CEO of geothermal company Turkana. “It’s just stupid.”
There’s currently no permitting framework for geothermal in Alberta, leaving the renewable energy out of play.
“I own the well, I own the land and I own the oil. But I can’t own the heat,” Davies said. “There’s just no mechanism for that in place.”
“The oil business has drilled 400,000 wells in Alberta alone,” Alison Thompson, president of the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association, told DeSmog Canada. “They’ve already found all the hot water the province has.”
By Tim Burkhart, former researcher with the Cohen Commission and Peace River Break Coordinator with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.
On a clear day after the thaw, I climb a meandering hiking trail through thick forest, crossing springs swollen with alpine melt, and scramble up rocky slopes to a wind-swept vista of alpine tundra at the weather-beaten peak of Mount Bickford, about 40 minutes west of the small industry town of Chetwynd, B.C.
From this lofty vantage point above the Pine Pass, the crucial east-west length of Highway 97 is visible, connecting northeast B.C. with the rest of the province west of the Rockies.
Standing beside the dark waters of a mountain lake, still fringed with snow, I can gaze out upon an uninterrupted view of one of the most important landscapes in British Columbia.
Another month, another Site C dam contract. Yet again, it's with one of those almost — but not quite — Canadian companies.
On April 6, Canadian Press quoted Premier Christy Clark as stating “Montreal-based Voith Hydro Inc. will design, supply and install six turbines, six generators and associated equipment.”
Voith would be more accurately described as a family-owned, German-based company with operations in Montreal and dozens of other locations around the world. It may seem trivial, but it's not the first time BC Hydro has taken liberties with postal codes.
In a news release last November, it announced the selection of Peace River Hydro Partners as the preferred proponent for the $1.75 billion Site C main civil works contract.
Peace River Hydro Partners is comprised of Samsung C&T Canada, Acciona Infrastructure Canada and Petrowest.
Clean power projects, such as run-of-river, thermal, solar and wind operations, are providing about 14 per cent of BC Hydro’s domestic supply of electricity and account for $8.6 billion in capital investment in the province, according to a new report commissioned by Clean Energy BC.
The report by MNP, a chartered accountancy and business advisory firm, finds investments have been made throughout the province, including in First Nations communities and areas hit by the recent collapse in global commodity markets.
“Clean Energy Projects can help diversify the economies of local communities by providing another source of employment in communities that may have traditionally relied on mining or forestry to provide the majority of local employment,” the report states.
Many of the 101 independent power projects currently in operation are owned by First Nations or have benefit or revenue-sharing agreements with local First Nations.
Premier Christy Clark has ambitious plans for the copious amounts of electricity — far more than British Columbia is expected to need for more than a decade — generated by the Site C dam on the Peace River: sell it to Alberta.
In a recent interview with Alaska Highway News, Clark said the power from the Site C dam, scheduled to come online in 2024, could potentially provide electricity to Alberta — where the government has recently committed to closing all of its coal-powered energy plants.
“We could potentially electrify the oilsands, which would make the oilsands the cleanest oil produced anywhere on the globe,” Clark said.
“If Canada wants to make an argument for our resources to find their way to market, let’s make them the cleanest in the world and let’s make that our brand.”
A state-of-the-art gas thermal power plant in Campbell River sits idle 90 per cent of the time, but — under a contract that runs until April 2022 — BC Hydro is paying about $55-million a year to ensure emergency power is available if needed, DeSmog Canada has learned.
The Island Generation plant, with a 275-megawatt capability, meaning it is capable of powering about one-third of Vancouver Island homes, is owned by Capital Power Corp., and is fired up only for peak power demands or when there are problems with subsea cables from the mainland that usually power Vancouver Island.
The company only incurs minor expenses as there is a skeleton crew of about 14 people and few maintenance problems, meaning it is similar to being paid for parking a vehicle in a garage, said a former employee.
“All the money they are getting for not running the plant is free,” said Kerry McRae, former construction superintendent for the plant who is questioning why BC Hydro is forging ahead with plans to spend $9-billion on the Site C dam when it is not using power from existing facilities.
In a scenario that sounds like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, bull trout and other fish will travel in trucks past the Site C dam for 100 years as part of BC Hydro’s strategy to save the threatened fish species from disappearing from the Peace River.
The public hydro provider, which is in the early stages of building the $8.8 billion dam, declined to discuss its fish-saving plans. However, a review of reports filed by the Crown corporation reveals an elaborate and expensive plan that may not work, according to a U.S. fish biologist with bull trout expertise.
According to BC Hydro reports, British Columbians will pay approximately $25.5 million to build a “trap and haul” facility for Peace River fish and will spend an additional $1.5 million a year to maintain the facility. The plans are contained in information BC Hydro filed with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
In the midst of controversy over B.C.’s Peace River Site C dam project, the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association released a study showing the province could get the same amount of energy more affordably from geothermal sources for about half the construction costs. Unlike Site C, geothermal wouldn’t require massive transmission upgrades, would be less environmentally disruptive and would create more jobs throughout the province rather than just in one area.
Despite the many benefits of geothermal, Canada is the only “Pacific Ring of Fire” country that doesn’t use it for commercial-scale energy. According to Desmog Canada, “New Zealand, Indonesia, the Philippines, the United States and Mexico all have commercial geothermal plants.” Iceland heats up to 90 per cent of its homes, and supplies 25 per cent of its electricity, with geothermal.