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 107 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries, putting valuable farmland under water.
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.
DeSmog Canada's latest news coverage on the Site C Dam
In only its earliest phases of construction, the Site C dam project has already spent more money than projected and missed key benchmarks, threatening to undermine Premier Christy Clark’s commitment to taxpayers to keep the project on budget and on time.
BC Hydro documents filed June 10 with the province’s independent public utility watchdog, the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC), show that that Site C expenditures totalled $314 million more at the end of March than was originally budgeted for that date.
The same documents, reviewed by DeSmog, also flag the potential for cost overruns if interest rates climb, taxes increase or the Canadian dollar continues to depreciate over the projected eight remaining years the dam is under construction.
This is a guest piece by Adrian Dix, the MLA for Vancouver-Kingsway and the NDP critic for BC Hydro and ICBC.
BC Hydro and the provincial Liberal government are playing a reckless game with British Columbians. They are building the Site C dam even though it is apparent that we do not need the power.
The consequences will include lost jobs, higher electricity rates and long-term damage to BC Hydro and provincial finances.
Does Premier Christy Clark think BC Hydro's customers in this province would support a $9-billion-plus project to offer subsidized power to American and Albertan consumers? Could this ever make any sense?
B.C. has seen this story before with respect to Site C, but with a very different ending.
The B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) granted BC Hydro several exemptions from the B.C. Wildlife Act to keep Site C dam construction from falling behind expected timelines, DeSmog Canada has learned.
The exemptions have some local First Nations and legal experts concerned Premier Christy Clark’s promise to “push the project past the point of no return” is occurring at the cost of B.C.’s own permitting rules and wildlife management.
“BC Hydro has gone rogue,” Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nation told DeSmog Canada. “Worse yet, the province is aware of the situation and chooses to look the other way. What’s the point of having a regulator if it refuses to regulate?”
E-mail correspondence obtained by DeSmog Canada show BC Hydro requested last-minute permission from the Ministry of Forests to undertake “emergency amphibian salvage” along the banks of the Peace River. The ministry granted BC Hydro several exemptions from the Wildlife Act to conduct the work — something legal experts say is against the law.
“I think we’re making a big mistake, a very expensive one,” Swain says in the video. “Of the $9 billion it will cost, at least $7 billion will never be returned. You and I as rate payers will end up paying $7 billion bucks for something we get nothing for.”
Since 2005, domestic demand for electricity in B.C. has been essentially flat, making it difficult to justify the dam which will flood 107 kilometres of the Peace River and destroy thousands of hectares of prime agricultural land.
“There is no need for Site C,” Swain says. “If there was a need, we could meet it with a variety of other renewable and smaller scale sources.”
Federal and provincial climate policies unveiled over the last year are paving the way for Canada to massively increase the amount of energy the country gets from renewable sources, according to a new analysis released today by Clean Energy Canada.
“For the first time the federal government and the provinces are working together to establish a national climate plan,” Dan Woynillowicz, policy director at Clean Energy Canada, said. “A big piece of the puzzle is not just cleaning up the grid, but electrifying other parts of the economy reliant on fossil fuels.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is drafting a ‘pan-Canadian clean growth and climate change framework’ to be released this fall. Meantime, last year Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada’s main oil and gas producing provinces, set ambitious renewable energy targets. And Ontario recently announced one of the most cutting edge greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction plans in Canada to date.
All of that means things are finally looking up for clean energy in Canada. Federal and provincial politicians now need to make good on their climate pledges for the country to reap even bigger benefits from this $500 billion global industry.
Peace Valley farmers and outspoken critics of the Site C dam Ken and Arlene Boon say BC Hydro intends to force them from their third-generation family farm by the end of this year even though the dam would not flood their land until 2024.
The Boons received the unexpected news from their lawyer, following a conversation the lawyer had with officials from BC Hydro’s Properties division.
“It was a shocker,” Ken Boon, says. “We didn’t know they wanted us out by Christmas.”
Boon says if they refuse to sell their farm to BC Hydro it will be expropriated for the “re-alignment” of Highway 29 away from the Site C flood zone, a two-year construction project that BC Hydro says must begin in 2017.
In polling released by BC Hydro last week, the public power utility touts “broad” support for its controversial Site C dam — a mega hydro dam on the Peace River that would flood 107 kilometres of river valley, forcing farmers and First Nations off their land.
Hydro must have been counting on nobody taking a close look at the questions they asked respondents, because not only are they misleading, but they also tell another story entirely.
Let’s first address a glaring problem with the questions themselves: polling company Abacus Data began by asking British Columbians a multiple choice question about how to meet “increasing electricity demand.”
There’s just one problem: B.C. does not have increasing electricity demand. In fact, electricity demand in B.C. has remained basically flat since 2005. But no, the pollster told all 1,000 telephone respondents that electricity demand is rising and we must meet it somehow.
BC Hydro deeply regrets the impacts of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam on First Nations and will not repeat the “mistakes of the past,” Hydro’s Deputy CEO Chris O’Riley said Thursday at the unveiling of a new First Nations gallery at the dam’s visitor centre.
“While we remain very proud of the engineering marvel that is the Bennett dam, and we continue to be thankful in this province for the prosperity that it underpins, we recognize a need to acknowledge those parts of the picture that we can’t be proud of,” O’Riley told representatives from six First Nations in the Peace who gathered under a tent in the rain, overlooking the two kilometre-long dam.
“We recognize the need to acknowledge the adverse impacts of the dam on the environment and on the original people of the land. We think this acknowledgment is a really important part of reconciliation,” said O’Riley.
When the Bennett dam was completed in 1967 and the floodwaters of ten rivers and creeks converged to form the massive Williston Reservoir, local First Nations were not even informed, much less consulted.
To celebrate Clean Air Day, June 8, the B.C. Government issued a press release celebrating the province’s air quality in the Peace region, home to extensive natural gas operations and Site C dam construction.
The press release, which praises the “successful partnership to ensure continued clean air in the Peace region,” came on the heels of a federal warning issued to BC Hydro for failing to turn on air quality monitors near Site C dam construction.
Federal investigators with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) discovered monitors near Site C operations, which measure total suspended particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide were not collecting any data.
CEAA compliance and enforcement chief Michel Vitou issued a warning letter to BC Hydro on May 26, saying the crown corporation “has been unable to monitor air quality effects in order to inform the appropriate authorities of exceedance of federal and provincial air quality standards.”
Toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, barium, cadmium, lithium and lead, are flowing unchecked into the Peace River following a series of unusual landslides that may be linked to B.C's natural gas industry fracking operations.
The landslides began nearly two years ago and show no sign of stopping. So far, they have killed all fish along several kilometres of Brenot and Lynx creeks just downstream from the community of Hudson’s Hope.
As plumes of muddy water laced with contaminants pulse into the Peace River, scientists and local residents are struggling to understand what caused the landslides and why they have not ceased.
Hudson’s Hope mayor Gwen Johansson is also worried about a broader question raised by the ongoing pollution. The toxic metals are entering the Peace River in a zone slated to be flooded by the Site C dam. That zone could experience nearly 4,000 landslides should the dam be built and the impounded waters begin to rise in the landslide-prone area.