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, Amnesty International, the David Suzuki Foundation and the Royal Society of Canada called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to halt construction permits until the court cases have been heard — but the Trudeau government issued permits allowing construction to move ahead on July 27, 2016.
DeSmog Canada's latest news coverage on the Site C Dam
A cute graphic of white houses with rooftop solar panels is featured on the U.S. Department of Energy’s website. “Solar Homes Sell for More Money,” the government tells viewers, citing studies that show solar adds an average US$15,000 to the resell value of a home.
“Just like a renovated kitchen or a finished basement increases a home’s value, solar has been shown to boost home valuation and shorten a home’s time on the market.”
In contrast to the U.S. government’s cheery promotion of solar, BC Hydro’s webpage called “Solar Power & Heating for Your Home” has a blurry photograph of a man putting on a sweater, and technical information that begins with the somber news that it will take a B.C. homeowner at least 20 years to recoup the cost of a solar installation.
It’s 31 degrees outside and I was planning to go to the lake this afternoon — and I’d be willing to hazard a guess that many British Columbians are in the same boat.
Politicans often “take out the trash” on Fridays during the dog days of summer and this time is no different.
The plan — according to a leak in the Globe and Mail today — will fail to increase the carbon tax or update greenhouse gas reduction targets.
Those were two of the cornerstone recommendations from the province’s own expert committee.
“The depths of August on a Friday afternoon is not the time you release a plan that you want a lot of people to pay attention to,” said Josha MacNab, B.C. director for the Pembina Institute.
By Ben Parfitt for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Efforts by BC Hydro to ban potentially destructive natural gas company fracking operations in the vicinity of its biggest dams fall well short of what an Alberta hydro provider has achieved, raising questions about why British Columbia isn’t doing more to protect public safety.
Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives show that BC Hydro officials have feared for years that fracking-induced earthquakes could damage its dams and reservoirs.
Senior dam safety officials with the public hydro utility even worried for a time that natural gas companies could drill and frack for gas directly below their Peace River dams, which would kill hundreds if not thousands of people should they fail.
By Ben Parfitt for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Senior BC Hydro officials have quietly feared for years that earthquakes triggered by natural gas industry fracking operations could damage its Peace River dams, putting hundreds if not thousands of people at risk should the dams fail.
Yet the Crown corporation has said nothing publicly about its concerns, opting instead to negotiate behind the scenes with the provincial energy industry regulator, the BC Oil and Gas Commission (OGC).
To date, those discussions have resulted in only modest “understandings” between the hydro provider and the OGC that would see a halt in the issuance of any new “subsurface rights” allowing companies to drill and frack for natural gas within five kilometres of the Peace River’s two existing dams or an approved third dam on the river, the controversial $9-billion Site C project. Companies already holding such rights, however, would not be subject to the ban.
But once again, none of this is public knowledge. Only after the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives filed a Freedom of Information request with BC Hydro did the Crown corporation disclose its concerns, which focus on the possibility that fracking could trigger earthquakes more powerful than some of its dams are designed to withstand.
It sounds like a renewable energy utopia of the distant future.
Twelve million houses with roofs covered in solar panels. Wind turbines whipping the equivalent energy of 170 Site C dams onto the grid. A popular type of hydro called pumped storage, which often leaves a pinky toe of an environmental footprint compared to the imprint of large dams and their reservoirs.
But this is no futuristic climate-friendly Shangri-La. It’s all part of the U.S. government’s national Hydropower Vision for the next 15 to 35 years, a report unveiled in late July at the world’s largest annual hydro event in Minneapolis.
Developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, the report outlines a very different energy path than the “one dam fits all” approach of the B.C. government, whose single-minded focus on building the $8.8 billion Site C dam on the Peace River blew the Canadian Wind Energy Association right out of the province earlier this year.
Justin Trudeau’s government has quietly issued its first batch of permits for the Site C dam — allowing construction to move forward on the $8.8 billion BC Hydro project despite ongoing legal challenges by two First Nations.
The federal-provincial review panel’s report on Site C found the 1,100 megawatt dam will result in significant and irreversible adverse impacts on Treaty 8 First Nations.
Caleb Behn, who is from West Moberly First Nation, one of the nations taking the federal government to court, says Trudeau has broken his promise.
“It’s 19th century technology being permitted with 19th century thinking and I expected more from the Trudeau government,” he said. “These permits were our last best hope to resolve this.”
“These permits suggest very strongly that, at least these ministries, if not Trudeau’s entire cabinet, are unwilling to engage in reconciliation with indigenous peoples. I thought this country could be more.”
There just aren’t enough lawyers in B.C. to fight all the environmental battles First Nations, individuals and groups face on a regular basis in the province, according to University of Victoria lawyer Chris Tollefson.
As a solution, Tollefson, the founder of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, and a handful of legal experts and litigators recently launched a new public interest environmental law outfit that will take on some of the most powerful forces in B.C., from Malaysian-owned Petronas to government ministries to BC Hydro.
The new legal non-profit, the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation (CELL), will focus on environmental litigation, legislative reform and, as Tollefson describes it, “training up the next generation of young public interest environmental lawyers.”
Tollefson, who served as a former president of Ecojustice, one of Canada's most prominent environmental legal non-profits, said there is more work than existing organizations can handle.
That sentiment is echoed by Bob Peart, executive director of Sierra Club BC, and one of the centre's first clients.
“I think litigation is vital and it's so hard to move this government in any other way,” Peart told DeSmog Canada. “You can build up the wall of public noise as much as you like but litigation seems to be a lever they at least half listen to.”
The B.C. government is being taken to court for giving BC Hydro permission to move amphibian species along the banks of the Peace River during construction of the Site C dam.
The legal challenge, recently filed by Josette Weir and Sierra Club BC, asks for a judicial review of the government’s actions in June when a regional manager with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) granted BC Hydro permission to perform amphibian salvage without proper permits issued in accordance with the Wildlife Act.
The emergency permits, first revealed by DeSmog Canada, raise questions about the relationship between government ministries and BC Hydro, which is under pressure to keep to Premier Christy Clark's word to get the dam “past the point of no return” before the May 2017 provincial election.
Justin Trudeau and his cabinet must uphold their promise to respect First Nations rights when it comes to federal decision-making for the Site C dam, federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May told DeSmog Canada while visiting a portion of the Peace River that will be flooded should the $9-billion project proceed.
“To me this project represents the litmus test for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his entire cabinet in their central commitment to establish a nation to nation relationship built on respect for Canada’s Fist Nations,” May said during an interview for a new DeSmog Canada Site C video.
May and DeSmog Canada were in the Peace Valley for the annual Paddle for the Peace where hundreds of people representing local landowners, First Nations, and environmental organizations voiced their opposition to the Site C dam.
The Site C dam, advanced as the province’s showcase clean energy project by the B.C. government, will cause significant environmental damage without any significant climate benefit, according to a new report from the University of British Columbia.
Authored by Rick Hendriks from Camerado Energy Consulting, the report found Site C, a BC Hydro megadam proposed for the Peace River near Fort St. John, will not provide energy at a lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emission rate than other alternative energy projects.
“The government stated that the unprecedented level of significant adverse environmental effects from Site C are justifiable, in part, because the project delivers energy and capacity at lower GHG emissions than the available alternatives,” Hendriks, an energy consultant with more than 20 years experience analyzing large-scale hydropower projects, said.
“Our analysis indicates this is not the case.”
Comparing BC Hydro’s own data on Site C and alternative energy scenarios, the report found the megadam provides no substantial benefit over other renewable sources like wind and solar.