The Site C dam no longer makes economic sense and construction on the project should be halted immediately, according to researchers from the University of British Columbia.
That recommendation comes on the heels of a major new study that examines the business case for Site C given major changes in economic and energy market conditions since the project was first proposed in the 1980s.
“We brought together a team of experts in energy and engineering and took a look at the business case for Site C as it stands today,” Karen Bakker, professor at the University of British Columbia and co-author of the report, told DeSmog Canada.
“In fact it’s so weak, we’re arguing the project should be paused.”
So what are the facts that undermine the case for Site C?
1) B.C. Doesn’t Need the Power and B.C. Hydro Has a Long History of Overestimating Demand
The Site C dam would create a huge amount of new power that the province of B.C. simply doesn’t need. In fact, B.C.’s electricity consumption rates have been essentially flat since 2005, thanks in part to major conservation programs.
“B.C. Hydro has consistently overestimated future energy demand and they’ve consistently overestimated for the past couple of decades,” Bakker told DeSmog Canada.
“Go back to 1981, then they were predicting that demand would double within 10 years. That’s why they argued for Site C at that point but 35 years later demand has still not reached the levels they were predicting.”
2) Site C May NEVER Be Needed
The UBC analysis found that, according to B.C. Hydro’s own numbers, future electricity demand has dropped so dramatically, Site C isn’t likely to be needed for another decade after commissioning — or possibly never.
But, you might ask, won’t new LNG projects or a mass electrification of our systems create the need for Site C?
Nope. Actually we have gotten so much better at conservation and creating cheaper, less environmentally destructive renewable energy, the argument for Site C gets weaker the further into the future you gaze.
3) Site C Means ZERO Electricity Conservation
Because the province wants to justify building the very expensive Site C dam, the government has cancelled B.C.’s energy conservation programs.
Kind of unbelievable, right? But B.C. Hydro needs two things right now: higher electricity consumption rates and higher hydro bills. Cancelling conservation measures helps make those two things happen.
“The decision to scale back on energy conservation right now is essentially designed to get people to consume more and, yeah, pay higher bills. That makes sense if you consider the very large debt load that B.C. Hydro is taking on to pay for Site C,” Bakker said.
“The unfortunate side of this is that energy conservation is a lot cheaper than Site C. Energy conservation only costs about a third as much as building Site C.”
“We’ve met all of our energy needs for the past several years through energy conservation and our analysis suggests we could meet our energy needs for the next decade, approximately, through conservation,” she said.
4) Already at $9 Billion, Site C Keeps Getting More Expensive
British Columbians were originally told the Site C dam would cost roughly $5.8 billion to build. But now that estimate has surged to $9 billion.
Those cost increases aren’t likely to stop any time soon, the UBC researchers found.
“Site C will be 100 per cent surplus when it’s finished in 2024,” Bakker explained.
“That surplus energy will have to be sold, will have to be exported, from the province and B.C. Hydro’s own numbers show that those exports will occur at a high loss. Our figures show that loss will be about $800 million and could be as high as $2 billion.”
5) Site C Energy is Way More Expensive Than 21st Century Renewables
The decision to move away from conservation measures means by choosing Site C, we’re choosing a very expensive way to manufacture and then meet demand.
While that one-two punch is already a very, very bad deal for British Columbians, it’s happening within the context of the renewable energy revolution.
The UBC report recommends using conservation options to keep demand low while we explore clean and cheap renewables to meet any future demand.
“[Conservation] would cost us a lot less and in the meantime it would allow us to explore other cheaper and less environmentally damaging renewables — alternatives that are dropping in price as we speak — like wind power,” Bakker said.
“Wind power costs have dropped about 20 per cent since 2013 and they’re predicted, conservatively, to be dropping another 20 per cent within the next decade.”
“Whereas we know that Site C costs have risen on the order of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.”
Photos: Site C dam construction by Garth Lenz; Alex Proimos via Flickr.