Opportunities provided by 21st century renewables, such as geothermal, wind and solar, have either been ignored or the costs over-inflated in BC Hydro documents justifying construction of the Site C dam, the B.C. Utilities Commission Site C Panel was told by presenters during two days of technical briefings.
Speaker after speaker pinpointed holes and inaccuracies in BC Hydro’s math, claiming the bottom line was skewed in favour of building the $8.8-billion dollar dam on the Peace River.
Geothermal power projects are thriving in Oregon and Idaho and the geology does not instantly change at the B.C. border, said Alison Thompson, chair of the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA), pointing to the number of hot springs and drilled natural gas wells in the province, which indicate the presence of geothermal resources.
“So, how much has BC Hydro spent in the last 15 years in exploratory drilling for geothermal resources?” she asked.
“We believe this number to be zero.”
BC Hydro has said none of the calls for independent power projects produced viable geothermal proposals.
“This perplexes us when we hear in a submission that the exploration to date has not identified any viable geothermal resources. We refute that and think that there is, in fact, remarkable potential for geothermal development in our province.”
CanGEA mapping indicates there are about 5,000 megawatts of geothermal in B.C., and, if time and money was put into exploration, there could be more, Thompson said. The Site C dam is projected to have about a fifth of that capacity, at 1,100 megawatts.
Thompson questioned Geoscience B.C. figures that formed the basis of BC Hydro’s cost estimates, and said she “absolutely refutes the numbers that they were coming up with for exploration.”
Geoscience B.C. used out-dated technology, looking at large diameter wells, instead of more cost effective slim wells used in modern exploration. Doing so bumps up the estimated cost of a 2.5 kilometre well to $12-million, when the cost of a slim well would be $2-million to $4-million, according to Thompson, who also predicted that, based on U.S. figures, 660 megawatts of geothermal would result in 1,122 permanent jobs — about 15 times more than Site C would provide.
BC Hydro ‘Biased The Analysis’ With Skewed Assumptions: Energy Expert
The story was similar when John Dalton, president of the energy management consulting firm Power Advisory LLC, spoke on behalf of the Canadian Wind Energy Association and Clean Energy Association of B.C., and pointed to BC Hydro’s habit of over-estimating demand for electricity — against a backdrop of a decline in energy consumption across North America — while simultaneously over-estimating the cost of alternative power.
“BC Hydro has employed a series of assumptions which have biased the analysis results against alternatives to Site C,” Dalton told the panel. “Collectively the effect of these biases is to ensure that alternative portfolios offer a cost that is significantly higher than Site C.”
BC Hydro considered only wind and pumped storage as possible alternative power sources and failed to consider geothermal, solar, biomass and battery storage, Dalton said.
And the estimated cost of integrating wind power was wrong, Dalton told the panel, adding that BC Hydro does not appear to have done any analysis of integration possibilities.
“BC Hydro adds a $5-megawatt hour wind integration cost, while also including $48-megawatt hour for pumped storage, which can assist with integration. Considering both costs is double counting,” he said.
BC Hydro’s accounting came under further scrutiny from energy consultant Robert McCullough, speaking for the Peace Valley Landowner Association and Peace Valley Environment Association.
“If we believe that British Columbia cannot build a wind farm for the same price that Governor Inslee in Washington can, there’s something wrong — with the same culture, the same level of expertise, the same workers, the same terrain,” he said.
Marc Eliesen, former CEO of BC Hydro, focused on BC Hydro’s mismanagement of the project, with cost overruns already on the horizon.
In August, BC Hydro president Chris O’Riley told the commission that Site C was on time and on budget, but, earlier this month, the story changed. Geotechnical and construction problems and a year’s delay in the river diversion, will mean an additional $610 million on the bill, he said.
“BC Hydro’s current and continued project mismanagement can only lead to a conclusion that the project will reach $12 billion before it is complete,” Eliesen said.
“BC Hydro’s efforts to reach a point of no return for this project have added costs to the project which have not yet been properly identified or calculated and would not have been incurred if BC Hydro had been working toward the publicly announced plan.”
However, O’Riley, one of a team of BC Hydro spokesmen at the technical briefings, said Site C offers the best deal for British Columbians and, if the project is terminated, ratepayers will pay $3.2 billion, with nothing to show for it.
The BCUC panel will make a recommendation to government on the future of Site C on Nov. 1 and it will then be up to cabinet to make a decision.
Image: geothermal. Photo: National Renewable Energy Lab via Flickr