(Photo credit: Don Hoffmann)
The Site C dam is a proposed 1,100 megawatt hydro dam on the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia, Canada
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 faced several court challenges from landowners and First Nations who oppose flooding 107 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries, putting valuable hunting, fishing and farming areas 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, criticized 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 vowed to get the project past the “point of no return” before the May 2017 election. 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.
The courts dismissed legal challenges against the dam, but questions about the violoation of treaty rights and the need for the electricity remain. In the summer of 2016 the Trudeau government issued permits allowing construction to move ahead.
The Site C dam became a major election issue in the May 2017 B.C. election, with the B.C. NDP vowing to send the Site C dam for an independent review by the B.C. Utilities Commission if elected. The NDP were sworn in as the new government of British Columbia on July 18 and sent the dam for an expedited review by the B.C. Utilities Commission shortly after. A final report released Nov. 1 found the project is behind schedule and over budget and could be replaced by alternatives at a similar or lesser cost.
The B.C. government announced it will proceed with Site C on December 11, 2017.
DeSmog Canada's latest news coverage on the Site C Dam
Peace River Valley farmers Ken and Arlene Boon were at a lookout on a neighbour’s property on Sunday when they spotted a fresh landslide at the Site C dam construction site.
Arlene snapped some photos of the latest geotechnical issue to dog the troubled project and posted one on Facebook, with the caption: “just more of the north hill sliding down to the bottom.”
Given that the slide is on the same hill where recent attempts to stabilize the riverbank are encroaching on infrastructure for the $470 million Site C dam workers’ camp, including its water line and parking lot, the couple was not surprised to see the latest slump.
But they are astounded that the NDP government is keeping the public in the dark when it comes to details about geotechnical problems, rising contract costs and other major issues plaguing the largest publicly funded infrastructure project in B.C.’s history.
The language and culture of the Upper Nicola Band honour the natural laws of the tmixw — “that which gives us life.” One tmixw is the sun, which shines for more than 2,000 hours annually in much of the band’s traditional territory in B.C.’s arid Okanagan region.
Plans are afoot to harness the sun’s power to build B.C.’s largest solar farm on the band’s Quilchena reserve, a project that would create enough energy for 5,000 homes and deliver up to $4 million in annual revenues to the First Nation community.
The farm would be 15 times the size of Kimberly’s SunMine solar installation on the site of a former hard-rock mine, currently the largest solar project in the province.
“We wanted to showcase something positive for the environment,” Chief Harvey McLeod told DeSmog Canada.
Both Canada and British Columbia have vowed to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). And yet recent natural resource decisions — like the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline or ongoing construction of the Site C dam — have some wondering what governments mean when they make that promise.
Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, says natural resource development can create conflict with Indigenous populations and often make Indigenous women and children, the most vulnerable members of our population, more vulnerable.
BC Hydro is the utility that keeps the lights on in B.C. and generally it does a fine job of restoring wind-toppled power lines and firing up our smart phones and flat screens.
What isn’t going so well for the Crown corporation are its finances, which Energy Minister Michelle Mungall calls a “mess” and project finance expert Eoin Finn says are in the worst shape of any other public or private utility in North America.
Yet the NDP government has retained most of BC Hydro’s board of directors appointed by the previous BC Liberal administration — board members who were responsible for fiduciary oversight while the mess was gathering momentum — which raises troubling questions about the government’s readiness to fix problems at the deeply indebted utility.
Remember B.C.’s Clean Energy Act, championed by former Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell to position B.C. as a “world leader” in addressing climate change?
The act exempted hydro undertakings like the Site C dam from independent oversight by the watchdog B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC), an independent body set up to ensure that projects proposed by the government are in the public interest, and not promoted for partisan political gain.
The act further set the legal stage for building the Site C dam, a pet project of the B.C. Liberals, by closing the door on energy sources such as the Burrard Thermal natural gas-fired plant and the power to which B.C. is entitled under the Columbia River Treaty.
On Thursday, B.C.’s Auditor General Carol Bellringer — the province’s public interest watchdog — issued a report nudging the NDP government to review and amend the Clean Energy Act’s objectives, which the report describes as “too diverse and in many cases contradictory with each other.”
B.C. Energy Minister Michelle Mungall said Thursday that “there’s a mess” at BC Hydro. Mungall made the comment after the B.C. Utilities Commission denied the government’s request for a hydro rate freeze — putting the kibosh on one of the NDP’s campaign promises.
Instead, the commission approved a scheduled three per cent hydro rate hike for April 1, saying that the increase is not sufficient to cover BC Hydro’s costs. What’s going on? And what does it mean for you and your future hydro bill?
First Nations are challenging BC Hydro’s claim of a “substantial increased cost” to the $10.7 billion Site C dam because of a voluntary pause to the destruction of areas of great significance to Treaty 8 members.
“I find it outrageous that they would make this claim without any evidence whatsoever,” said Tim Thielmann, a lawyer for two Treaty 8 First Nations that have filed notices of civil action alleging that the Site C dam infringes on their treaty rights.
Thielmann also called BC Hydro’s statement that it “reserves the right to seek recovery” of the increased cost from First Nations “completely unacceptable.”
Conspicuously absent from the B.C. government’s 19-page budget speech on Tuesday was any mention of the largest publicly funded project in the province’s history.
Nor did the government devote a single word to the $10.7 billion Site C dam during last week’s Speech from the Throne, which presented the NDP’s “affordability” agenda for the coming year.
Green Party MLA Sonia Furstenau said the avoidance of Site C appears to be deliberate.
“To not talk about it, as it’s moving forward, seems to be more than just an oversight,” Furstenau told DeSmog Canada.
The B.C. government tried to steer clear of controversy over liquefied natural gas exports, the Site C dam and fish farms in the Speech from the Throne Tuesday. The speech laid out the NDP’s “affordability” agenda and unveiled plans to revitalize the environment assessment process and address fugitive emissions in the oil and gas sector.
“As B.C. develops its abundant natural resources, we must do so in a way that meets our obligations to the environment, First Nations and the public interest,” read the speech, presented by Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon to mark the start of a new legislative session.
“This year, government is taking important steps to restore public trust in B.C.’s environmental stewardship.”
BC Hydro executives have mismanaged the Site C dam’s overall budget and cost control process, and they are “not capable” of accurate estimates or controlling costs on the $10.7 billion project, according to an affidavit filed this week by former BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen.
“The necessary experience and due diligence rigour required for managing a major hydro project such as Site C is deficient among the executive at BC Hydro,” says Eliesen in the affidavit, noting that it has been more than 30 years since BC Hydro constructed a major generating station.
“The knowledge and expertise required, which formerly resided in the company, has retired or moved on.”