(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 preliminary report is expected to be published on Sept. 20, with a final report expected by Nov. 1.
DeSmog Canada's latest news coverage on the Site C Dam
Judges for the Canadian Online Publishing Awards have announced the 2017 finalists and DeSmog Canada has made the cut in two categories.
In the category of “Best Continuing Coverage of a News Story” DeSmog Canada was selected as a finalist for its reporting on the Site C dam, alongside Maclean’s, VICE News, The Tyee/Discourse Media and the National Observer.
With so much happening on the Site C dam file in the last year, it was hard to select just five stories to submit, so we highlighted a variety of multimedia storytelling, as well as in-depth investigative work.
By Zoë Ducklow for The Tyee.
Recent experiences with the federal government have left Prophet River First Nation member Helen Knott wary of government promises.
So while she and other Indigenous people are excited about NDP provincial government commitments to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, words are not enough. And the Site C dam in northeastern B.C., they say, will be the government’s first test of its commitment.
“The vocalization that they’ll adhere to UNDRIP is a start, but it’s about actions,” Knott says. “And Site C is the place to start with it, because it’s the issue that’s out front and in everybody’s faces.”
Karen Goodings avoids the Site C dam area on the Peace River because she finds it too heart-wrenching to look at the havoc caused by construction work, but, for the first time in years, she is now holding out hope that the $8.8-billion project will be scrapped.
“I want to see it permanently stopped and now I think there is enough information out there to talk about alternate sources of power that are more economical and less devastating,” said Goodings, a Peace River Regional District director.
Her optimism has been boosted by reports underlining financial uncertainties with Site C and emphasizing that B.C.’s power needs can be met by wind, geothermal and solar projects.
The cost of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, has dropped dramatically since the previous B.C. government decided to build the Site C dam and the B.C. Utilities Commission must look at updated figures when considering the megaproject’s future, says a prominent energy consultant.
Robert McCullough, who is recognized as a North American expert on hydroelectric issues, was asked by the Peace Valley Landowner Association and Peace Valley Environment Association to make a submission to the BCUC, using up-to-date figures and research.
His conclusion is that BC Hydro could meet the province’s power needs at a much lower cost than the projected $8.8-billion Site C price-tag, without supply risks.
The Site C dam project faces “significant schedule and cost pressures” that could inflate its final price tag to more than $12.5 billion, according to a new report by one of Canada’s leading auditing firms.
The report, by Deloitte LLP, was commissioned by the B.C. Utilities Commission as part of an independent review of the BC Hydro project on the Peace River ordered by the new B.C. government.
The report substantiates statements from many prominent critics of the project, including former BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen, that the $8.8 billion project faces serious risks of major cost overruns.
BC Hydro violated its environmental assessment certificate for the Site C dam project, according to a B.C. government report released Thursday.
The inspection report, from the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office, detailed how BC Hydro failed to develop acceptable mitigation measures for an aboriginal sweat lodge and suspected burial site, and cannot legally proceed with a bridge related to Site C highway relocation until it does so.
This means BC Hydro's controversial highway re-location will need to be assessed again by the Environmental Assessment Office and an alternate route long supported by the First Nations may be considered after all.
“BC Hydro has not developed mitigation for known cultural values in the Bear Flats area, including the sweat lodge (and nearby camp) and the potential burial site…” noted the report, which points out that BC Hydro is well aware of the cultural importance of the area for local First Nations.
B.C. won’t need more electricity for many years and, when that time comes, there are less expensive alternatives than the Site C dam, says a submission filed with the B.C. Utilities Commission on Monday by Harry Swain, the man who chaired the federal-provincial review panel of the project.
“Demand will not materialize at even the low limit of BC Hydro’s demand forecast,” Swain writes, as he cautions the commission from relying too heavily on BC Hydro’s forecasts.
“The issue is that BC Hydro’s 2016 load forecast is no more credible than its numerous predecessors,” Swain writes.
Swain calls on the commission to “undertake its own research and analysis,” rather than simply adjudicating among submissions received during the review.
The Site C dam is an “economic, fiscal, environmental and aboriginal treaty rights disaster,” according to former B.C. Premier Mike Harcourt.
In a letter submitted to the B.C. Utilities Commission, which is currently reviewing the $8.8 billion project, Harcourt said Site C will “severely damage BC Hydro and B.C. credit ratings” and lead to increases for ratepayers across the province.
Harcourt, who first voiced opposition against Site C in late 2016, said a recent study from Oxford University that found worldwide hydro projects see average cost overruns of 90 per cent should be a warning to B.C.
The decision to proceed with the Site C dam was “reckless and irresponsible” and continuing the project will result in a “series of devastating high electricity rate increases” that will lead to job losses and business failures, the former President and CEO of BC Hydro has told the B.C. Utilities Commission in a formal submission.
Marc Eliesen, who was at the helm of BC Hydro from 1992 to 1994, outlined why he believes the only financially responsible course of action is to cancel the $8.8 billion project and remediate the Peace River site in order to minimize Site C’s negative impact on BC Hydro customers and taxpayers.
“Both the former government and BC Hydro’s Board abdicated their fiduciary responsibility to the rate payers and tax payers of this province,” Eliesen said in his 22-page submission to the BCUC, which is conducting a fast-tracked review of Site C’s finances and construction schedule.
“There never was a business case for the start-up of construction of Site C, and there is not a business case to support its continuation or postponement.”
Indigenous leaders from northern British Columbia are calling on the UN to investigate whether ongoing industrial development of Indigenous lands and waters constitutes a violation of UN conventions this week.
Canada is up for review by the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In a submission, tribes from B.C.’s northwest said Canada’s environmental assessment laws continue to measure money instead of impact.
One of the signatories is Deneza Na’Moks (John Ridsdale), a hereditary chief of the Wet’suwet’en. He travelled to the UN on the heels of the recent approval and then cancellation of Petronas’ plans to build a pipeline and the Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in the Skeena River estuary.