Go-ahead given for Site C dam
Premier says multibillion-dollar project required to meet energy needs
By Scott Simpson
Canwest News Service
April 20, 2010
The province has instructed B.C. Hydro to move forward with the Site C hydroelectric dam project on the Peace River, Premier Gordon Campbell announced yesterday.
Cost of the project is uncertain, although it seems likely to exceed $6 billion. The government is promising legislation that would make the 900-megawatt Site C development the last large-scale hydroelectric storage dam ever built in B.C.
Site C is expected to generate enough power for 410,000 homes, create 35,000 direct and indirect jobs and is to come into service in 2020 — provided it passes environmental assessments by provincial and federal agencies, as well as gaining enough support from First Nations to avert the risk of a protracted court challenge.
At a celebratory announcement at the W.A.C. Bennett Dam near Hudson's Hope in northeast British Columbia, upstream of the proposed location for Site C, Campbell said the dam will be developed as a public project creating lasting benefits for northern communities and First Nations.
It would be the third dam on the Peace River, a few kilometres east of Fort St. John and downstream of the Bennett and Peace Canyon dams.
Campbell paid tribute to the “vision” of former premier W.A.C. Bennett, who in the 1960s shepherded through a plan to use the Peace River as the source of a sprawling hydroelectric development. “The vision that W.A.C. Bennett had actually liberated a whole series of economic activities. It was really part of a critical industrial strategy for all of British Columbia.”
Site C was rejected in the 1980s and early 1990s by previous provincial governments on the premise that the province did not need the power.
The project will involve a 60-metre-high, 1,100-metre-wide earth-fill dam sustaining an 83-kilometre-long reservoir along the Peace between Fort St. John and Hudson's Hope.
The government estimates the reservoir will flood 5,340 hectares of land, including 360 hectares of private land involving 20 holdings.
Campbell said the primary reason for Site C is to meet future energy demand within British Columbia — not to develop power sources for export — because B.C. over the past decade has shifted into being a net importer of electricity.
“The decision has been made and it has been made on this basis — over the next 20 years, between now and 2030 we expect our energy demands to increase between 20 and 40 per cent,” he said.
“We expect our population to grow by almost a million people by 2030.” B.C.'s population now is about 4.4 million.
Campbell declined to put a price tag on the project, which was last studied in detail in 1983.
“If we are going to meet our objectives of reducing our greenhouse gases by 33 per cent by 2020, if we are going to meet our objectives to providing the energy that our industries are going to need, new and traditional industries are going to need, we are going to have to get on with investing in power generation, and Site C frankly is one of the lowest-cost choices that we can make,” Campbell said.
“There is one cost study that was done that suggests it would be between $5 billion and $6.6 billion but I want to stress this — that is an old cost study.”
New Democratic Party energy critic John Horgan believes the dam is unnecessary and that B.C. does not need the electricity it will provide.
But Horgan said he welcomes a public review, saying that he would be willing to change his mind if the evidence supports building a dam at Site C.
“I think it's imprudent for me to say [conclusively one way or the other] without having the benefit of the science, without having the benefit of a multiple-count evaluation of what the true cost to the environment, to agricultural land, and to rates, before that work is done,” he said.