A former head of BC Hydro is urging the provincial utility to abandon its “irresponsible” C$8.8-billion hydroelectric project at Site C on the Peace River in the province’s northeast.
Marc Eliesen, who also served as deputy minister of energy in both Ontario and Manitoba, calls the Site C project a “reckless” endeavour pushed by the ousted Liberal government that will impose a “huge financial burden” on the province.
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Eliesen expressed his views in an unsolicited submission to the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC), which has been instructed by the province’s new NDP government to review the project. No such review was sought before the Liberal government greenlit the project in late 2014.
After looking at “alternative sources of power, the accuracy of project[ion]s for B.C.’s future power demands, the success of similar hydroelectric projects, and the probability that the costs of building Site C will increase,” the utility’s ex-boss “concluded that the most cost-effective course of action would be to cancel the project, remediate the land, and pursue alternative sources of energy to meet any future demands,” the National Observer reports.
In approving the project, Eliesen asserts, “both the former government and BC Hydro’s Board abdicated their fiduciary responsibility to the ratepayers and taxpayers of this province.”
The utility has claimed the project will provide enough clean power to light up nearly half a million homes for a century. But both the projected demand for its output and its “clean” claims are open to challenge, says Eliesen. Its anticipated market, he told the Observer, relied on “wishful thinking” and “‘inventing’ demand from a liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry that has yet to materialize.”
Meanwhile, the dam’s reservoir “is expected to destroy more than 100 kilometres of river valley bottoms along the Peace River and its tributaries, which flow through the heart of Treaty 8 Territory belonging to the Doig River, Halfway River, Prophet River, and West Moberly First Nations,” the Observer notes. As the outlet recalls, the federal Liberal government approved the project over those First Nations’ objections, an action now under United Nations investigation as a potential violation of Canada’s international commitments.
Eliesen’s case against Site C rests mainly on its poor economics, however. The projected cost of the planned dam and powerhouse has already climbed by a third, from an original estimate of $6.6 billion to the current one of $8.8 billion. Citing previous experience with similar projects elsewhere, Eliesen predicts it will eventually nearly double to $12 billion.
“The notion that Site C will be completed on time and on budget is illusionary,” the former BC Hydro chief executive warned the Utility Commission. “If Site C is allowed to be completed, there will be a series of devastating high electricity rate increases.”
“There was never a business case for Site C and there never will be,” he told the Observer, echoing the findings of a separate independent review of the project released earlier this year by the University of British Columbia Program on Water Governance. “There are alternatives that are cheaper and more cost-effective than a generating station costing billions and billions of dollars.”
Construction on the project is continuing, however, while the Commission considers its future, costing BC Hydro $60 million a month, but also employing some 2,200 people.