Alternatives to British Columbia’s Site C development will create three times as many jobs as the controversial hydro megaproject over time, and remediating the ecosystem damage Site C has already produced will deliver a shorter-term economic boost, according to a study released last week by the University of British Columbia Program on Water Governance.
While the province will see a modest job loss if Site C is scrapped, it can look ahead to job gains of 22 to 50% through 2030, DeSmog Canada reports.
“By 2054, the B.C. Utilities Commission alternative portfolio will have created three times as many jobs as Site C,” said report co-author and water governance program co-director Karen Bakker. “Site remediation, geothermal construction, and energy conservation will create thousands of jobs each year,” with energy alternatives like wind delivering far more employment than hydro per dollar spent.
“Using BC Hydro and [B.C. Utilities Commission] figures, the researchers concluded that between now and 2024 continuing Site C would create 35,398 cumulative person-years of employment, compared to up to 24,612 for alternative portfolios,” DeSmog notes. “However, by 2054, the alternative portfolio will have completely eclipsed Site C, with 37,618 job-years in the Site C scenario and 105,618 for alternatives.”
Site remediation alone would be a big enough job to create a transition period for the local work force and economy, Bakker added. “Two years of remediation and 10 years of monitoring will create about 10,000 jobs at similar pay levels,” she told DeSmog. “And then, looking at the long term, you can generate more jobs for the dollars spent and generate jobs across the province, and especially in the Peace region, because it has the best wind resources in the province.”
But while the province’s NDP government weighs a BCUC report that concluded Site C will run behind schedule and over budget, “party insiders and union donors to the party continue to ramp up lobbying efforts in support of the $9-billion hydro project,” DeSmog reported earlier in November. The Allied Hydro Council of B.C., a bargaining agent for unions at previous large hydro projects, was working to undercut what it called the “unbalanced” assumptions in the BCUC report, and tapping report authors with close connections to the government.
“The new B.C. NDP government has been left a disturbing legacy by the former B.C. Liberal government, but now it has to make the best of it,” said Council President Chris Feller. “And that means completion of Site C.”
Robert McCullough, a U.S. energy economist hired by the Peace Valley Landowners Association, noted the Hydro Council had already made its case to the Utilities Commission, with little effect. “It’s a bit cheeky,” he told DeSmog. “They presented at the BCUC and they were generally rejected there.”
The West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations, meanwhile, are promising a billion-dollar lawsuit for treaty violations if the province allows the Site C project to proceed. “We are hoping that (the government) has enough information in front of them right now that Site C will not go forward,” said West Moberly Chief Roland Willson. “If they approve it, we will file.”
Tim Thielmann of Sage Legal, the law firm representing the two First Nations, said the now-questionable need for Site C would play poorly for the government in a legal dispute based on the precedent-setting Tsilhqot’in ruling, in which the Supreme Court determined a province cannot infringe treaty rights without a “substantial and compelling objective”.
“The idea of building the most impactful project in Canadian history when there isn’t a need for the power and there are other alternatives, is about as textbook example of failing to meet that test as you could ever imagine,” he said. “So we don’t see how they can meet the first step in the legal test set out by the Supreme Court of Canada for justifying the project.”
Last week, a group of 14 First Nations and Metis communities in Alberta and the Northwest Territories urged B.C. Premier John Horgan to cancel the project.
“History has shown that downstream Indigenous communities bear enormous costs when BC Hydro puts the Peace River and downstream waters at risk,” they wrote in an open letter. “For generations, we have witnessed negative changes to our lands, waters, and resources from BC Hydro’s regulation of the Peace River.”
A provincial decision on the project is expected by the end of this year.