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B.C. Approves Site C Hydro Megaproject, Claiming to Avoid Rate Hikes

British Columbia’s minority New Democrat government, its one-vote hold on the provincial legislature dependent on three Green Party members, will continue with the over-budget, behind-schedule, unnecessary, and legally compromised Site C hydroelectric project on the Peace River, in the province’s northeast.

But it’s asserting that it’s not happy about it. B.C. Premier John Horgan said he made the announcement “with a heavy heart,” the National Post reports, and conceded that it would disappoint many of his own family and friends.

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“I know many of us would wish the circumstances were different,” Horgan said, “but I and my colleagues have to accept the situation as we find it, not how we wish it would be. At the end of the day, we’ve come to the conclusion that although Site C is not the project we would have favoured or started, it must be completed to meet the objectives our government has set.”

Horgan claimed that cancelling the project would push up hydro rates in the province by 12% by 2020, and nearly double them for the two decades thereafter, compared to completing it. (Soaring power rates have proven to be a millstone around the neck of another premier—Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne—which may have factored into Horgan’s thinking.)

The previous Liberal government had sunk C$2 billion of an originally budgeted $8.3 billion into Site C, CBC News recalls. The NDP now says completing the reservoir and associate powerhouse will cost $10 billion—but the province will set aside another $700 million beyond that, “for overruns”.

The project’s reservoir will flood up to 12,500 hectares of farmland along 83 kilometres of the Peace, and another 45 kilometres of tributary rivers and creeks. The loss of the land is subject to ongoing protests by Indigenous groups that did not consent to the development on their unceded territories.

The independent B.C. Utilities Commission, examining the project for the first time earlier this fall at the request of Horgan’s government, concluded that it is already over budget and will not meet its scheduled 2024 completion date. However, the Commission also found it would cost the province another $1.8 billion to reverse the impacts of work already done if the province walked away.

Chief Roland Willson of the Peace Region’s West Moberly First Nations strongly disputed that estimate. “These people are trying to fear monger, saying ‘it’s going to cost too much to stop.’ That’s BS,” Willson said, according to the Tyee. “The Peace country is very resilient. All they’ve got to do is make the site safe, and then leave. Go home. It will take care of itself.”

Organized labour is influential in Horgan’s NDP, and BC Hydro claimed that completing the project would create “35,398 cumulative person-years of employment” by 2024, compared to 24,612 if the utility pursued an “alternative portfolio” for electricity supply.

However, a separate study, released in late November by the University of British Columbia Program on Water Governance, found that scrapping the undertaking would create 22% to 50% more jobs by 2030 than proceeding with it. And by 2054, “the alternative portfolio will have created three times as many jobs as Site C,” program co-director Karen Bakker asserted.

The project had been promoted by the defeated Liberal government that initiated it as a “clean” energy source for future B.C. development. But the David Suzuki Foundation challenged that claim, as well.

“Site C is not the best climate change solution” for British Columbia, charged Western Canada Director Jay Ritchlin, “and will produce more carbon pollution than renewable energy alternatives. The Peace region has the province’s best wind resources, and we’re wasting the opportunity to expand the wind energy industry.”

The government’s decision confounded other expert opinion, as well. “No sensible, rational person could take any other decision than to terminate Site C,” Marc Eliesen, a former CEO of its Crown-owned developer, BC Hydro, said in advance of the government’s announcement.

Nonetheless, Eliesen accurately predicted its direction. “I believe the fix is in and the government will continue the construction of Site C,” Eliesen told DeSmog Canada in an interview.

While the government’s decision may bolster its support among construction labour and lessen antagonism from business sectors, it will strain Horgan’s dependent relationship with the Green Party, whose climate scientist leader, Andrew Weaver, condemned the decision.

“Today, Site C is no longer simply a B.C. Liberal boondoggle—it has now become the B.C. NDP’s project,” Weaver said in response to the government’s decision. “They are accountable to British Columbians for the impact this project will have on our future.

“We have seen what is happening to ratepayers in Newfoundland because of Muskrat Falls, a similar project, where rates are set to almost double,” Weaver added. “I am deeply concerned that similar impacts are now in store for B.C. ratepayers.”

But faced with the alternative of seeing the recently-defeated, pro-fossil Liberals return to power, Weaver said his caucus would not bring the government down over the issue.

Not everyone bought the Green leader’s effort to hand off ownership of the decision exclusively to Horgan’s NDP.

Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, warned that pursuing Site C against Indigenous opposition “will do irreparable damage to their political credibility,” for both the governing NDP and its Green allies, and “represent the beginning of the end of future support for the NDP in the province of British Columbia.”

Calling the choice “monumentally bad,” Sierra Club BC’s Galen Armstrong declared that “Premier Horgan and his cabinet have betrayed Treaty 8 First Nations and taken a massive step off the path to reconciliation.”

“They’ve betrayed the farmers and residents of the Peace River Valley, and deprived British Columbians of vital farmland as climate change makes food security a big issue. And they’ve betrayed every BC Hydro ratepayer, who will be paying for this misbegotten, overpriced monstrosity for the next 70 years.”