Two years after an international expert wrote a lengthy report on the myriad factors likely to lead to major construction cost overruns on the Site C hydroelectric dam, BC Hydro is blaming the COVID-19 pandemic for the multiple woes that now beset the megaproject. Not so fast, say those who have long and fiercely opposed it.
Warning back in 2018 of the dauntingly complex geology that Site C planners would have to navigate, report author Harvey Elwin also red-flagged the level of secrecy around the dam project, saying he had never seen the like in his 50 years working on hydroelectric projects around the world, reports The Narwhal.
And the past two years have evidently brought little to improve the level of transparency. As foretold, the project has come up against multiple burgeoning troubles, and BC Hydro, along with provincial Energy Minister Bruce Ralston, are blaming the pandemic, even as the utility’s own reports say otherwise.
As predicted by Elwin, BC Hydro is “scrambling to deal with formidable geotechnical issues on the Peace River’s notoriously unstable right bank, which is intended to provide the foundation for the project’s powerhouse, spillway, and future dam,” writes The Narwhal. “BC Hydro previously said missing the river diversion deadline could cause a one-year schedule delay and add substantially to the Site C budget.”
With such assessments in the public record, it is not credible for proponents of Site C to put forward the pandemic as the cause of the project’s woes, said Harry Swain, chair of the panel that reviewed the project for the provincial and federal government. “BC Hydro is concealing information or the government is not asking for it,” he said.
Marc Eliesen, former president and CEO of BC Hydro, largely concurs. “While the pandemic will no doubt have a serious impact on the Site C project’s schedule and cost, a number of significant financial pressures either pre-date the pandemic or are unrelated to it,” he told The Narwhal. “Given the performance by BC Hydro in managing and administering this particular project right from the start, it’s been nothing but a series of financial errors and lack of quality management and evaluation of the project.”
Currently nearly C$4 billion above the original $8.8 billion budget set in 2014, the Site C dam “will flood 128 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries, forcing families from their homes and destroying Indigenous gravesites, some of Canada’s best farmland, and habitat for more than 100 species at risk of extinction,” writes The Narwhal. That $8.8 billion, it adds, could have secured the same amount of electricity promised by Site C from a range of renewables already present in the region.
At the same recent news conference where he attempted to connect Site C’s troubles with the pandemic, Ralston also announced the appointment of a special advisor, Peter Milburn, whose mandate will be to provide independent advice to the government.
“Adding yet another layer of oversight smacks of desperation,” said Swain—particularly since Premier John Horgan already created such a project assurance board in 2017, with the exact same mandate. Ralston has refused to commit to a public release of Milburn’s findings.
“We are still subject to the mushroom farm treatment. Everything is done in the dark and you pour a lot of horse piss on it,” Swain stated.
With an election year fast approaching, the NDP government will be loath to release the truth about Site C to the public. Nevertheless, ownership of the project is now fully on their doorstep.
Interim B.C. Green leader Adam Olsen said the government should “seriously consider” cancelling the project before writing any blank cheques.
“The NDP needs to be clear about the price and make a decision before river diversion takes place and we change the flow of the Peace River forever, which is scheduled for this fall,” he said. “We will be holding this government accountable for the next moves they make.”