British Columbia’s NDP government is fulfilling its election promise to refer the C$8.8-billion Site C hydro project for review by the BC Utilities Commission, but will allow construction to continue while the review is under way.
The BCUC has the option to scrap the project, mothball it until further notice, or allow it to proceed, the Globe and Mail reports. Construction is costing the province about $60 million per month, according to BC Hydro.
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The commission is expected to issue an interim report on the project’s finances in six weeks and complete its review by November 1.
With about 2,200 workers on Site C, “to immediately stop the project would have impacts on them, but we also don’t want to pre-empt the answer that the BC Utilities Commission is going be putting forward,” said Energy Minister Michelle Mungall. “We appreciate that a lot of people’s lives are on hold, especially in the northeast,” she added, “and that’s why we want to make this an expedited process.”
Mungall “said no Peace Valley families will be forced to move and no further Site C contracts will be issued during the review,” DeSmog Canada reports. That news came as a relief to Peace Valley farmers Ken and Arlene Boon, who stayed in their home after the province expropriated it last December to make way for a rerouted highway.
“We’re ecstatic,” Ken Boon said. “That pretty much covers it.”
David Vardy, who led Newfoundland and Labrador’s public utilities board when it reviewed the Muskrat Falls hydro project, urged B.C. to suspend work on Site C while the Utilities Commission does its work. “As in the case of Site C and B.C.’s former Liberal government, the previous Newfoundland government had refused to allow independent scrutiny of Muskrat Falls,” DeSmog notes. Now, Nalcor Energy CEO Stan Marshall sees the project as a “boondoggle” that will double Newfoundlanders’ power rates by 2022.
“My comment to British Columbia is a big red sign saying ‘Stop.’ This is crazy. Don’t go ahead with this,” Vardy told DeSmog. “While the review is taking place the activity should be suspended.”
The commission must now “determine whether BC Hydro is currently on target and on budget to complete the dam in the next seven years, as well as how much it would cost ratepayers if the project was delayed up until that point but still able to be restarted, if need be,” the Globe states, citing Mungall’s media briefing. “After the BCUC is finished its review, cabinet will make a final decision ‘in short order’ based on that work and considerations of First Nations rights and environmental impacts.”
The three provincial Green MLAs, whose votes prop up the minority NDP government, “say they are directly opposed to building such destructive and unnecessary ‘20th-century megaprojects,’” notes Globe reporter Mike Hager. “Our goal all along has been to ensure that a decision such as this, where the impacts are felt by so many, is made with the best information available,” said Green Party leader Andrew Weaver. “This is a step in that direction.”
Former review panel chair and veteran public servant Harry Swain warned that the BCUC must not base its review on a BC Hydro forecast that assumed 2% annual growth in electricity demand into the indefinite future. “This is not happening,” he told Hager. “Demand has not increased since 2005. It’s flat all over North America.”