Guest column: Dammed if we do? Accounting for Site C

Even the provincial government, historically Site C’s staunchest advocate, has begun to question the wisdom of the $8-billion project.

It is hardly news that BC Hydro’s proposal to construct the Site C dam in the Peace River Valley faces massive opposition among local farmers, First Nations, conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts. Recently, however, growing concerns over whether the project is even necessary, let alone fiscally viable, has given the controversy a new twist.

While proponents and adversaries of large mining and energy proposals often dance the environment versus dollars debate, pitting social and environmental concerns against arguments for economic growth, the discourse over Site C has increasingly become a dollars versus dollars one.

Even the provincial government, historically Site C’s staunchest advocate, has begun to question the wisdom of the $8-billion project. Earlier this month, Bill Bennett, B.C.’s newly minted Minister of Energy and Minister Responsible for Core Review, suggested the province needs to critically examine BC Hydro’s proposal for Site C.

The Peace Valley Environment Association is one step ahead of Bennett: earlier this month, the conservation group filed a complaint with the British Columbia Utilities Commission over BC Hydro’s bypassing of the BCUC certification process.

PVEA and allied conservation groups question both the need for Site C and BC Hydro’s financial claims backing it. Concerned about exactly how much this project could end up costing the public, PVEA is asking the BCUC to confirm that BC Hydro is required by law to obtain certification for the project.

While most public utility projects must be certified by BCUC before they can be built, when B.C. passed the Clean Energy Act in 2010, it exempted a Site C dam of a particular size from the requirement to undergo this important regulatory process.

However, the current Site C proposal has ballooned from the Site C exempted under the law. For starters, its sticker price has shot up 58 per cent from the original  $5- to $6.6-billion estimate. It will take years longer to construct, which means longer before any benefits would be felt, and more time for additional delays and cost escalations to occur.

And if BC Hydro’s budgeting track record is any indication, ratepayers can expect a much larger final bill than the $8 billion currently projected. The Northwest Transmission Line (also exempt from the Commission’s review) is currently expected to cost $617 million, a whopping 53 per cent inflation over the $404-million original estimate.

BC Hydro is already mired in debt. Currently over $15 billion, its arrears have nearly doubled since 2010, when the provincial government decided to move forward with Site C, and is expected to rise to $18.85 billion by 2015. As a result, the dividends BC Hydro pays to the province will be cut almost in half.

Site C is currently undergoing an environmental assessment, an essential part of responsible development. However, while an environmental assessment examines projects for their potentially adverse environmental, social, heritage and health effects, the BCUC would assess such specific factors as load growth forecasting, energy pricing policies and resource plans.

As a Crown corporation, BC Hydro’s debt is borne by ratepayers. In light of the utility’s maxed-out debt-equity ratio, the massive capital costs it faces to upgrade aging infrastructure, recent requests to increase rates and strong indications that its current business practices are unsustainable, BCUC oversight is needed to ensure that Site C receives the kind of robust review necessary to protect ratepayers from being on the hook for an $8-billion mistake.

Finally, something we can all agree on.

Anna Johnston is Staff Counsel, West Coast Environmental Law and lawyer for the Peace Valley Environment Association


Just Posted

The City of Victoria is once again offering $50,000 for selected neighbourhood enhancement projects, through its participatory budgeting program. (Courtesy City of Victoria)
Victoria neighbourhoods can earn city funding for projects

Up to $50,000 available for initiatives that enhance, enrich neighbourhoods

The Victoria Royals will return to the Save-on-Foods Memorial Arena for the first time since the 2019-20 campaign when they open next season against the Vancouver Giants on Oct. 2. (Black Press Media file photo)
Fans expected in the Save-On stands for Victoria Royals’ Oct. 2 home opener

It’ll be the first Western Hockey League action at the arena since March 2020

Police are looking for witnesses and video footage after a crash on June 18. (Photo courtesy of West Shore RCMP)
West Shore RCMP looking for videos related to Corvette crash

Driver believed to have fled the scene of View Royal crash

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement for Greater Victoria with unusually high temperatures expected Monday and this coming weekend. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria’s first week of summer will be a scorcher

Special weather statement issued Monday by Environment Canada

A rendering shows what the Doral Forest Park development would look like from the southwest. (Rendering via D’AMBROSIO Architecture & Urbanism)
Beaver Lake area project passes next hurdle in Saanich

Council approval for 242-unit parks edge development hinges on meeting of conditions

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Bernadette Jordan addresses the media following a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on January 14, 2019. Jordan says the government will provide $2 million to allow First Nations to continue to strengthen the marine safety system across Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
First Nations receive federal funds to purchase marine rescue boats

Quatsino, Heiltsuk, and Kitasoo First Nation’s among eight across Canada to receive funding

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

One Reconciliation Pole and two Welcome Figures were unveiled during a ceremony in honour of truth and reconciliation on National Peoples Indigenous Day at the Vancouver School District in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Horgan marks Indigenous Peoples Day by urging recognition of systemic racism

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been marked in Canada since 1996

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians encouraged to see mRNA shots as interchangeable as more 2nd doses open up

Doctos urge people not to hesitate if offered Moderna after getting Pfizer for their first shot

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference in Ottawa on June 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence committee rises without report on Vance allegations

Committee had been investigating the government’s handling of complaints against former defence chief

The Coquihalla Lakes washroom is getting upgrades. (Submitted)
Coquihalla to get upgrades to aging washrooms

The Ministry of Transportation is providing $1 million in funding to upgrade 3 rest areas

The Crofton trailer park home where the bodies of two people were found. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Mom still waiting for answers after daughter and her fiance found dead in Crofton

Pair discovered dead in their Crofton home in May identified as Rachel Gardner and Paul Jenkins

By the end of life, the average North American has eaten the weight of a family sedan in sugar. (
FITNESS: Living the sweet life without too much sugar

Simple choices can have a major impact on your health

Most Read