B.C. government greenlights Site C dam

A rendering of the Site C dam.

$8.7-billion mega dam gets the go ahead from the provincial government

Construction on BC Hydro’s controversial hydroelectric Site C dam project will start in the summer of 2015, said Premier Christy Clark in a news conference Tuesday afternoon. The $8.7-billion mega dam along the Peace River will be completed in 2024, said Clark who was accompanied by BC Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald and Minister of Energy Bill Bennett. “This is a big decision that will matter for a century,” said Clark, whose government had been expected to make a final decision on the projectfirst floated in the early 1980sby the end of this year.

“None of the other options were as reliable or affordable to ratepayers and taxpayers,” said Clark, citing competing proposals put forward by B.C.’s independent power producers. Over the last year, organizations such as Clean Energy BC had argued that the government should reject Site C in favour of a portfolio of smaller clean energy projects scattered around the province.

Much of the debate has focused on the projected cost of Site C, which has been reassessed from $7.9 billion to $8.7 billion in the leadup to the government’s final investment decision. The need for larger diversion tunnels for water around the project, on-site worker accomodations and the lengthened environmental assessment process all added to the costs, according to a backgrounder from the government. As a result, BC Hydro will take on $6.4 billion in debt over the construction of the project

Critics have also expressed the concern over the availability of skilled labour in the north as Site C could compete for skilled workers if construction begins on the handful of proposed LNG terminal projects in Kitimat and Prince Rupert. The ministry of energy however contends that “the labour requirements for Site C and LNG are largely different,” as the dam will require fewer tradespeople as its under construction.

The dam is a “generational opportunity,” said rookie BC Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald in an interview with BCBusiness. If constructed, the dam could meet B.C.’s future energy demands, said McDonald, which the utility expects will increase by 40 per cent by 2034, thereby “keep[ing] rates low over the long-term.” When the dam comes online in 2024 it will increase B.C.’s power supply by 8 per cent, according to BC Hydro.