Looking at the parties’ Site C Dam decisions

A letter to the editor my Mark Crawford

To the editor:

In the True Spirit of the Season, we should all have sympathy for Premier John Horgan and his NDP government for having the courage and the political common sense to recognize that they had been painted into a corner on the Site C project. To lay off 2,000 workers and end up to 10,000 person-years of employment for the region (at Christmas time no less), and then raise BC Hydro rates 12 per cent (or cancel other major promises), just to write off $2 billion of wasted money was just too hard to do. Sure, there is a good chance that the Site C Dam will not look great in 20-30 years time— there is the little matter of nearly 100 kilometres of flooded river valley, including thousands of acres of prime farmland, precious native burial sites and private homes—-but it is possible that the extra energy will come in very handy, and it has been estimated that it could prevent between 30 and 70 million tons of carbon dioxide from spilling into the atmosphere.

It is far more likely, however, that history will be unkind to the BC Liberals for the way they forced this issue through. When demand for electricity was unexpectedly flat (due to growing efficiency) and the price of renewables fell about 60 per cent over the past decade, the Liberals should have delayed and re-evaluated the whole project. After all, why flood the Peace River Valley if you don’t have to? Instead, they pulled BC Hydro out of the Utilities Commission, in part to prevent just such a re-evaluation from ever taking place. The so-called Clean Energy Act (CEA) mandated Powerex, Hydro’s marketing division, to sell surplus power from the Columbia Dam to the U.S. grid. It then prohibited the expansion of the natural-gas-fired Burrard Thermal Plant, in part one suspects because the Liberals wanted Site C to look more necessary than it really was.

A group of UBC economists, backed by more than 370 academics across the country, issued a 160-page Report called Reconsidering the Need for the Site C Project. Its conclusion: “that the business case for Site C is weak and that the massive energy infrastructure project that will erect a third dam on northern B.C.’s Peace River is at high risk of becoming a stranded asset that will generate losses of between $800 million and $2 billion atop the project’s projected $8.8 billion capital costs.” In other words, this was the choice that the B.C. Liberals bequeathed to us: either waste $2 billion by cancelling the project, or waste an additional $2 billion by continuing the project. The only difference is that the former would have to be paid for in the short-term on top of huge lay-offs, while the latter can provide jobs in the short-term and be amortized over a much longer period.

Thanks, Christy!! And a Happy New Year.

Mark Crawford

Assistant Professor, Political science at Athabasca University

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