B.C. sticks with Site C despite ballooning costs

Source: www.producer.com

Construction costs on the Site C dam on the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia continue to balloon, now reaching an estimated $16 billion. That is nearly double the original estimate of $8.77 billion when the project was approved in 2014.

Despite the cost, Premier John Horgan announced last week that the project will proceed because cancelling it would cost at least $10 billion, including costs already incurred plus remediation and the cost of cancelling various contracts.

Last week, the province released the Milburn review, which examined the project and made 17 recommendations to improve oversight of the project. The government and BC Hydro have accepted all of them, Horgan said in a news release.

“The project is facing new challenges, and we are committed to managing it in the best interests of British Columbians,” he said.

“Cancelling it would cause people’s electricity rates to skyrocket, and we will not burden people with additional financial stress during these difficult times with nothing to show for it. Site C is already 50 percent finished, and our government will complete this project, ensuring British Columbians have clean and affordable power for decades to come.”

The government also last week released a geotechnical review of the project, with confirmed that “foundation enhancements” are needed to address geotechnical issues on one bank of the river.

Doug Allen has been appointed the new chair of BC Hydro’s board to face the project’s new challenges, Horgan said. He replaces Ken Peterson, who was appointed in July 2017.

B.C.’s Green Party criticized the decision to proceed with Site C, calling it a “disastrous megadam.” The Greens wanted the project cancelled.

Party leader Sonia Furstenau predicted ongoing geotechnical problems and further escalation of costs.

“It is a travesty that the B.C. NDP chose not to walk away from Site C in 2017,” she said in a news release.

“If the government had listened to the warnings of the B.C. Utilities Commission and other experts three years ago, we would not be where we are today. Instead they’ve chosen to throw good money after bad, adding billions of dollars to the price tag.”

Furstenau said the cost of Site C goes beyond the new estimate of $16 billion because it includes the violation of First Nation treaty rights and the loss of biodiversity and farmland.

About 13,600 acres of land will be flooded once the dam is in place.

Bruce Ralston, B.C.’s minister of energy, mines and low carbon innovation, said the dam is justified because the province needs more renewable energy so it can transition away from fossil fuels and meet climate targets.

He noted construction has provided 4,500 jobs.

The project is expected to be complete in 2025, one year later than once anticipated and in part due to delays caused by the pandemic.

Contact barb.glen@producer.com