BC Site C hydro dam project not a certainty

Energy minister expects a decision by the end of the year.

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s growing economy will need plenty of power for both business and population growth, but provincial Energy Minister Bill Bennett says the Site C dam on the Peace River still is not a certainty.

Bennett said he will offer Premier Christy Clark and her cabinet next month a recommendation on whether to proceed with the almost $8-billion hydroelectric project, but that decision – expected to be made public by the end of the year – will be the subject of intense cabinet debate.

The minister has said that if the project were approved construction could start as early as this January, with a completion date of 2024.

The proposed dam near Fort St. John cleared major hurdles with the federal and British Columbia governments granting environmental approvals as long as more than 80 conditions are met before it proceeds.

“I’m going to take something to cabinet that’s not going to be easy for my cabinet colleagues to decide,” Bennett said.

The Site C dam, which would flood agricultural land with the creation of an 83-kilometre-long reservoir, would produce 1,100 megawatts of capacity every year, enough to power about 450,000 homes.

Site C has been part of Crown-owned BC Hydro’s energy vision for decades.

Bennett said there are three overriding issues driving the decision-making process. They include: what’s best for BC ratepayers, does the decision compromise the current safe, reliable and clean energy system and finding ways to work with area First Nations, who primarily oppose the project.

There are contingency measures in the $7.9-billion estimate as high as 18%, meaning there are adequate buffers to protect against cost increases, the minister said.

Bennett said he doesn’t expect First Nations to publicly endorse the project if it proceeds, but he’s hopeful benefit agreements can be negotiated to appease their concerns. He said First Nations’ companies and people could benefit greatly from the project.

BC Hydro said the project, which has been undergoing public reviews and consultations with First Nations, communities and stakeholders since 2007, reached a major milestone when it received the federal and provincial environmental certificates.

Environmental groups called those decisions flawed, warning Site C is a mega dam that will have impacts on First Nations and area wildlife that cannot be mitigated.

A joint review panel report released in May said the dam would cause significant adverse effects on fish and wildlife, but concluded the province will need new energy and the dam would provide a large amount of inexpensive power.

The report also said the project would significantly impact the current use of land and resources traditionally used by First Nations and the effect of that on treaty rights would have to be weighed by government.

Recently, the Peace area’s West Moberly First Nation told both the federal and B.C. governments it will not support both the dam and LNG development in the Peace River area.

© 2014 The Canadian Press

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