Article and photos by Jenny Tan
Site C doesn’t make business sense, say experts, and is in dire need of independent review.Last Thursday April 20t at UBC Robson Square, a panel of experts dissected common arguments in favour of Site C, a proposed dam located just outside of Fort St. John on the Peace River in northeastern B.C., noting the project could cost taxpayers to suffer losses of over $1 billion, presents major challenges to constitutional rights of First Nations, and that the increased power supply would outstrip projected demand.
Even with increased electrification of the economy, said Karen Bakker, UBC professor and Canada Research Chair in Political Ecology, demand for electricity could be met by conservation at a third of the price for a number of years. A commonly touted option of selling power from the Site C dam to Alberta to meet demand increases from the oilsands is not feasible, she said. B.C. would have to sell its power at over $140/MWh; Alberta could obtain enough power to meet its demands from other sources such as the Slave River Hydro Project at a lower cost.
The liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry is unlikely to take off in B.C. and require power from Site C, also noted former KPMG partner Eoin Finn, and exporting power to the United States would require selling the electricity at below cost.
Paul Kariya, executive director of Clean Energy B.C., pointed out the clean energy industry can offer cost-effective alternatives to Site C.
Councillor Dean Dokkie of the West Moberly First Nation, whose traditional lands include the proposed location of the Site C dam, emphasised lack of understanding of the size and cost of the project as a key barrier. The proposed Site C dam would flood 5,500 hectares of land.
“When I flip a light switch,” said Dokkie, “I know where [the power] comes from and what the costs are… If you flooded the Fraser Valley, what would people say?”
The Site C project also infringes the constitutionally protected rights of First Nations, said Dokkie, especially with the bypassing of independent regulatory oversight. The 2010 Clean Energy Act exempted Site C from independent review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, removing the authority of bureaucrats to examine the business case for the dam.
Bakker summarised the political approach to First Nations consultation on Site C as “build now, litigate during, compensate after”.
Doug Arthur, senior fellow in public policy at UBC, noted Site C will proceed unless there is a change of government on May 9th, and reminded the audience to exercise its voting power.
Bakker suggested the provincial government postpone Site C and refer the project to the B.C. Utilities Commission. The regulatory body can then examine whether the value of contracts already signed will have pushed Site C past the point of no return.