I was wrong about the Site C dam

Despite what I said earlier, Site C is a mistake. The massive dam is being built in the Peace River region of northeastern British Columbia.

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Dams are not a mistake. Hydroelectricity has made B.C. the envy of the world with cheap, renewable electricity produced with nothing but water falling through turbines.

Unlike other renewable sources of electricity, hydroelectricity is always on. In 2015, I effused:

“Unlike other sources of green energy, hydro power is ready to go when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. Water–filled dams are like a huge battery, fully charged, ready to produce power at the flick of a switch.”

Can you really have too much green electricity?, I thought.

Dams are good but not Site C. Let me list the problems:

The first is the cost. As a concept, the cost of Site C started out at $3.5-billion. When plans were actually drawn up, price tag rose to $6.9-billion. Then the estimate rose to $8.8 billion after the BC Liberals approved it in 2014. When the NDP government decided to go ahead with the dam, the estimate was rose to $10.7 billion. The costs are sure to go up further due to the next vexing problem:

The soil at the dam site is unstable. Soft sedimentary shale underlies the construction site and the problem was evident from the start. Harvey Elwin, one of the country’s most experienced dam engineers noted that he’s never seen such appalling foundation conditions for a project of this scale. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that a proposed fix would that would make matters worse -pouring massive amounts of concrete into the site would exacerbate instability and “could cause the notoriously unstable shale rock to move even further.”

Then there is the problem of demand. By the time the dam is scheduled to be completed in 2025, there is expected to be little need for the power it produces. Right now, we have 50 per cent more electricity than we need. And that doesn’t include the large quantity available under rights of the Columbia River Treaty.

To recover the costs of the dam, the price we pay for electricity will not be cheap. The new price will be $120/MWh, even more than the $87/MWh from Independent Power Producers -a rate considered to be too high; and much more than the price of $30/MWh under the Columbia River Treaty.

The politics of the dam, always convoluted, are simpler than the construction of the dam. BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark vowed to push Site C through in 2014. When NDP Premier Horgan inherited the project, he claimed that the project had been developed beyond the point of no return.

The real reason Horgan went ahead with Site C was because to cancel it would have given the opposition BC Liberals a chance to tag the NDP with the usual “anti-business” label. And the BC Liberals could hardly oppose a project they had started.

Now that Horgan has a majority government he will reconsider the future of the dam, cut his losses, and pull the plug on Site C.

You heard it first here.

Stop the misinformation about the COIVID-19 vaccine now

In an information vacuum, all kinds of thoughts flourish.

image: WION

Canadians generally favour vaccines but doubts persist. In a recent survey, 15 per cent of Canadians and 20 per cent of Americans said they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine if it were available.

Why would you not get vaccinated against a deadly disease? Let’s count the reasons.

Some of it is simply “needle fear.” A study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that 16 per cent of adult patients avoided the flu shot because of needle fear (Globe and Mail, May 22, 2020).

Then there is the fear from rushing to produce the vaccine. Political pressure is being put on researchers in the U.S. and China to come up with the first COVID-19 vaccine. Will such a vaccine be thoroughly tested for efficacy and long-term side effects?

There is the politics of choice: “Why should I be forced to get a vaccination if I don’t want to?” Well, public health is not a personal choice. In a universal health care system like we have in Canada, we all pay for the careless choices of individuals.

The psychology of “fear transfer” is a factor. Once we have exhausted our fears about the actual virus, fear of the vaccine becomes the greater threat.

In the U.S., presidential election politics are at play. President Trump has whipped up anti-lockdown sentiments in states that are reluctant to open the economy too quickly which would result in more COVID-19 deaths. Anti-lockdown protestors have also been pushing the anti-vaxx message.

Some Canadians are reluctant to have vaccinations too but they are not necessarily anti-vaxxers. They just want more valid information. In the absence of valid information from reliable sources, parents will turn to dubious sources such as those found on Facebook.

Anti-vaxxers tend to be concentrated in private or religious schools, or in home-schooling, and they live in a rural area or a community with a small to medium-sized population.

Another source of reluctance is irrational reasoning. “Why should I get a vaccination for a disease that doesn’t exist?” Of course, the disease, such as measles, has been suppressed because of vaccinations. Without vaccinations, they come back.

More wishful thinking is that: “if enough people are exposed to the COVID-19 virus, they will develop herd immunity and vaccinations won’t be required.” The problem is that we don’t know whether exposure to the virus develops resistance or for how long.

A federal agency, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, has recently funded research into the psychological factors of the pandemic. Researchers will monitor social media for concerns and for conspiracy theories being raised about the pandemic, including those about a future vaccine.

The researchers, Eve Dubé, of Laval University and Steven Taylor of The University of British Columbia argue that rational, science-based messaging about the vaccine needs to begin early, especially at a time when the public is saturated with health information about the pandemic.

“It is important to be pro-active, instead of leaving an empty space for vaccine critics to fill the information void,” said Eve Dubé, “Once the trust in vaccination is weakened, we are vulnerable to crisis.”

Reliable messaging about the COVID-19 vaccine has to start now.