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.