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.

Resistance to wind energy is futile

 

It’s hard to believe that some Canadians are opposed to wind energy. Contrary to the results of a Health Canada study, they think turbines contribute to health problems.

WindTurbine

The $2.1-million study followed 1,238 people in Ontario and Prince Edward Island in response to anti-wind farm groups who said that the turbines were making them sick, creating stress and disrupting lives.

Turbines do not have any measurable effect on illness, chronic disease, stress or quality of sleep. However, some people are annoyed by the aircraft warning lights or the way they cause shadows to flicker.

One of the most vociferous anti wind protesters, Esther Wrightman of Adelaide Metcalfe, Ontario, was so disturbed at the construction of wind towers that she moved to New Brunswick. In her blog Mothers Against Wind Turbines Inc. she says: “I don’t think we had much of a choice here. When you have people in your family with (pre-existing) health problems –you can’t risk it to stay –you have to leave.”

Annoyance is subjective. Those who benefit are less annoyed. “Annoyance was significantly lower among the 110 participants who received personal benefit, which could include rent, payments or other indirect benefits of having wind turbines in the area e.g., community improvements,” said Health Canada

Annoyance can be implanted. Susan Holtz, a Nova Scotia consultant on energy and environmental policy explained how in Alternatives Journal. It’s called the “nocebo effect,” similar to the placebo effect except that negative expectations induce negative effects. In a study conducted at the University of Auckland, one-half of subjects were shown news clips about health problems related to inaudible low frequency wind turbine sound. Then they were exposed to nonexistent (sham) low frequency sound and then subjects reported symptoms as they saw reported. The other half who had not seen the news clips reported no such symptoms when exposed to fake, or even real, inaudible low frequency sounds.

Even politics affect people’s perceptions of wind energy. The darling of the right-wing set, Ezra Levant has taken up Esther Wrightman’s cause when she was forced to take down some content on her blog. The wind turbine company, NextEra, threatened legal action and claimed Wrightman had made false and misleading statements against the company and had unfairly attacked their trademark.

Levant came to her rescue. “And the only reason you have not heard of this lawsuit — the Canadian Civil Liberties Association is not defending her free speech, the CBC has not put this on their nightly news — is because the corporate bully here is not an oil company like Exxon. It’s a wind turbine company called NextEra. See, that kind of bullying is OK,” he said in the Toronto Sun. Levant opposes wind turbines for no other reason than they are supported by the Ontario Liberal government headed by Kathleen Wynne.

Wind turbines are an inexorable force as part of quitting the fossil fuel habit. Wind power is increasing by 15 per cent a year globally and in Denmark it produces 40 per cent of their total. To paraphrase Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Who’ll stop the wind?”