The Joint Review Panel (JRP) report for the Site C dam was released this month. They did not say whether they supported the project or not. The report was an indictment of the regressive approach taken by the B.C. government and B.C. Hydro in proposing the mega-project as a solution for this century.
Site C is perfectly matched with the old-school corporate culture in B.C. Hydro. With $8 billion on the line, it has the capacity to keep them busy for a decade. The question is, why would the provincial government support the project?
A project like Site C blatantly contradicts the government's commitment to prudently manage the provinces scarce fiscal resources. The panel report provides no compelling justification for the government to dump billions of dollars into the project. In fact, B.C. Hydro failed to convince the panel that Site C was even necessary.
Site C fails both the ecological and social tests. The panel details a comprehensive list of environmental and social destruction it will cause. In most cases, the damage is permanent and despite the 50 recommendations and hundreds of suggestions made by B.C. Hydro and the panel, the damage, to a great extent, cannot be mitigated.
With two strikes against the project, the panel went on to question the financial foundation of Site C. They significantly weakened the arguments that may be used to defend the viability of the project.
While the panel found that over decades Site C "would be the least expensive of the alternatives," they stated "the Proponent has not fully demonstrated the need for the Project on the timetable set forth."
The panel also questioned whether B.C. Hydro had considered other options, notably geothermal, and they highlighted the B.C. government had put 'policy constraints' on the utility that made "some other alternatives unavailable."
The panel suggested that even though some of the alternatives might come at a slightly higher cost they "would allow supply to better follow demand, obviating most of the early-year losses of Site C."
While Site C may be the "least expensive of the alternatives" for B.C. Hydro to build, it is also the least innovative and comes with extremely high social and ecological costs.
There is a better way -- clean technology. Unfortunately, these solutions are being intentionally sidelined even though they stimulate new investment, create jobs, cause less damage, and all without the huge burden to the taxpayer.
For example, why are wind projects on southern Vancouver Island collecting dust? Rather than building a single large project in the north, and then move the electricity south at a great cost and energy loss, why not decentralize our energy production? As the transmission infrastructure connecting the mainland and the islands age, it is sensible to invest in more local power generation.
Site C is 1950s thinking, it is a big-government solution. It is massive government-funded infrastructure in rural British Columbia with crippling up front costs and a long payback period. In addition, it must be serviced with extensive transmission infrastructure to ship the energy around B.C.
If the B.C. Liberals go ahead with Site C they must explain to British Columbians why they are being saddled with the expense of a marginal project, especially in light of the fact that massive private investments are ready to roll.
They will have to explain why there is no policy in place to compel the public utility to work with private enterprise to innovate and harness the abundant solar, wind, tidal and geothermal energy in the province.
One thing is for certain, if the B.C. Liberals move forward with Site C they are locking British Columbians into huge, long-term debt while stifling innovation in energy production and transmission for another generation.