12/17/2014 11:50 EST | Updated 02/16/2015 05:59 EST

Site C dam: Bill Bennett defends approval of Peace River project

Energy Minister Bill Bennett is defending the B.C. government's decision to approve the controversial Site C dam.

"This is the kind of decision I think elected people are supposed to make. You balance the good against the bad," Bennett told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

The nearly $9 billion hydroelectric project will flood a large area of the Peace River Valley in northeastern B.C., and has been criticized by residents in the area, including First Nations, and by environmentalists.

"Over the next 20 years, BC Hydro figures that we'll need 40 per cent more electricity in B.C. … our choice was how do we get that electricity in a way that is most respectful of rate payers and the rate payer really has driven this decision for us," Bennett said.

"The cheapest electricity that we can acquire right now really is through the Site C project."

Bennett said because there are two existing dams on the Peace River, the Site C project is unique in its ability to generate a large amount of power for a low cost.

"Site C will be able to generate 35 per cent of the electricity that the W.A.C. Bennett dam generates with only 5 per cent of the reservoir footprint. There are no other opportunities like that out there," he said.

Budget set aside for court costs

The Peace Valley Environment Association denounced the government's decision to approve the project, noting five court cases opposing Site C are already underway.

Bennett said the cost of fighting for the project in court is included in the budget.

"Anytime you want to build something big and important, not just in British Columbia, but anywhere in Canada … there are people who are going to oppose that and you're going to end up in court, and that's just something you're going to have to work through."

He said while the initial Joint Review Panel stated consultation with First Nations was sufficient, the government and BC Hydro will continue to work with local First Nations, many of whom have been vocal opponents of the project.

"We have a lot of work to do and I think — I hope — there will be opportunities for those First Nations to benefit," said Bennett.

Bennett expects ground to break in the summer of 2015.

To hear the full interview with Energy Minister Bill Bennett, click the audio labelled: Energy minister defends Site C.