BC Hydro is holding an open house for public comment on its recent Environmental Impact Report at the North Peace Cultural Centre tonight.
The Crown corporation in January submitted a 15,000 page report to the B.C. Ministry of Environment as part of its application to build the Site C dam southeast of Fort St. John on the Peace River. The proposal is generating reams of controversy long before generating a single Gigawatt hour of electricity.
BC Hydro says with electricity demand planned to increase by about 40 per cent over the next 20 years, Site C will supply enough energy to power 465,000 homes for 100 years. Hydro says the project will also generate 33,000 jobs and contribute $3.2 billion to provincial GDP.
Opponents have complained since work on the project began that a new dam in the area would disrupt the ecosystem, damage nearby private property, place increased stress on local infrastructure and be more costly than the worth of the energy generated. The release of the Environmental Impact Report confirmed those fears for some; residents of 20 homes in the area that would be flooded by the dam were outraged to imagine having to move or give up land.
“I won’t go willingly,” Arlene Boone, who would be forced to move her home, told Alaska Highway News after the report’s release. “No dollar value dropped on our kitchen table is going to be satisfactory for us to pick up and move when our place is not for sale.”
Siobhan Jackson, BC Hydro spokesperson, said the company would mitigate those concerns by providing a fund to the Peace River Regional District to distribute to farmers to make upgrades and increase productivity of the land they have left.
Local opponents said the 10 years of construction would pollute the air with exhaust, plus wear out roads and city facilities.
“This is not clean energy project when you look at the 10-year period,” said Rick Koechl, a local teacher. “You’ve got the building phase with thousands of diesel-burning vehicles on the road for 10 years, effectively. You’ll have 3.2 million cubic metres of concrete, each of which produces 1.25 tons of carbon dioxide. Along with the building materials, they’re burning 1.5 million cubic metres of debris wood from the reservoir itself.”
B.C. Energy Minister Rich Coleman said in a statement Site C would create more than 30,000 jobs and provide clean energy for decades.
"Reliable, dependable electricity is critical to British Columbia's economy and quality of life," he said. "The development and construction of Site C is expected to create approximately 33,000 jobs and contribute $3.2 billion to provincial GDP."
But NDP energy critic John Horgan said after examining the report, he found the Province is obligated to purchasing wasted energy at a huge cost per year to taxpayers. He said Hydro has 15,157 GWh in 20-year energy contracts at a cost of $1.422 billion this year, or $94 per megawatt hour (MWh). Horgan said Hydro’s figures forecast an average sale price for electricity of $37 per MWh.
“The difference between the purchase price and sale price is $57 per MWh, resulting in a $296 million loss this year alone,” he said. The liquid natural gas projects that energy is meant to power will not come online for another 15 years, wasting the obligatory energy until then, he added.
BC Hydro responded to queries for a reply from Alaska Highway News by email.
“Long-term demand for electricity is growing and is expected to increase by approximately 40% over the next 20 years as our economy expands and our population increases. The potential load from new and growing industries like LNG and mining will further increase demand.
“New resources are required to meet BC's energy and capacity needs and to ensure that BC remains an attractive place to invest.
“Hydroelectric projects are complex and require a long lead time to plan, design and complete the rigorous environmental assessment processes. They also take many years to construct. For example, if the Site C Dam project proceeds through the environmental review process, it will take about seven years to construct and eight years before it is fully operational. Its earliest in-service date is 2022.
“BC Hydro must advance the Site C project now to ensure it is available to meet BC's future electricity needs.
During last week’s throne speech, B.C. Premier Christy Clark said a new fund made up of tax revenue collected from liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry operations, which will begin to accrue in 2017, will help pay the provincial debt.
She said the government expects the fund will be over $100 billion, given the $1 trillion in LNG development it expects to reap over the next 30 years. Government officials estimated it could eliminate B.C.’s debt of $56-billion by around 2027.
There will be similar meetings elsewhere in the Peace Region this month: at the Hudson’s Hope Community Hall on Feb. 20, the Chetwynd Pomeroy Inn & Suites on Feb. 21, and at the Dawson Creek Best Western Feb. 27.
with files from William Stodalka