As a fiscal conservative, reading the recent BC Utilities Commission report on Site C made me want to bang my head against the wall.
Conducting an independent assessment of a project like Site C is not out of the ordinary. The vast majority of jurisdictions across North America assess projects independently in order to protect the interests of shareholders, taxpayers, and ratepayers alike. What the NDP has done is not out of the ordinary—in fact, it is a completely normal and financially prudent process to assess risk. What is still strange in the Site C rollercoaster ride is why the BC Liberals exempted the project from in independent review in the first place.
Flipping through the pages of the BCUC report yielded exactly the same concerns that have been raised about the project for years. The project is not on budget or on schedule. This reality is not surprising, considering BC Hydro has not built a dam since the mid 1980s. I’m not sure how any company can deliver a large project having no experience doing so in the last 30 years, and yet we kept hearing the project was “on time and on budget.” My question is how long has BC Hydro known that the project was not “on time and on budget,” and why were we not told sooner? Why did it take the BCUC process in order for this information to become public?
Currently, the project is expected to have costs overruns in the range of 20 to 50 per cent given a number of ongoing issues such as tension cracks and other project related risks, with a completion cost estimated in excess of $10 billion. This is only after two years of construction. For decades, people have raised alarm bells about the geological conditions at the damsite and were ignored. Now, those concerns are emerging as fact, as predicted, and the financial impacts occurring as a result have the potential to become devastating.
Given this new information, burning natural gas to meet our energy needs while focusing on alternative energy projects and energy conservation has never looked so cheap. It is astounding that British Columbians were prevented from benefiting from the use of burning natural gas to generate electricity by the Clean Energy Act—the same gas that was called dirty by the BC Liberals and then wasn’t dirty when it was the highlight of the 2013 election campaign focusing on LNG.
The reality is the BC Liberals, by politicizing Site C at every step of the way, have served it up on a silver platter to be cancelled. When you add the Site C fiasco to a failed LNG export industry, and the number of unfulfilled promises attached to it, one could argue the BC Liberals truly did not have any credible plan when it came energy policy in British Columbia during their tenure.
Given the current reality, the end game for Site C comes down to two options: cancel or continue.
This decision will be 100 per cent political. In the public realm, the NDP has stated there are a variety of factors that it will consider in the decision making process, such as impacts to local First Nations, project costs, ratepayers interests etcetera. Let me remind you that this is British Columbia, where party politics trump the needs of the people on a daily basis.
The NDP will conduct a risk assessment to determine how bad cancelling Site C will impact its ability to win the next election. If the risk is low the project will be cancelled. And if risk is high the project will continue. Do not ever underestimate the motives of politicians who were out of power for a long time and wish to keep it.
The clock is ticking and no matter where you stand on the Site C issue the people of the Peace Region are waiting.
Jeff Richert lives in Taylor and ran as an independent candidate in Peace River North in the 2017 B.C. election.