Energy Minister Bill Bennett said that Site C was only one of three options that the government is considering to recommend to the government to provide new electrical power to B.C.
The proposed dam is a source of controversy within the community, as some welcome the jobs and energy it will create, while others don’t want the Peace River, farmland or First Nations sites to be damaged or destroyed.
Site C was recently given an environmental assessment certificate from both the B.C. and Federal environmental ministries, a major hurdle before the government can OK the project.
Bennett emphasized that Site C was not a done deal. He said his ministry was also looking at renewable energy from an independent power producer, as well as a natural gas plant, and that his team “(hasn’t) made up our mind yet as to what options we’re going to recommend to cabinet.”
The renewables option has been discussed with the B.C. energy ministry and the Clean Energy Association of B.C., Bennett explained.
“We’ve spent the last year working with the Clean Energy Association of B.C. to encourage them to put together their option and show government how in fact maybe we don’t need to build Site C to do this,” he said. “Maybe we can do this through a combo of renewables and natural gas options.”
These renewables would be a combination of greener renewable energy and natural gas generation. “What’s most likely is it would be wind. The technology is real,” he said. “Where’s the best wind resource? It’s the Peace (Region).”
The other option would be natural gas. However, Bennett pointed out that building such a plant had some negatives, including that some communities simply would not want it located anywhere near them.
Also, “natural gas thermal is cheaper (than Site C), but not as much cheaper as I thought it would be,” he said.
He went on to say that even though the initial costs may be higher, Site C’s costs would be paid off over a longer time period.
There are also other factors that may complicate Site C’s construction. One of them is First Nations involvement. Bennett acknowledged that the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations, at least, have threatened legal action if government votes to go ahead with the project.
He remained hopeful that Site C could still be negotiated with the affected bands in Northeast B.C., even though West Moberly First Nations has publicly said that they do not plan to negotiate.
“We care what First Nations think about this project. Is their opinion important to us? Yes, absolutely.” He said. “Not all nations of Treaty 8 have indicated hostility to the project ... BC Hydro is trying to work to find opportunities for them to benefit if cabinet decides to approve it.”
Another complicating factor that Bennett addressed is that some groups – including the Joint Review Panel that analyzed BC Hydro’s proposal at length around the beginning of the year – have called for the B.C. Utilities Commission to have a look at the project’s costs.
But Bennett remained firm in saying that the BCUC would not have that opportunity, calling the Joint Review Panel’s recommendation “misinformed.”
“(BC Hydro) exposed (Site C) to a high level of scrutiny of engineers, independent accountants. You would never get that level from the BCUC,” said Bennett. “It’s a real red herring to suggest that the BCUC could bring something else.”
Either way, the government’s decision to hand out an environmental assessment certificate to Site C remains controversial.
“We’re in the 21st century, and issuing certificates to destroy river valley is not an environmentally sound decision,” said PRRD Area C Director Arthur Hadland, whose presentation of a leaked letter from Bennett claiming that the B.C. government would remove any land affected by Site C from oversight by the Agricultural Land Commission was one of the most shocking moments of the Joint Review Panel’s Site C hearings.
“There’s nothing mitigable about destroying Class 1 farmland and/or probably the oldest permanent fort in B.C. If this were any other jurisdiction, they would have never considered it,” he said.
Hadland pushed for the energy to come from something other than Site C.
“Don’t give me the malarkey that this isn’t green. They declared it green for LNG,” he said. “There are so many other energy sources in the tube. We’re in the 21st century. Let’s start thinking like that.”
Andrea Morison of the Peace Valley Environment Association, another Site C opponent, also said that her battle “(wasn’t) over yet.”
“This project is really not in the interest of B.C. for so many reasons,” she said. “We continue to do our best to stand up for everyone in the province and make sure we don’t end up with another white elephant.”
The project was not without its supporters, though.
“I was happy to see the environmental assessment certificate be granted today,” said former Peace River South MLA Blair Lekstrom. “There’s a tremendous amount of work by a lot of people to get the project to this point.”