Despite increasing pressure from British Columbia’s municipalities, provincial Energy Minister Bill Bennett said last week he is sticking by his decision not to refer the Site C dam to the B.C Utilities Commission.
On Sept. 25, the Union of B.C. Municipalities passed a motion at its annual conference calling on the province to halt construction on the $8.8-billion dam and refer it to the commission for review and consultation.
But in an interview Friday with the Alaska Highway News, Bennett said UBCM delegates—comprised of politicians and administrators from local governments across the province—were “out of their depth” to make that kind of call.
“I don’t think the people who voted on the motion understand the level of due diligence that has taken place prior to making a final investment decision on Site C,” Bennett said.
“I think they’re out of their depth on issues like that, and I think it’s very easy to get two or 300 (delegates) at UBCM to vote in favour of something in opposition to provincial government. (These voters) would love to pass a resolution that pokes us in the eye with a stick."
The first phases of the dam’s construction began July 27, and about 160 workers are currently on site.
The utilities commission is an independent regulatory body that reviews electrical capital projects and sets Hydro rates.
However, according to Bennett, “the reason why we didn’t send it to the BCUC is back when the Clean Energy Act was passed (2010), there was a decision made that if government was to build Site C, it would be a monumental decision in terms of energy policy that only duly elected officials have a right to make, as opposed to organization like the BCUC that is made up of bureaucrats and lawyers.”
Bennett noted the decision to build Site C went through other reviews by the accounting firm KPMG, the Ministry of Finance, and a panel of industry contractors.
“It’s not like, you know, a bunch of politicians just decided to build this thing,” Bennett said. “It took seven years of study, research and examination where we felt comfortable making a decision. I just don’t think local government understands that or appreciates it.”
At the same conference, UBCM delegates also called on the province rescind an order that removed more than 5,000 hectares of Peace River valley farmland from the Agricultural Land Reserve without having to go through public input and the Agricultural Land Commission.
However, Bennett said that government would not grant that request either.
“Farmers are going to lose lands,” he said. “There can be no amount of money, no decision by any government, that will be consolation for those families… It is a very unfortunate and sad situation. I trust that they will be dealt with fairly by BC Hydro.”
Despite this loss, Bennett felt that the decision was still justified.
“When you’ve got a decision, Site C is the best, most cost effective (method of electricity production) we’re going to need 10 years from now. You make a decision that was on balance, for the balance, of people of the province, even governments have to make decisions that nobody has to like.”