Premier John Horgan says his government will continue building the Site C mega dam in northeastern B.C., with an increased budget of $16 billion and a one year delay.
Last August, the government commissioned a special review after BC Hydro acknowledged a serious concern about the dam’s foundational stability. Those reports were made public Friday (Feb. 26), with the province accepting all recommendations.
Special advisor Peter Milburn recommended additional oversight, but did not find evidence of mismanagement.
The government calculated it would cost $10 billion to terminate the dam, and that it will be preferable to complete Site C at the higher price than to absorb the loss. Horgan said cancelling the dam would have an immediate impact to ratepayers of an estimated 26 per cent rate increase over 10 years.
About $6 billion has already been spent, and construction on the dam is over half complete, BC Hydro said.
The Peace River has been diverted, the coffer dams are done and two of the massive turbines have arrived from Brazil. Energy Minister Bruce Ralston also said most of the environmental impacts have already occurred.
In reaction to the announcement, Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau criticized the decision, saying “this isn’t the last time [British Columbians] are going to hear about costs going up.” The Green Party have consistently opposed the dam.
The BC Liberals, who initially approved the dam under former premier Gordon Campbell, have not released an official statement. Interim leader Shirley Bond did re-tweet a comment from pundit Shane Mills saying the NDP “have completely bungled oversight of project of project that was on-time and on-budget.”
When the Liberals left power it 2017, they said the project was on time and on budget, but when the BC Utilities Commission reviewed the project later that year, they called that claim into question, predicting probable cost overruns and delays.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs has also consistently opposed the dam on the grounds that the First Nations in the area were not adequately consulted and did not give their consent – impact benefit agreements notwithstanding – despite the province’s voice interest in reconciliation.
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, UBCIC Secretary-Treasurer, added that the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has called on Canada to suspend Site C until it has the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples.
As for geotechnical concerns, engineers virtually evaluated the small movement shifts that had been observed and recommended solutions to shore up the strength of the foundation. These necessary changes plus COVID-19 adjustments make up about half of the increases costs, while the remaining $2.6 billion is set for other unrelated cost overruns.
The actual rate increase from completing the project are unknown, as they will not take effect until the dam is complete – now estimated for 2025. BC Hydro has estimated a roughly $36 annual increase for an average rate payer.
The dam has been controversial since the 1980s when it was first proposed as a series of dams on the Peace River. Supporters say the mega dam will supply B.C. with stable energy to meet growing capacity needs.
Those opposed group under a variety of reasons, a primary critique being the ballooning budget.
Site C was originally approved with an $8.8 billion budget in 2014. It increased to $10.7 billion after the BC Utilities Commission reviewed the project in 2017 when the NDP took over government.
Concerns around dam stability have been raised by the public for years. Other complaints are about the ecological impact, First Nations rights in the area, and whether B.C. really needs the power supply.
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