The last of the great hydroelectric dam projects in Canada has seen outlandish allegations, twisted perspectives, and outright lies. In other words, it’s on par for just about any BC development project.
Located in North-eastern BC across the border from Alberta, Site C is the third such dam on the Peace River and Alberta has long reaped the negative consequences of these dams without a penny of compensation for the past 50 years. The dams have destroyed the ecology of the Peace River delta located in Alberta and have negatively impacted the indigenous economy of local First Nations. Typical of BC hypocrisy, while their politicians and green groups scream about the theoretical environmental impact from increased pipeline capacity they refuse to acknowledge the irreparable harm done by their dams to millions of acres of environmentally sensitive delta lands in Alberta.
Your humble columnist has first-hand knowledge of the Site C dam site area – in another life I operated a ranch just 20 miles to the south. The dam has been in BC Hydro’s plans for over 40 years and they started to acquire affected land over 25 years ago. It’s a difficult site because the river banks are highly unstable. Over the years, tens of millions of dollars have been spent trying to stabilize bridges and road approaches, particularly on the south side of the Peace River. One expects additional millions of tons of sediment resulting from the new dam will wash down the river, further destroying riparian areas in Alberta. The only way to mitigate this damage would be for Alberta to build another dam at the border to back up the sediment into BC. Can you just imagine the howls of protest from BC if Alberta dared to protect its own environmental interests?
Part of the lobby group outrage against the Site C dam is that it will flood 10,000 acres of Class 1 agricultural land. There is some truth to the loss of some agricultural land, but there is more to the story. The figure of 10,000 acres is a lot of conjecture because there is a misleading assumption that all the acres are actually being farmed – that is just not true. Even at its peak 40 years ago only a few hundred acres were actually being farmed for crop and horticultural purposes. The river valley area has a micro-climate but it’s still a tough northern area with a short growing season. Most of the usable agricultural land (not all Class 1) was in pasture and hay crops and that indeed will be a big loss. The market garden operations and ranchers that were affected were bought out long ago by BC Hydro so their protests are after the fact.
Inexplicably, BC Hydro ignored most First Nations land claims to the dam site area; I expect it was out of fear of setting a precedent. That will come back to haunt the project, as recent court cases have given First Nations new rights to land claims issues. It will take many millions of taxpayer dollars to satisfy those claims.
The biggest fallout from the project will be economic – budgeted at $10 billion, most expect it will be closer to $15 billion when you add in land claims, additional transmission lines, unpredictable riverbank stabilization, inflation, etc.
All those billions will have to be paid by BC electricity users, as demand and rates for exported electricity have fallen considerably. It seems California doesn’t need BC power like they used to. Interestingly, the power from Site C has a nearby customer for all its output. You guessed it, Alberta could actually take all that power – and our market is a lot closer. Alberta has built massive new North/South power transmission lines that could easily be extended to the dam.
It would seem to be common sense for BC to make a deal with Alberta for the power, but then politics rears its ugly head. I expect Alberta would have been delighted to buy cheap reliable emission-free power from nearby Site C, but only if BC would in return, facilitate new oil pipelines to the coast, such as Northern Gateway and Transmountain. There is no way BC would ever make that common sense economic trade. Instead, BC taxpayers will be saddled with paying ever increasing electrical rates to pay for Site C and for selling Californians cheap power at discounted rates.
I guess it’s the price BC citizens will pay for politically correct expediency – more power to them – ironically.