Site C dam delay would be disaster for John Horgan’s NDP

Putting off Peace River diversion would cost $630 million

All political sides in B.C. agree that the creation of B.C.’s original hydro dams on the Peace and Columbia river systems was a work of visionary genius by former premier W.A.C. Bennett. It’s helped build the forest, mining and aluminum industries among others.

And yet the final stage of B.C.’s vision, the Site C dam near Fort St. John, has been an international target for protest. Even Amnesty International jumped on the fundraising bandwagon to denounce it as an affront against indigenous rights.

Others claim they see insufficient demand for its power, an odd notion in an era of a national carbon tax and big subsidies for electric vehicles. Or they make outlandish claims about the valley’s agricultural potential, usually from far away in the southwest corner of B.C.

(As a former Peace Country homesteader, I’m ready to debate anyone on that.)

And now provincial government paralysis threatens to delay critical diversion work during the fall window of low water on the Peace, postponing it by a year and adding $630 million to the cost, according to BC Hydro’s detailed estimate.

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver continues to claim that Site C is only being built now to provide cheap power for a liquefied natural gas industry he insists will never materialize. To borrow one of Weaver’s favourite phrases, this is simply not true. BC Hydro’s project plan specifically excluded large-scale LNG projects, whose proponents say they will power the main compression and refrigeration with gas.

Former Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett (an admirer but no relation to W.A.C.) officially ends his term as B.C. energy minister this week, with the swearing-in of a temporary B.C. Liberal cabinet. I interrupted his fishing to ask about the threat to the project he spent the last four years studying and approving.

Weaver’s LNG theory is “a made-up, fictional narrative, and he’s the one who made it up along with some folks on the left,” Bennett said.

Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier noted last week that he has a picture in his Dawson Creek office of himself standing with Weaver and former premier Gordon Campbell at the W.A.C. Bennett dam, announcing Site C on April 18, 2010. Weaver supported it then, as someone dedicated to greenhouse gas reduction, but that was before he got acquainted with the organic carrot-waving base of the B.C. Greens.

Incoming premier John Horgan promised during the election campaign to order an immediate review via the B.C. Utilities Commission, but to continue construction in the meantime. Then on May 31 he wrote to BC Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald and asked for a further delay in relocating two farm families who have insisted on staying after their home sites have been expropriated.

Last week BC Hydro executives set out the “domino effect” that delaying the relocation of two houses would set off, delaying road and bridge construction and then the river diversion set for fall 2019. Shutting down and restarting the main civil works contract, storing the turbines and generators and other effects add up to an extra $630 million cost to BC Hydro ratepayers.

As for shutting Site C down completely, two years into an eight-year construction plan with nearly $2 billion already spent, Bennett has a final prediction.

“I know [Horgan] has supported the project in the past,” Bennett said. “I don’t believe for one second he’s going to cancel a project that has 2,200 unionized workers on the site, with thousands more to come, 80 per cent of them from British Columbia.”

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

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