Dokie Ridge wind farm near Chetwynd B.C. in 2010. B.C.’s existing wind energy is mostly near the Peace River dams in northeastern B.C. (Black Press files)

Site C allows more wind, solar energy, experts say

Lawyer, economist argue for completion of B.C. Hydro dam

The union group that has built B.C. Hydro dams since 1961 has made one more push to convince the John Horgan government to complete the Site C dam, releasing two reports by independent consultants making the case that it’s the best option for ratepayers.

Energy lawyer Jim Quail and energy economist Marvin Shaffer both concluded that the B.C. Utilities Commission underestimated the benefits of the third dam on the Peace River, and overestimated the performance of alternatives if the dam project is stopped. They argued that the commission overlooked Canada’s climate change commitment to price carbon emissions up to $50 a tonne, and the potential to sell power to Alberta as it phases out its coal-fired generation.

The commission was given a deadline of Nov. 1 to make recommendations to the B.C. government on how to proceed. Both criticized the commission’s idea of substituting wind, geothermal or other sources to meet growing electricity demand, and pointed to the likely increase in clean energy needed in a future where carbon taxes are heading higher.

Geothermal power is unproven in B.C. and the most significant issue for adding wind or other intermittent power is that there be sufficient backup when it isn’t producing, Quail said.

“A resource like [Site C] makes it possible to go much further when it comes to using wind power and other renewables,” he said.

Shaffer pointed out that the commission did not consider greenhouse gas emission effects for the dam, which has been under construction for two years and would cost an estimated $4 billion to shut down and restore the site near Fort St. John.

Shaffer calculated that shutting down Site C and then finding alternatives to replace its output would cost $1-2 billion more than completing it, even if its cost rises to $10 billion as the commission suggested it might.

Both experts noted that the previous B.C. Liberal government left a difficult situation by proceeding with the most expensive construction project in B.C. history without having the commission review it first.

“There’s nothing but bad news for ratepayers of the next few years under B.C. Hydro,” Quail said. “There’s all kinds of cost pressure. Which trajectory is less painful is the question.”

Chris Feller, president of the union group Allied Hydro Council of B.C., agreed.

“The new B.C. NDP government has been left a disturbing legacy by the former B.C. Liberal government, but now it has to make the best of it,” Feller said.

Premier John Horgan said Wednesday the cabinet is still gathering information to make a decision by the end of the year on proceeding. Deputy ministers of energy and finance have asked the utilities commission for technical details on B.C. Hydro debt and other issues.


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