BC Hydro

The fix was in

In a November 2017 post at his blog, York University Professor Mark Winfield, notes the failures of politicians when tasked with making energy decisions:

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has just announced a public inquiry into how the economically disastrous Muskrat Falls hydro-electric project was approved. In reality there is little mystery.

The project was strongly supported by governments of former Premiers Danny Williams and Kathy Dunderdale. A very limited economic review was permitted by province’s Public Utilities Board and the federal-provincial environmental review panel established in relation to the project was barred from examining the its economic viability…

The story behind Site C is very similar to that around Muskrat Falls. The project was strongly supported by the government of former premier Christy Clark, and the normal economic review process before the BC Utilities Commission by-passed. The joint federal-provincial environmental assessment process that did occur was deeply constrained, and remains the subject of long-standing criticism from the affected First Nations and communities.

The stories of these projects in BC and Newfoundland and Labrador stand in contrast to the story that unfolded in Manitoba over the same time period. That province had proposed a massive hydro project of its own– the 1,485MW Conawapa Dam. However, Manitoba’s approach was fundamentally different from that taken in BC and Newfoundland. Rather than short-circuiting the normal assessment and approvals processes for these types of projects, the Government of Manitoba undertook a substantial public review of the economic rationale and environmental and social impacts of the project. This included consideration of the need for the project, and the availability of alternative ways of meeting the province’s electricity needs.

Given the opportunity for a proper review, the Manitoba Public Utilities Board determined that there was no economic justification for the project. Although several smaller related projects did still proceed, the result saved Manitoba residents from kinds of catastrophic costs now faced by BC and Newfoundland and Labrador.

…The lessons that flow from the experiences of these four provinces seem clear. Had BC and Newfoundland and Labrador followed by type of comprehensive public review undertaken by Manitoba for its hydro megaproject, they might well have avoided the disastrous situations they now find themselves in regarding Site C and Muskrat Falls.

…The federal government is not without blame in these stories. All these projects were subject to some form of federal approval and environmental assessment. In each case, the federal government deferred to the wishes of the projects’ provincial sponsors, limiting the scope of federal reviews, and avoiding unwelcome questions about need, alternatives, and economic viability.

A May 2017 article by Dr. Winfield published in the Globe and Mail needs examination by politicians who approved the initiation and continuation of Site C.

Electricity policy is falling behind the energy revolution, May 15, 2017:

…Over the past decade, we have witnessed dramatic declines in the costs of renewable-energy technologies, particularly wind, solar photovoltaic (PV) and thermal technologies, while the performance of these technologies has been improving.

Similar developments have been occurring around energy-storage technologies. Batteries, mechanical systems such as compressed air and flywheels, as well thermal and gas-based technologies have seen significant breakthroughs in cost and technological performance.

Finally, the emergence of “smart” electricity grids, through the digitization of communications and control systems, has the potential to lead to more adaptive and resilient electricity systems. Such systems will be better able to co-ordinate and integrate smaller-scale and geographically-distributed energy-generation and storage technologies into reliable, grid-scale resources…

While the technological elements needed to realize this potential are coming together rapidly, the required policy and institutional arrangements are evolving much more slowly…

Shortly after taking power, the Horgan Government removed Jessica McDonald from leadership of BC Hydro. But removing a single person did not change the corporation in any serious way. It continues to suffer paralyzing inertia and is unable to react to conditions that have changed dramatically over the past dozen years.

That corporate inertia is now fostered by Energy Minister Michelle Mungall and her cabinet colleagues. When the NDP Government referred Site C to the BC Utility’s Commission, it constrained the review, requiring the agency be guided by energy objectives set out in the Liberals’ Clean Energy Act.

That restriction prevented BCUC from recommending Burrard Thermal be used as an emergency or backup power source or that the Canadian Entitlement from the Columbia River Treaty (1,320 MW capacity — Site C is 1,100 MW — being sold in the USA for less than 3¢ per KWh) be considered another source of power, if and when demand rises.

The BCUC was also required to accept BC Hydro’s demand forecasts. According to Dr. Harry Swain, these not credible. He said, “Core demand is right where it was in 2005, despite the frequent ‘hockey stick’ forecasts of BC Hydro,”

It appears the new government had and has no intention of halting Site C, despite another $2 billions in costs and declines in alternative energy during the last few months. (Wind at $37 a MWh in Alberta; wind and battery storage in Colorado at $21 a MWH.)

There is certainty the Columbia River entitlement is far cheaper than Site C. So too is wind power and now, even solar power has dropped below the cost of new Peace River hydropower capacity.

We might expect uninformed people to fall for misinformation like this whopper:

With alternative sources and without Site C, BC Hydro would be short of dispatchable power.

However, we should expect better from the cabinet. Clearly, Premier Horgan’s Government did not make its decision according to sound economic reasoning and it has been wholly unwilling to answer questions from experts who oppose the project, probably because it has no answers. That was shown by a communication that David Eby directed to constituents. He admitted Site C is:

…this terrible situation of a massive public infrastructure investment without any apparent customer for the electricity it will produce.


Categories: BC Hydro, Site C

8 replies »

  1. The role of the Official Opposition in our system of governance is to question the government and hold it accountable to the public.

    The fact the government would admit to building the biggest infrastructure project in BC history with no identifiable customer for its output would seem an obvious target for the Official Opposition.

    Anyone think Andy Wilkinson will aggressively pursue his duty on this government boondoggle?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How much is the water storage worth if it were to be sold to Southern united states and not used to generate electricity? How much would the cost of building Site be without the generators?


  3. It really seems like the BC Liberals and NDP have once again shackled the taxpayer with the Site C Dam Project … to contracts similar to Cell Phones, Weight Loss, Car Lease and Gym Exercise scams. There is no way to terminate the contract.
    The scheme guarantees that it will cost more to break the agreement … therefore, victims are forced to continue paying the monthly bill for a service they don’t want.

    This corruption continues with the blessing of the Federal Government who have their campaigns financed by numbered companies, offshore multinationals (with tax breaks) untraceable Asian government financial interference and wealthy privileged Canadian families.
    The rich get richer … financed by the working poor and average Joe who don’t have the resources to fight the corruption.

    If the Feds have their way (July1st, 2018) the Canadian public will be inhaling cheap cannabis and really won’t care about the unethical political manipulations that Trudeau hopes will return them to power.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We know 3 things the Site C dam project is for:

    1. Providing back-up capacity for intermittent IPP power,
    2. Provide electricity for natural gas development and LNG production,
    3. Provide electricity for the expanded Kinder Morgan pipeline.

    None of these 3 are in the general BC public interest, IMO.


    • We don’t need a battery storage of electricity in BC ever. We already have dams like WAC to provide that. We don’t NEED site C for anything but the Americans and the oil and Gas companies want the water for fracking. Contained water, such as the 60 meter by 100 km long propsed reservoir, can be traded as a commodity, a natural Lake or river cannot. Simple as that. The Montney shale gas plate is located directly above the proposed damsite and that reservoir is going to be a Handy Schmandy source of water for the shale gas fracking going on directly above it. The Americans have wanted to use the Peace watershed to divert Alaska water runoffs for decades, since WAC and the rest were planned. Proposed site C is exactly where it needs to be, to make it happen. Look up Wendy Holm website and NAWAPA. This project was yanked off the shelf and stroked from the BCUCs scrutiny right after Ole Gord was invited to and returned from the “Bloomberg Meeting” in Spain. Best guess is whomever is behind NAWAPA IS BEHIND “C” AND OWNS BC.


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