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.)
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.