Site C: undo, redo or make do?

A year ago, John Horgan’s NDP government told us that Site C completion was the best way to meet the province’s future energy needs. Since then, additional evidence proves the decision was a mistake.

The latest comes with news Alberta will bring on five more renewable energy projects by mid-2021. These will not destroy valuable farmland or offend indigenous rights. In fact, First Nations are involved in ownership and will directly benefit through creation of permanent jobs.

Site C power will cost above 10 cents a kilowatt-hour, perhaps as much as 13 cents. National Observer reports on Alberta new acquisitions:

The average weighted price of power at the five planned projects is 3.9 cents per kilowatt-hour… That is just above the record low price of 3.7 cents set when the inaugural program launched last year…

In recent days, University of Kansas (KU) signed an agreement with Westar Energy to fill its electricity needs from a wind farm. The 20-year, fixed rate agreement provides electricity at 1.8 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Here is a simple comparison of Site C capital costs to those established for Alberta’s projects:

The cost of Site C power is not fixed and certain. When BC Hydro first applied for a water license to build the project, the stated budget was $1.95 billion, which is $5.1 billion in 2018 dollars.

Energy Minister Bill Bennett argued in 2014 that his $7.9 billion budget was firm, final and guaranteed because the world’s top experts had studied the numbers and were satisfied they were accurate, even generous.

In 2017, we learned the latest budget was $10.7 billion, proving cost estimates of megaprojects move unceasingly upward.

Those budgets exclude intrinsic values of the more than 50 miles of Peace River valley to be flooded, an area that includes some of the British Columbia’s best farmland. Nor does it include allowances for massive damage awards when the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately decides indigenous rights have been oppressed.

Additionally, there is an uncalculated risk of failure because the hydro project is sited on historically unstable lands and near the epicentre of a recent earthquake of 4.5 Richter magnitude scale.

Site C proponents argue that British Columbia needs firm power. Of course, the new hydro project will provide well less than 10% of provincial capacity. Much more than that level of renewable power could be integrated without difficulty. In Spain, 35% of the yearly energy comes from renewable wind and solar and the country plans for the ratio to grow in the next decade.

Oil soaked politicians like Trudeau give lip service to climate change and leaders like Trump favour full-blown denial. But, scientists and smart business people take positive action while Canada’s decision makers stay committed to outdated energy technologies.

Intensive work in university and commercial laboratories is resulting in new power creation and storage capabilities. The knowledge pipelines are alive with examples:

Stanford researchers have developed a water-based battery to provide a cheap way to store wind or solar energy. The researchers coaxed a reversible electron-exchange between water and manganese sulfate, a cheap, abundant industrial salt.

Canadian born MIT Professor Donald Sadoway published results of his new battery technology, using liquid metal, in Nature, the world’s preeminent science journal. “The battery, based on electrodes made of sodium and nickel chloride and using a new type of metal mesh membrane, could be used for grid-scale installations…” At TED in 2012, Sadoway talked about the missing link to renewable energy.

Switzerland based Innolith reports its batteries use “an unconventional inorganic electrolyte that delivers far greater durability, but also ensures a safer battery that is fundamentally non-flammable…” The company promises mass production by 2020 and predicts “new generations of inorganic batteries that promise to deliver substantial gains in performance.”

Other disruptive technologies for energy generation and storage are available or in development.

Nobel Prize–winning Stanford physics professor Robert Laughlin is lead scientist in a molten-salt energy storage project backed by Google parent company Alphabet and Bill Gate’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a wealthy investment fund that is backing clean renewables.

Liquid Air Energy Storage is going beyond demonstration. LAES has been compared to pumped hydro, where excess electricity is used to pump water up to a reservoir above a hydroelectric turbine. But unlike pumped hydro, LAES doesn’t require a water system or elevation differences to operate.

Last year, UK wind farm owners were paid a reported £100m to turn off turbines when there was more energy than the grid needed. The Hydrogen Council envisages that surplus solar and wind energy could be converted to hydrogen for on-demand power.

Developed in Australia, the HAZER® Process takes two ubiquitous and cheap feedstocks (natural gas and iron ore), and uses these to generate two high value, high demand products (hydrogen & synthetic graphite) with global market applications.

I could go on but the point is that wasting money on destructive energy projects makes zero sense when there are better alternatives.

British Columbia is spending billions on Site C. It could suspend the project today and have less harmful and cheaper sources of clean power operational by the time more electricity is needed

Categories: Energy, Site C

12 replies »

  1. Billions of tax dollars have been wasted … all in a bid for political re-election. Climate change is the Earth’s remedy to get rid of the most destructive pestilence to roam the earth … a deadly destructive virus known as “Humans”.
    Ebola pendemics, famine, mutating viruses, flooding, droughts, wind events, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and opioids have little affect on self cantered leaders like Trump, Putin, Saidi Arabian prince, Kim Jung Un, Syria’s Ashad and China’s dominating economic ambitions.
    Citizens need to speak out.
    Oil, gas, LNG extraction and Dams are destroying the planet.
    Vote for … responsible political candidates.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Norm, you lay out the facts for everyone to see. Unfortunately governments/industry/hydro look the other way. They have a special union that does not include the best interests of their taxpaying customers. What will change that situation? I don’t have an answer. Christy Clark and Mr. Horgan’s transition on this file has been seamless….


  3. This is from an NDP news release from Dec. 2017:

    “At the same time that BC Hydro was directed to accommodate this new supply of intermittent power, the previous government also instructed BC Hydro to decommission its Burrard Generating Station in Metro Vancouver to address growing concerns about local air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

    As BC Hydro lost needed electrical capacity to backstop its new intermittent power supply, it was forced to seek new capacity or “firm” power, the type traditionally provided by hydroelectric facilities like Site C.”

    So the BC Liberals ordered Burrard Thermal decommissioned, when it could have been used to back up $billions worth of intermittent IPP power.

    Supposedly the problem with Burrard Thermal is GHG emissions.

    So then they go ahead with Site C, at a cost of at least $10 billion to publicly-owned BC Hydro, so it can supply hydro power to oil and gas developments, so they can be called ‘green’.

    The oil and gas from those developments would then be exported and burned elsewhere, releasing huge amounts of GHG’s.

    Hydro rates and GHG emissions will both continue to skyrocket. 85 km of the Peace River would be flooded if Site C goes ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • good points Hugh, and the part that really gets me, is that for the foreseeable future the Burrard thermal plant would only have to run for a few hours each year,
      during the worst cold snaps in the Province.


  4. CONGRATS ON A VERY PERCEPTIVE ARTICLE. We must start to make developments in renewable energy, and stop the ridiculous spending by a Big Corporation that is tied into an old energy that is out of date, expensive and destructive.


    • Yes, there are efforts to advance Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU) and it is one of the technologies that may be useful. There are certain barriers so we cannot rely on it as the only approach to dealing with climate change.

      Unlike Canada, the European Union has made a commitment to a zero-carbon economy. They are doing more than making promises and funding fossil fuel expansion; they’re taking actions.


  5. The energy goal posts are changing rapidly — but I doubt any government would have the courage to put a stop to a project that has built up momentum.

    Successful court challenges, or massive strategically-placed landslides may be our only hope of this project being mothballed.

    On the other hand: an energetic, investigative news media could change the tide. Waiting…


  6. /ag, Barry, if you think there might be “an energetic, investigative news media” which “could change the tide” not going to happen unless the current media changes hands. Unfortunately we don’t have enough billionaires here who would like to own a “name” news papers, as we’re now seeing in the U.S.A. Billionaires there used to want to own a sports team, now its a newspaper.

    The media in Canada is corporate and it isn’t much interested in doing any work. We have the odd, Sam Cooper article, but that is it. They want to ensure they remain on the “good side” of the corporations so they can get the advertising money.

    The only investigative media left in Canada are bloggers and some small independent newspapers.


  7. the thing we keep hearing about is the jobs this dam, dam provides. Its a camp situations, so the jobs, are for people from all over. If they return to their communities, most would be absorbed into their local economies. If they are worried about how it would work out, jut give each of them a severance pay out, say $150K each, tax free.. It would be under half a billion, put a lot of money into the economy, allow people to pay off some of their mortgages, etc. We could abandon the site and get on with life.

    If the dam is built and there is every an earth quake which causes it to fail, wonder how many people would die and where would the water all go?

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Just finished re-reading “The Ancestor’s Tale” by Richard Dawkins. An applicable passage came to mind:

    “It seems odd to us, who die within minutes if deprived of oxygen, but as I’ve already explained, oxygen would have been a deadly poison to our earliest ancestors. Everything we know about other planets makes it almost certain that Earth’s original atmosphere lacked free oxygen. It accumulated later, as a polluting waste product of green bacteria, who at first swam free and were later incorporated into plant cells. At some point our ancestors evolved the ability to cope with oxygen, and then came to depend upon it.

    Incidentally, having said that oxygen is produced by green plants and algae, it is an oversimplification to leave it at that. It is true that plants give off oxygen. But when a plant dies, its decay, in chemical reactions equivalent to burning all its carbonaceous materials, would use up an amount of oxygen equal to all the oxygen released by that plant during its lifetime. There would therefore be no net gain in atmospheric oxygen, but for one thing. Not all dead plants decay completely. Some parts of them are laid down as coal (or equivalents), other parts are consumed and bits of the consumers themselves may become locked into rocks. The net effect is to store energy-rich compounds underground and leave some oxygen free to circulate. Releasing some of that stored energy by burning fossil fuels turns this oxygen back into carbon dioxide, taking us back towards the ancient status quo. Fortunately we are unlikely to return the atmosphere all the way to our suffering Canterbury. But we should not forget that the oxygen we breathe exists only because of compounds tied up underground, which include coal and oil. We burn them at our peril.”

    The message is clear. Using the energy created by today’s and tomorrow’s sun is in our best interest. Using energy derived from antiquity’s sun is perilous to our survival.

    Anyone sure which sun is depicted on BC’s flag?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Congratulations Norm! Its the same story I (and others) have been bleating about for five or so years. (Try Only now its gaining some credibility. Yes, shut the damn thing down. Now! Sure, we’ve put another couple of Billion into it since we first had the opportunity to mothball it, but it is still money worth stranding. Battery technology and renewables will outpace the need (such as EVs) Already I’ve been assured my solar array can be boosted to accommodate my Tesla/Prius or whatever. I just have to get Hydro’s approval to fend for myself! What a crock that is! Can you imagine where we’d be without voices such as yours speaking for common sense and credibility.

    Liked by 1 person

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