Every young person is taught that willingness to fail is empowering and roads to success are built atop failures. Such precepts are generally true but it is also accurate to say death-dealing disasters are usually reckless failures from which nothing good comes.
Italian engineers were incautious when they chose to build a dam where the slopes of Monte Toc were unstable. Two thousand people died in the disaster that followed.
The slopes of Mount Toc, 100 km north of Venice, were not solid rock. Small landslides were routine. During construction of the Vajont Dam, independent experts and local citizens warned about landslides and fractures but were ignored by the utility company and the Italian government.
Site C will not rest on solid rock. Small landslides are routine in the Peace River valley. Unstable lands have already caused unexpected design revisions and an extended scope of work and serious budgetary effects.
Even though cost of power generated by wind and solar and costs of energy storage have been dropping steadily for years, BC Hydro committed to a new dam on the Peace River because it has been in their plans for decades. Old style utilities are like supertankers; they don’t change course easily.
According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Energy, with prices averaging below 2 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for newly built projects, wind is competitive with all other generation sources. Europe has proven that wind power can be integrated into national grids without material disruption.
We can live with Site C not being the least cost route to acquiring new electrical capacity. Even if it were abandoned tomorrow, BC Hydro would take a smaller hit that the one imposed by Campbell Liberals when they opened the utility’s vault to private power producers.
But Site C will affect the lives and livelihoods of many area residents in other ways. By John Horgan’s words, it offends constitutionally protected rights of indigenous people, something that may cost a billion dollars in damages.
Wasting $12 billion on a dam that may never produce electricity would only cost each BC resident $2,500. The cost would be far higher, in money and lives, if we experience catastrophic failure as did the people of northeast Italy.
Every member of the BC Legislature ought to watch this video:
Expecting A Disaster: The 1963 Landslide of the Vajont Dam, Forbes Magazine:
Filling of the reservoir began in February 1960… Soon afterward, first fissures were noted on the slopes of Mount Toc and November 4, with the lake 180 meters deep, a landslide with 700.000 cubic meters occurred.
Alarmed, technicians decided to slightly reduce the rate the reservoir was filled. …By mid-July, the depth was 240 meters, another slight increase in movements was noted. In early September the depth of the lake was 245 meters and the movements had accelerated until 3.5 centimeters per day.
…the slope continued to move, reaching more than 20 centimeters per day, enough to open large fissures along the slopes of Mt. Toc.
October 9, 1963, the entire slope of Mt. Toc collapsed. …The wave generated by the impact of the landslide traveled 140 meters up on the opposite shore, reaching some buildings of the village of Erto. …The landslide pushed part of the water out of the lake, producing a wave with a maximal height of 230-240 meters.
A 100 to 150 meters high wave rushed into the gorge of the Vajont, in direction of the larger and inhabited Piave valley. There the wave destroyed the villages of Longarone, Pirago, Villanova, Rivalta and Fae, and in less than 15 minutes more than 2,000 people were killed.