BC Hydro

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead

It is easy to understand why Premier Horgan decided the entire Milburn report would be kept secret and reliable experts who had already worked for BC Hydro would be recalled for a quick review that paid scant attention to problems noted by Peter Milburn.

Vaughn Palmer suggested the Site C Project Assurance Board was designed to be ineffective. On that score, the BC Government was a total success.

In 2017, when John Horgan spoke of his government’s dedication to completing Site C, engineers had long been aware of serious geotechnical obstacles. The Premier announced “enhanced oversight” of the floundering project and said BC Hydro had retained multi-national consultants Ernst and Young (EY) to help oversee the budget, timelines, and risk assessments.

The Premier also promised that BC Hydro water rentals would fund a program to assist new entrants to agriculture. That was to quiet critics who deplored destruction of “extraordinary” farmland in the Peace River valley and harm done to families who had worked that land for decades. Of course, like the pledge of enhanced Site C oversight, that was a promise quickly forgotten.

In 2017, as he continues to do in 2021, Horgan blamed his Liberal predecessors, saying:

Megaproject mismanagement by the old government has left B.C. in a terrible situation. But we cannot punish British Columbians for those mistakes, and we can’t change the past. We can only make the best decision for the future.

The new Premier’s 2017 decision was a misjudgement of epic proportions. His NDP Government could have walked away from Site C and written off $2 billion, about half of their suspect and unsupported estimate. Instead, they added $2 billion to the $8.7 billion budget. Today, BC Hydro is on its way to spending $16 billion to $20 billion with no certainty the project can be safely completed.

Quite a change from a 1981 Globe and Mail report about BC Hydro’s application to build the $1.95 billion Site C power project on the Peace River.

But the Premier’s 2017 promise of enhanced oversight was not the first assurance offered project skeptics. Highly paid and familiar civil servants had previously worked on a reporting and accountability framework.

Journalist Sarah Cox inquired why government had not reinstated the oversight role of the B.C. Utilities Commission and The Narwhal later asked who was serving on Horgan’s “enhanced project assurance board.” The energy ministry replied members would be “highly-qualified, independent external advisors” but declined to name them.

After examining court documents, Ms. Cox found fault with government’s assertion that oversight was autonomous. She reported:

“Independent” is far from the word that should be ascribed to the new board, which primarily consists of members of BC Hydro’s board of directors. The board’s terms of reference, released in court documents, state it will have “up to two” independent advisors.

One of those advisors is energy consultant Lorne Sivertson, …author of a pro-Site C report for B.C.’s construction trade unions that was used last fall to discredit an independent report by the watchdog B.C. Utilities Commission.

The BCUC report found the Site C project could cost more than $12.5 billion while other renewable energy sources could provide the same amount of power for $8.8 billion or less.

Sivertson’s report was released at a Vancouver press conference, prior to a second pro-Site C press conference in Victoria also organized by construction trade unions.

The Narwhal went on to report on government members assigned to the project assurance board. ADM Les MacLaren had been integrally involved with selling Site C to the public. Lori Wannamaker, previously a high official in Christy Clark’s government and now John Horgan’s Deputy Minister, was also on the board. She had worked with former Energy Minister Dave Nikolejsin to disparage BCUC reservations about the Site C project.

Sarah Cox noted that six BC Hydro directors sat on the assurance board, including John Nunn. Site C critic Lindsay Brown had asked about the man Vaughn Palmer wrote was “previously responsible for a substantial portion of the engineering work on Site C.”

Another BC Hydro director on the project assurance board was civil engineer John Ritchie, who had been employed by a company working on Site C. The board was headed by BC Hydro’s top official, Chair Ken Peterson.

When the project assurance board was populated by insiders and avid Site C cheerleaders, inevitably, it would fail to protect the public interest. Everyone involved knew that but were satisfied with the status quo.

The main responsibility for massive waste and destruction in northeast BC lies not with self-interested enablers and not to the previous government; it belongs to the man who four years ago needed money to wage an election campaign. To get it, he made promises to a group of trade union leaders.

Continuation of Site C was one result continue.

An In-Sights reader provided comments to me that echo what I have heard from other professionals. They are worth sharing:

As a soil scientist, vegetation ecologist and photographer who has worked and traveled in the Peace River Valley between Hudson Hope and Fort St. John, I’m “fit to be tied” by this corrupt, unjustifiable project, which spits in the face of FN Treaty 8 rights…

Also, like others have commented, I firmly believe this dam will never hold water where it’s located.

Why? Because of the deep deposits of highly unstable, fine-textured substrate. The “bedrock” Shaftbury Shale turns to muck when exposed to water… The entire landscape to considerable depth was deposited within Glacial Lake Peace. There’s a high percentage of silt in the fine-textured deposits of this once massive glacial lake.

Silt is the best conductor of water (vs. sand or clay). As the water penetrates, the fine-textured materials collapse and slump like pudding

—Alex Inselberg, M.Sc. Soil Science, UBC (Ret. consultant with 35 years of field experience in BC)—

Categories: BC Hydro, Horgan, John, Site C

11 replies »

  1. Premier Horgan, Photo-Op the second, is doing his best to bury the provincial NDP for good.

    The NDP, day by day will taste more and more foul by the taxpayer, and as the Clark government before, will lead the NDP into not 19 years in the political wilderness but end the provincial NDP for good.

    They have become irrelevant; a collection of self centered, self serving talking mouth who are trying to rule by news release.

    Site C’s epitaph will be “$16 billion was not enough”. The NDP’s epitaph will be more like We didn’t give a f***; we will never give a F***, F*** the taxpayer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would like to add, this project will suck funds from schools, hospitals, transit improvement projects and for those on the Island, the E&N.

      Horgan is either utterly stupid or he is a Liberal plant to destroy the NDP.

      If I was a member of the NDP, I would want him gone and fast. Who is not afraid to “bell” Horgan?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There can be little doubt that the Project Assurance Board was intentionally crafted to give the public false assurance of probity whilst in reality the only assurance was project continuance at any cost or risk.

    The Milburn report confirms that the board wasn’t an accidental paper tiger; it was a deliberate Trojan horse. And that horse bore the brand of J. J. Horgan Ranch. As Minister Ralston said, the report was very helpful.

    So Mr. Horgan went shopping for a 42nd opinion to use as the elusive cover he needed and which cover Mr. Milburn failed to provide. Horgan didn’t come up with the king-sized duvet of a yes, but was happy enough to achieve a twin-sized comforter of a maybe. We know that because he surely would have told us about the yes in upper case script, and a no would have had even him stripping the bed.

    $16-20 billion of public funds and John Horgan’s reputation riding on a maybe. Prudent he ain’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. 22 billion is my guess that site c will cost if they can ever get around the geotechnical issues-the entire area is gravel-silt -shale for 125 ft down and the shale is 900 ft down-this is like trying to get a sandbox to hold water—it is impossible-but throw more money at it and all the issues will magically dissapear-there are hundreds of people working at site c that know of the crooked corrupt problems there and know one will say a word which makes them all guilty of covering up this disaster and in the end no one will be held crimminally accountable for spending billions of bc ratepayer dollars and destroying the peace river valley and its wildlife habitat all for crooked corrupt political and corporate greed—mark meiers-charlie lk bc

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been reading the ‘Geotechnical Safety Overview Report’ which is linked both on BC Hydro’s site and at the foot of the Ministry’s website press release. The report is an amalgam of Hydro’s own ‘solutions’ for the geotechnical issues appended by comments from the two (undoubted) experts Hydro chose to provide professional backup.

    The most interesting thing I’ve been able to draw from a close reading of that material is the fairly obvious conclusion that much of what the HYDRO technical approach to addressing site instability comprises is a set of ‘contingent’ solutions.

    In my view, the most relevant part of Hydro’s submission – in that vein – is the qualifying statement at the end of the ‘experts’ review:

    The Panel functioned as independent reviewers of the methodologies used by the Project Team for analysis and design of the proposed enhancements, based on information provided by the Project Team. Given the large amount of work being completed by the Project Team and the associated documentation, it was not possible for the Panel to perform a detailed review of all of the material in the available time. In particular, the Panel has not performed detailed checks of calculations and designs completed by the Project Team. Such detailed checks are provided by the quality control/quality assurance programs for the project. The Panel provides its opinions concerning the methods and approaches being used based on information provided by the Project Team. However, the ultimate decisions and responsibilities for the designs remains with the BC Hydro.

    Our review services were performed within the limits prescribed by BC Hydro in a manner consistent with the level of care and skill normally exercised in the current standard of professional engineering practice. No other representation to BC Hydro, expressed or implied, and no warranty or guarantee is included or intended.

    Much like the auditor’s certification on any set of financial statements, the quality of the review and the audit is largely the result of the quality and completeness of the material presented for review.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Since Site C is going ahead, as announced by the our fine example of a bottom feeding swamp dwelling Premier, there’s nothing more that I personally can find to say on the subject, except that mother nature will be the deciding factor in the end.


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