I have followed BC Hydro closely for years. I’ve communicated with current and former BC Hydro officials and people involved in senior roles in other electrical utilities. Until the Horgan Government was firmly in place, I interacted with unelected and elected NDP members, including people now sitting at the Cabinet table, as well as local people in northeast BC who are knowledgeable about lands surrounding the Site C dam site.
I remain disturbed by the BC NDP’s reversal from long held opponents of Site C to cheerleaders willing to spend double or more than the estimate in place when BC Liberals proudly issued the project’s go-ahead.
Since British Columbia’s two major political parties share responsibility for this execrable waste of public funds, and because corporate media has been largely uninterested, the general public is woefully uninformed about BC’s largest ever publicly funded megaproject.
We can thank reader supported news sites The Narwhal, The Tyee, individual Peace River property owners and non-profit groups for trying to refute the flood of misinformation distributed by politicians and beneficiaries of the billions being spent to create expensive electricity to meet non-existent demand.
One writer with a deep understanding of issues affecting the lands of northeast BC is The Narwhal’s Sarah Cox. Her March 10 explainer is informative:
For seven months, there was silence.
Then, on Feb. 26, the B.C. government released a barrage of information about the Site C dam’s stability issues and dropped a financial bombshell.
The dam, announced in 2010 as a $6.6 billion project, will now cost $16 billion to complete.
That makes Site C the most expensive dam in Canadian history — and nowhere near the biggest. Not even close.
Misinformation and secrecy have become bywords at BC Hydro and at the Premier’s office and the provincial energy ministry. Because decision makers involved with Site C are determined to spread misinformation, they rely on secrecy to keep evidence out of the view of project critics and the BC Utilities Commission.
Even within the government’s limited releases of information, we see troubling evidence of deception. Ms. Cox noted this revelation from former deputy finance minister Peter Milburn:
BC Hydro tried to fire its independent oversight adviser, Ernst & Young, after the firm wrote a report “identifying many deficiencies” in BC Hydro’s systems and flagged the project’s growing risk.
BC NDP knew the contents of the Milburn report before the 2020 snap election. They kept it entirely secret from voters and pretended that all was well with the Peace River project. Talking points issued to NDP candidates stated that government had put enhanced oversight in place to ensure best practices were being followed at Site C.
Milburn’s report noted that besides BC Hydro’s attempted removal of independent oversight adviser E&Y, government’s own project assurance board was loaded with people actively involved in managing the project. Even people untrained in business will understand the phrase, “Due diligence requires independence.” If wrongdoers supervise themselves, the supervision is worthless.
It shows the determination of CEO Chris O’Riley and his irresponsible patron in the Premier’s chair. In the words sung by Freddie Mercury:
The show must go on
I’ll face it with a grin
I’m never giving in
On with the show…
The Premier said abandoning Site C would lead to immediate and massive electricity rate hikes. Sarah Cox provides evidence this is untrue.
BC Hydro has regularly carried billions in phantom regulatory assets it does not want to write off. Besides, Horgan could move Site C debt to the province. This is a project planned solely to meet political objectives of the province’s last three Premiers. Taxpayers, rather than ratepayers, should bear the load, just as we have for previous blunders by elected officials and senior bureaucrats.
NDP cannot argue that Site C is the most economic way to gain additional capacity. If the dam becomes operable for $16 billion, when operating and distribution costs are added, the electricity produced will be delivered for about 17 cents a kilowatt-hour. That is more than 4x the cost of wind power offered to Alberta in 2018.
Since dam proponents cannot dispute those numbers, they claim that BC needs dispatchable electricity. But almost 40% of electricity in Germany, a country sited at latitudes similar to those of British Columbia, came from wind and solar power in 2020. The laws of physics do not operate differently in Europe and that country does not have access to grid management technology unavailable in Canada.
Premier Horgan uses job creation as an important Site C justification. But the NDP’s own 2017 campaign material describing PowerBC skewers that and their other 2021 arguments.
Ms. Cox adds more:
[Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president Judith] Sayers pointed to the B.C. Indigenous Clean Energy Initiative, which she said has created 1,089 jobs over the past six years with approximately $3 million in annual federal and provincial funding. That work involves installing heat pumps, solar, geothermal and other climate-friendly projects in First Nations communities.
In the process, 418,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions have been prevented and almost $2 million has been saved in annual energy bills, Sayers said. “This is only one small fund.”
Keep in mind that 3.5% annual interest on $16 billion is $560 million.
Imagine what could be achieved if $16 billion were dedicated to province-wide energy efficiencies.
W.A.C. Bennett once said the NDP in B.C. couldn’t run a peanut stand.
John Horgan is proving W.A.C. was right.