Site C

Explanations for BC Gov’t wasting billions of dollars

Six days after turning 100 in 1987, my Scottish grandmother Bessie Mahood chose to leave. Not long before, she had compared her first trip from Scotland to Vancouver—two weeks of difficult travel—to her half-day flight as an octogenarian to the old country. Grandma was proud to have witnessed in her lifetime the greatest advances in technology ever known.

She lived twice as long as expected for women born in the late 19th century and saw unprecedented improvements in transportation, telecommunications, medicine and almost every aspect of human endeavour. Of course, every adult could say the same, because each generation builds on the knowledge of earlier times.

Twenty years ago, Ray Kurzweil wrote that most humans have little understanding about the rate of technological change happening around them, even though it was progressing exponentially. In The Law of Accelerating Returns, he argued:

We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress… There’s even exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth.

In the journal Nature, Declan Butler wrote:

Kurzweil and others have argued that people find this pace of change almost impossible to grasp, because it is human nature to perceive rates of progress as linear, not exponential… People tend to focus on the past few years, but pulling back reveals a much more dramatic change. Many things that society now takes for granted would have seemed like futuristic nonsense just a few decades ago.

Clearly, climate-change denying politicians and senior bureaucrats in British Columbia remain focused on the past, unwilling to appreciate that after serving the province well for 50 years, destructive old energy technologies are now outdated.

This week, a Massachusetts company announced a utility storage breakthrough that may change the energy industry for the foreseeable future:

Form Energy’s first commercial product is a rechargeable iron-air battery capable of delivering electricity for 100 hours at system costs competitive with conventional power plants and at less than 1/10th the cost of lithium-ion. Made from iron, one of the safest, cheapest, and most abundant minerals on Earth, this front-of-the-meter battery can be used continuously over a multi-day period and will enable a reliable, secure, and fully renewable electric grid year-round.

Ignorance of technology was just one element that allowed the Site C boondoggle to proceed.

Well after construction began, the original $8 billion design for Site C was determined to be unworkable on unstable Peace River lands. John Horgan’s government decided to double down. They increased the budget to $16 billion and crossed fingers, hoping engineering solutions would materialize and electricity would be generated eventually. The also pretended their UNDRIP promise didn’t apply if it involved Indigenous people who had populated northeast British Columbia for millennia.

Whether or not Site C was the best solution for consumers was not considered. As predicted by Kurzweil, the decision makers had little understanding about dramatic technological change occurring in energy. They assumed if hydropower dams made sense in the 20th century, they must be sensible in the 21st.

The cost of alternative power sources had been steadily declining for years and this trend was universally expected to continue. Site C proponents shouted that BC needed new electricity to be dispatchable and only hydropower was appropriate. The claim ignored successes other nations were having with integration of non-destructive renewables.

The shills for Site C have never bothered to explain how the European Union managed to generate 20% of electricity in 2020 using wind and solar power facilities. BC is limited to a relative trickle from those renewables.

Ignorance and Neo-Luddism were not the only factors at work in John Horgan’s cabinet.

A study(1) published in 2019 noted that continuing to invest in a failing plan is a common error of decision making. Academics examined the sunk-cost fallacy in great detail:

Economic theory implies that decision makers’ decisions should only be guided by future gains and losses, as prior costs do not affect the objective outcomes of current decisions. Hence, the normative correct decision in sunk-cost situations is to ignore past investments.

Taking into account past losses or investments is a decision strategy that has been dubbed the ‘Sunk-Cost fallacy’ or ‘Sunk-Cost effect’. It is considered a mistake or faulty strategy. In more neutral terms… the sunk-cost effect refers to the tendency “to continue an endeavor once an investment in money, effort, or time has been made”.

Researchers noted that anxious individuals might be more sensitive to pressures embedded within sunk-cost situations, and are therefore motivated to continue investing in a failing plan. Studies investigated the role of anticipated regret in committing the sunk-cost fallacy and revealed that commitment to the fallacy is stronger when the possibility of future regret about withdrawal of commitment is high.

The above provides a partial explanation as to why the 2017 NDP government proceeded with Site C. Holding two fewer seats than predecessor Liberals, anxiety in the Premier’s office was high. The NDP was frightened of being accused of wasting three billion dollars by abandoning dam construction. The fears were heightened by advice from interested parties who stood to gain abundant rewards from project continuation.

Favours were owed to interested parties. BC NDP revenue from business and union contributions provide evidence:

Source: Annual Reports filed by BC NDP with Elections BC

Individual contributors of small sums typically donate because they support the philosophical objectives of a political party. The motives of large corporate and union donors are more likely to involve naked self-interest. Promises get made; cheques get written. This has long been the way of Canadian politics.


(1) Dijkstra KA, Hong Y-y (2019) The feeling of throwing good money after bad: The role of affective reaction in the sunk-cost fallacy. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0209900

Categories: Site C

15 replies »

  1. Hello Norm;
    This blog is a huge marker in the ongoing Site C discussion. I hope it travels extensively because it deserves a very broad read in BC. Excellent.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I agree with Erik, on the value of your writings on Site C. If climate trends continue, dams will not be getting the predicted snow melt and rain water to meet demands. Other options are sitting right before our eyes.

    Regarding money in politics: I may be naive in my doubting that any union would have been giving to the BC Liberals in 2014/2015 — but if I’m correct, I’d imagine the great rise in NDP contributions in 2016-17 would have come from the business sector. No?

    I’m sure there are other ways of influencing a government… but hasn’t the legislation banned large corporate and union donations?

    Like

    • Barry, you are correct that unions were not throwing money at BC Liberals. In 2014 and 2015, they gave $30,879 and in the following two-year period it was $54,314.

      After your comment, I altered the chart to show the breakdown between business and union contributions to BC NDP.

      Yes, the BC NDP did live up to the promise to eliminate business and union contributions and that’s good. But they sure gathered cash from corporations in the last six months of 2017.

      It is difficult to assess how NDP’s current policies will affect contributions from supporters but this strikes me as interesting:

      In the year following 2013 election, average monthly contributions from individuals were $325,000.
      In the year following 2017 election, average monthly contributions from individuals were $378,000.
      In the first quarter in the year following the 2020 election, average monthly contributions from individuals were $80,000.

      Like

  3. This story is a good sampling of why the earth’s goodness is ending and has been pushed to a Point of No Return. Things are going to get worse. Much worse. This is because governments here and around the world, weather under democracies or dictatorships have squandered the time for their own interests.

    So many Politicians like here for example are cowardly and selfish politicizers of everything their grubby hands touch. Whatever these incompetent reckless asses are doing no, like the climate action accords as far back as Kyoto is not fixing anything and hasn’t, except to make themselves look grand to the people in their prospective countries. See, look at me, I’m such a great leader.

    Climate has gotten much worse, much faster as politicians play their political fiddles. Horgan, Trudeau Singh, O’Toole, destroyer Jason Kenny and most of the whole dam works are a bunch of fancy talking BSing political salesmen trying to sell the snake oil and elixirs to the people because that’s what cheats, liars and self serving people do. Theirs no prerequisite to have a moral compass in politics I guess.

    If Site C were to shut down, it wouldn’t even register on the meter now. When theirs a complete lack of leadership and spine on climate fixes, then no one follows. I even hear some media figures using the word new normal for wildfires and climate destruction and turning a blind eye to the chaos. It’s all about the economy you know. What a pack of enablers and morons. CKNW and Global has some real winners there. It’s hurts to listen.

    But I listen more for the interest of the crazy shit that some of them spew forth. Some sound afraid to buck the system. They turn a willful blind eye. Hey just like they said government did on money laundering. Kinda sorta. But they are sure not the only big media sources that enable the insanity of their own planets destruction. Media in general sure are part of the problem, more than the solution.

    We can change things and put some kind of brakes on the destruction in a big way without hurting anyone’s bottom lines. It’s called resetting and retooling. The world’s riches, like oh let me see now, oh yeah, the Horded corporate and billionaires money around the world could be all pooled and used. But hey they have too have their private islands and pleasures before they burn up too.

    The world is going get hotter and hotter and more inhospitable and uninhabitable and burn while all the Nero’s fiddle. Anyhow sorry to say it. Things are going too get worse. Much much worse.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Burrard thermal would of saved 16 billion dollars as it has similar capacity to generate and its free as it is already in Port Moody BC.

    fast ferry fiasco
    site C sunk cost excuse?

    Check lake mead and Hoover dam challenges.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. These new battery technology startups are bankrolled by Bill Gates of Microsoft and Jeff Bezos of Amazon. That’s not who I want to trust my energy future with. Anyone can confirm this fact by following the link to “a Massachusetts company” in this article.

    Like

    • There are countless electricity storage initiatives active today. Some operate on a shoestring, others are well financed. These are funded through a variety of sources, including:

      ● Kickstarter,
      ● Universities,
      ● Governments and public institutions,
      ● Corporations, and
      ● Private investors, including rich aristocrats.

      A February Forbes Magazine report headlined: Funding For Battery Technology Companies Exploded In 2020. It noted:

      ● Battery storage, smart grid and energy efficiency companies brought in $8.1 billion in corporate funding in 2020, compared to $3.8 billion in 2019.

      ● Corporate funding in battery storage was up 136% with $6.6 billion in 54 deals in 2020.

      ● Global VC [venture capital] funding for battery storage, smart grid and efficiency companies in 2020 was 12% higher with $2.6 billion, compared to $2.3 billion raised in 2019.

      Energy storage is the near-term bridge to clean-energy and the issue is so important to the world that we must hope great success is realized, no matter who finances it.

      Like

  6. Technology continues to advance exponentially, but it would benefit the public greatly if one aspect of the twentieth century could be reincarnated in the twenty-first. Investigative journalism. Or at the very least reporters and talk show hosts that can find their way to work without getting lost. I agree with “solost” above. Listening to the once-proud CKNW these days is like attending a master class on misapprehension. Gone are the days when the host or producer did the homework necessary to properly understand and interview. They don’t appear to even recognize a rock, let alone look under it.

    As for cheque writing and influence, a quick search of one corporate donor’s history might be illustrative. There are similar patterns with many others. Under Teck Resources and Teck Cominco, Teck Resources contributed $2,221,993 to the BC Liberals from 2005 to 2017. In the same period the contribution to the BCNDP was $104,380. But 97% of the amount given the NDP was handed over in just two batches. One weeks before the 2013 election ($60,000) when the NDP was expected to win, and one weeks before the 2017 election ($50,790) when the polls showed a close race. Clearly pay in anticipation of play.

    So the changes to contribution and lobbying rules were needed. But old habits and loyalties remain. If a reincarnated twentieth-century journalist should happen along, I would suggest a probing interview with the Premier’s Chief of Staff, just to determine where his influence and loyalties fit among the Site C rocks.

    Like

  7. I feel quite at ease calling many of our politicians and media meat heads big bags of dirty dirt. No, not the good clean dirt. Dirty dirt.

    Like

    • Quote: “I feel quite at ease calling many of our politicians and media meat heads big bags of dirty dirt.”

      No, they are useful idiots.

      Like

      • Yes, somewhat, to a degree, but I think their more of a hazard because of the spineless attitude from many. Some it seems are downright government and corporate cuddlers. Superficial glossovers of serious stuff that’s killing the planet and us. Too bad it’s all ass backwards at this time, where big corporate media all obeying pooches are running the show, and not the serious to heart and soul media and journalism and reputable blogspot operators and folks out there who go all in and fight the good fight regarding our survival on this floating rock we call earth.

        Like

  8. Good article. Politicians just don’t know enough about the future to spend $16B on a dam which might not be needed in the future. Having followed some of Germany’s renewable power programs, it doesn’t seem smart to spend $16B on something which could collapse.

    To avoid Site C all the government would have needed to do is change the building codes so that all new buildings had solar panels. Today I came out of a parking lot and there is this old house across from the exit. Its old. Thought some develop would buy it, tear it down and build a new house. Nope, today I noticed it has a new solar panel roof. That house has to be from the 1940s.

    With all these wild fires on of these days those transmission lines are going to burn and then its going to be a not so fun time in Metro Vancouver. The dam dams are a waste of money. We had enough of them already.

    Thanks for your work on this subject. Its not like I want the B.C. Lieberals back in office, but I do want Horgan to put a stop to the dam.

    Like

  9. I read recently that the State of California had purchased a dozen or so fire fighting helicopters at $15 million a pop. I did the math, and BC could have bought 660, yes, six hundred and sixty, of these monsters for the ANTICIPATED COST of Site C. Not that we could ever accommodate that many!
    But even half (325) would have left $8 Billion for other mundane expenses such as Health Care, education, feeding the homeless……
    And that’s BEFORE the next anticipated Site C hike!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It’s always interesting to hear all the desrvered and justified complaining and slamming the NDPs transparency cover ups, lies about going green, Site C and on and on, and waste of taxpayers money on so many wrong things like their twin the BC Liberals did. But it really is something else when such a tiny number of people don’t give the Green Party of BC a chance but just lay waste to the NDP. Wonder how many people go for the NDP still whilst still just slamming them. I wonder why such tiny votes for Greens. I can only vote for them knowing I bash the Horgan swamp dweller and liar and purveyor of the status qou of malfeasance lies and hypocrisy. Very very interesting. Very.

    Like

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