BC Hydro sought environmental approval for construction of Site C in 2011. In that year, global wind power capacity was 238 gigawatts. While construction of BC’s controversial hydropower project dragged on, worldwide capacity for wind power reached 837 GW in 2021.
If Site C suffers no further delays in its scheduled 2025 startup, global wind capacity according to GWEC will then exceed 1.3 terawatts, more than five times the level in 2011.
British Columbia’s energy “experts” refused to acknowledge there were less harmful alternatives to a power project that had been on their radar for decades. Inertia is a powerful force, particularly when it facilitates lucrative employment.
Elsewhere, wind power facilities that might take 2 years from feasibility studies to installation and commissioning were becoming commonplace.
Given the urgent need for low-carbon energy, the move to wind power is not surprising. Analysis by USA’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that “societal value of wind is far in excess of costs.”
Berkeley Lab reported installed cost of wind turbines in 2021 averaged around $800,000 per MW. If Site C meets its current budget, the per MW capital cost would be almost $15 million. That huge number is likely to grow given current inflation, rising interest rates and costly settlements now owed Indigenous groups affected by industrialization of traditional lands.
Berkeley Lab reports:
The average levelized cost of wind energy is down to $33/MWh. Levelized costs vary across time and geography, but the national average stood at $33/MWh in 2020—down substantially historically, though consistent with the previous two years. (Cost estimates do not count the effect of federal tax incentives for wind.)
When the Site C budget was $10.7 billion, C.D.Howe Institute calculated its levelized cost of energy would be $101/MWh. With the project’s capital budget now $16 billion and likely rising, LCOE will be far greater, even more than the highest retail price BC Hydro charges residential consumers and 2x to 3x the price charged fossil fuel producers.
Although 98.5% of BC Hydro generating capacity is hydroelectric, individuals and interest groups that stood to gain financially from Site C mounted a public campaign. They aimed to convince citizens that wind and solar power could not meet the province’s future energy needs since output was not dispatchable, able to be turned on or off instantly.
Yet other jurisdictions are increasingly able to utilize these less harmful power sources. Global Electricity Review reports that wind and solar provided 10 percent of the global supply of electricity in 2021. The percentage is even higher in USA.
In its comprehensive review of hydro projects then underway in British Columbia and Manitoba, C.D. Howe Institute urged the governments to re-examine:
…the economics of these projects and consider cancelling projects which have more cost effective alternatives. To avoid uneconomic projects in the future, the report also recommends strengthening institutional independence – in particular, by ensuring independent regulatory review for mega-projects…
The C.D. Howe review explained how the sunk-cost fallacy hindered cancellation even when better and lower cost alternatives were available:
Policymakers often justify proceeding with uneconomic projects due to the significant amount of money that has already been spent. However, the decision whether to proceed with a project should be determined by the yet-to-be-spent costs, instead of costs already spent. Factoring sunk costs into decision making results in a phenomenon known as the “sunk-cost fallacy.
Another factor was involved. As John Horgan explained to Ken Boon, the NDP did not want to give the appearance of being opposed to major projects. The C.D. Howe report added:
Politics make the decision to cancel (or defer) a project even more difficult as some politicians perceive project terminations as an admission of failure. Alongside the funds spent, politicians invest their reputation and electability… However, careful economic analysis suggests that BC ratepayers may, in fact, end up paying more by the project continuing than they would if they simply paid off the debt already incurred and pursued an alternative path.
In proceeding with Site C, political and business interests took advantage of citizens of British Columbia. They were aided by corporate media not interested in protecting the public interest. Paul H. Weaver, a former political scientist at Harvard University, proposed that media and government had become “so ensnared in a symbiotic web of lies that the news media are unable to tell the public what is true and the government is unable to govern effectively.”
Most long-time pundits in the Press Gallery refused to fully examine and report on Site C’s foundation of lies and misinformation. Joking about the unstable ground beneath Site C, Vaughn Palmer recently told a CKNW audience, “I am going to go to the official opening, but I am going to stand upstream.”
Considering that Palmer referred to writers like the one you’re reading as “nincompoops ranting in their underpants,” I should be angered by the attempt at humour. Instead, I see it as an admission of Palmer’s failure to report accurately on the boondoggle unfolding 900 kilometres from where he lives. With perhaps a single exception, Palmer’s longtime Press Gallery colleagues were similarly uninterested in reporting fully on an unnecessary megaproject.
Categories: Site C