Sometimes, scientific knowledge is so new that professionals in affected fields are unaware and cannot use the new information when they consider best practices. Other times, facts are known but inconvenient and therefore ignored.
The latter seems to be the case when decision makers at government and BC Hydro chose to proceed with Site C. It was a project conceived decades before and some BC Hydro staff had spent much of their careers working on the dam. For managers, a megaproject was attractive for the rewards provided.
Empire building is a pursuit to enlarge the size, scope, and influence of an individual or an organizational unit. Megaprojects spread billions of dollars across the world and that often involves extensive travel, stays at fancy hotels and participation in extravagant dinners.
A 1993 paper published by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences determined from Canadian data that hydroelectric reservoirs are not benign. The scientists who authored the paper concluded:
In addition to the known mercury contamination of fisheries caused by hydroelectric developments, we hypothesize that development of hydroelectric reservoirs may increase the flux of methane and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. In some cases this increase, per unit of energy produced, may be significant compared to greenhouse gas emitted by fossil- fuelled electricity generation.
Greenhouse gas releases result from biomass decomposition and are positively related to the area flooded. BC Hydro says the Site C reservoir will extend 83 kilometres.
However, science did not matter. Premiers Campbell, Clark, and Horgan were determined to show their pro-development credentials. Sure, there were alternatives that were far less destructive and less expensive, but small projects don’t offer the same photo opportunities and naming privileges.
As always, political considerations were more important than common sense decision making. So the Peace River project proceeded and was renamed The Site C Clean Energy Project.
Categories: Site C