A report determining the fate of the proposed $7.9 billion Site C dam project has come back inconclusive, neither suggesting approval of the project nor suggesting tis rejection.
The dam’s construction — which would occur on the Peace River in northern BC — would begin in 2015, but has been under discussion because of the accompanying environmental, economic, social, health and First Nations concerns.
In the report, the joint review board acknowledges that the dam “would provide a large and long-term increment of firm energy and capacity at a price that would benefit future generations” while producing “a vastly smaller burden of greenhouse gases than any alternative, save nuclear power, which BC has prohibited.” It also notes possible local economic benefits such as jobs created.
However, it also points out that in addition to concerns about “high initial costs” and a question of when the power will be needed, the project would cause damage to local ecosystems.
“[It] would significantly affect the current use of land and resources for traditional purposes by Aboriginal peoples.” It would also affect local farmers, “who would bear the loss” of “agriculture on the Peace Valley bottom lands,” though it would not significantly impact BC agriculture.
For SFU political sciences professor and former BC Hydro board member Marjorie Griffin Cohen, the report is problematic in that there was not enough analysis into alternate possibilities, such as geothermal energy. She states that the lack of costings done for alternative energy sources makes it hard to determine whether the Site C dam is the best possibility, and makes it difficult to give the project a definite yes or no.
The panel does not believe that BC Hydro has adequately proven the need for more power.
“There is nothing to compare it to,” Cohen commented, while also blaming what the report calls “policy constraints that the BC government has imposed on BC Hydro [that] have made some other alternatives unavailable.”
Along with geothermal energy, plans for several smaller dams instead of one large dam were proposed, but declined. The report claims that these would be of “similar or somewhat higher costs” than the Site C dam project.
Cohen also notes the government has reduced the role of the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC), with this project having been exempted from their oversight. “Removing BCUC’s oversight of efficacy of electricity policy [. . .] means that a true airing of alternatives simply does not occur,” Cohen told the Vancouver Sun.
BC Hydro plans for construction to start in 2015 with it ending in 2024. Though Site C would be the least expensive viable energy option, the panel does not believe that BC Hydro has adequately proven the need for more power in such a brief period of time.
Many First Nations are also concerned with the project’s potential effects on their lifestyle. However, Treaty 8 Tribal Chief Liz Logan, whose tribe boycotted the official announcement ceremony in 2010, was pleased with the report, telling the Times Colonist that, “It’s not necessarily a clear yes or a clear no, but we’re happy that they did say there were significant impacts to our way of life.”
Environmentalist groups, such as the Wilderness Committee, have stated their concerns for the affected area, most notably the agricultural land that will be lost. They also doubt the need for the dam, claiming on their website that “it is about exporting electricity [. . .] and expanding BC’s oil and gas and mining industries” rather than a legitimate need for electricity.
However, some environmentalists find the lack of a carbon footprint hard to resist. “Site C is a fantastic conundrum. Even someone like me, [who is] pretty environmentally oriented, is not entirely sure you should not build that dam,” SFU professor and former chair of the BCUC, Mark Jaccard told The Globe and Mail.
Although the report was indecisive, it was not intended to be the final word. The report states, “The decision on whether the Project proceeds is made by elected officials, not by the Panel,” and as such it is up to the government to decide the fate of the project.