BC Hydro boosts plans to build controversial Site C dam
Two senior managers have been assigned to prepare the Peace River project for final approval, a memo shows
BC Hydro is accelerating plans for a controversial $3.5-billion power project that would require flooding a vast area of the Peace River Valley and is assigning two senior managers to prepare the Site C dam project for final approval.
A Sept. 7 internal Hydro memo says the two have been appointed to set the direction for public and first nations consultation, regulatory approvals and communications -- prompting several Site C critics to suggest that Hydro has decided the project will proceed.
The project, to be built near Fort St. John, is supported by Energy Minister Richard Neufeld but has been opposed by area residents and environmentalists since it was first proposed in the mid-1970s.
Potentially B.C.'s fourth-largest hydroelectric facility, it has been rejected in the past as too costly and because of adverse environmental impacts.
At a rough cost of $3.5 billion, not including potential compensation to first nations and the impact of escalating construction costs across North America, it would be one of the most expensive infrastructure projects ever undertaken in B.C.
The dam would join two others already in service on the Peace including the WAC Bennett Dam and Peace Canyon, and would flood an additional area of the Peace Valley 15 times as large as Stanley Park.
It would be a 900-megawatt facility generating enough electricity to serve 500,000 households -- although that's still less power than British Columbia imports each year to serve the province's domestic needs.
The Hydro memo announces that Steve Eckert, acting manager for power acquisitions, has been promoted to acting general manager for Site C. Hydro staffer Al Boldt, who has experience in large project design and construction, has been appointed manager of public and regulator affairs for Site C.
"Steve will provide leadership to take the project through to the approval stage," the memo says.
Hydro spokeswoman Elisha Moreno said Wednesday that despite the appointments, the Site C project won't proceed until -- and unless -- it receives approval from the Hydro board and provincial cabinet.
"We don't want people to think this is a done deal by any account," Moreno said.
"I think it means they are trying to keep the project going. They will probably hold off formal approval until they are so far down the line that it only makes sense to complete it. I don't think Hydro is being very transparent, and it's prejudicial to wind power proponents," said Taylor.
Ruth Ann Darnall, chairwoman of the Peace Valley Association, said it now appears Hydro intends to proceed with the project.
"I don't understand why Hydro is doing all this if they're not sure cabinet will tell them to go ahead," Darnall said. "I think it would be nice if folks down south could generate their own power."
Brian Churchill, an environmental consultant in Fort St. John, said Hydro appears to be following Neufeld's leadership on Site C.
"I'm really concerned that at this point in time the cost estimates of Site C, are very unclear as to whether this project is in the province's best interests or not. We're missing properly-done cost estimates for building Site C, transmission lines for Site C, and for the environmental and social impacts of Site C," Churchill said.
"I personally don't think the public will support Site C. The Peace River Valley has paid its price in supporting the energy needs of the province . . . in the two existing Hydro dams."
Hydro critic David Austin, who represents independent power producers in B.C., called on Hydro to produce a comprehensive assessment of Site C's costs before taking other steps towards development of the project.
He's not opposed to Site C in principle, but said Hydro is "getting too far ahead of themselves without the release of the basic financial model."
Austin has made formal requests for Site C cost details, in Hydro hearings before the B.C. Utilities Commission, but said he is still waiting for a satisfactory response.
"The project has been around a very long time and the creation and release of a properly functioning financial model should be a very simple exercise," Austin said.
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Source: Vancouver Sun