On May 29, Rich Coleman, minister of energy and mines, issued an opinion-editorial about the Site C dam on the Peace River.
He lauded the project as a secure source of clean, green and cost-effective power for British Columbians for the next 100 years.
Coleman, like his predecessors and former Premier Campbell, says that Site C is necessary because provincial power needs will go up by 40 per cent in the next 20 years to satisfy the need of one million new residents.
He presents no facts and figures and mentions the need for conservation only in passing.
The government spin on Site C has always been that households, businesses and industrial operations should have clean and green power and hydropower is the favourite.
Site C would be the third power plant on the Peace River and its output would be enough to supply 450,000 homes for more than 100 years.
The construction of a dam at Site C has always met with opposition. First Nations people, farmers and environmentalists have made it clear that they don’t want the valley flooded – each group will be severely impacted.
First Nations people will lose hunting and gathering territory; farmers will lose an estimated 5,840 hectares of Class 1 agricultural land; environmentalists are concerned about the loss of habitat and the unstable nature of the river banks
The valley behind the dam would be flooded for some 85 kilometres and the new lake would change local weather patterns.
Williston Lake has affected the climate for four decades. Farmers haven’t been able to grow two crops per year as they did before the lake was created because fogs from Williston Lake drifts down the valley in the fall.
The costs of building the Site C dam will be huge. They have ballooned over the past few years from an estimated $5 billion to $8 billion and taxpayers could be paying billions more by the time of completion. They have already paid for the farmland in the valley that was purchased by BC Hydro in the 1970s.
BC Hydro says a Site C power plant will be the beginning of a renewal of the province’s electrical system. The corporation claims that the power is needed to supply homeowners, but there is never mention of the demands for electricity from the gas companies in Northeastern B.C. and the mines in the northwest corner, where a new power line is now under construction.
John Horgan, NDP energy critic, does not support the Site C project.
During his leadership run he said, “The scenic beauty of the Peace River Valley is only part of what makes this valley so special. It is one of the only unprotected valleys in the proposed Yellowstone to Yukon conservation area and a critical migratory corridor for grizzly bears, moose, elk, and a plethora of other wildlife. The waters of the Peace are home to threatened bull trout and the valley’s trees host a large number of owls and other raptors.”
In contrast, Coleman says, “I believe the Site C Clean Energy Project will be a legacy for all British Columbians and will help keep electricity rates affordable for generations to come. I am proud to support it.”
In spite of Coleman’s comments on the project, the Site C dam should never be built. However, the odds of that happening are not good, given the approach of the present, provincial government. The project is exempt from a review by the BC Utilities Commission and the environmental review process is questionable at best.
The Bennett Dam and BC Hydro were W.A.C. Bennett’s legacy. Can Coleman top that with Site C? He would love to be remembered for pulling such a significant project.
–Roy Ronaghan is a columnist for the Grand Forks Gazette