The new BC NDP provincial government has sent BC Hydro’s controversial Site C hydroelectric dam project to a review.
In a release, BC Hydro says the project was initiated by the BC Liberals during their term without the independent regulatory oversight of the BC Utilities Commission.
“Our government is delivering on our commitment to British Columbians by ordering an independent review of Site C to ensure we can keep hydro rates affordable,” said Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Minister Michelle Mungall.
“The previous government refused to allow our independent energy watchdog to examine the project to determine if it was in the public interest,” said Mungall. “That was wrong. We’re sending this project to the BCUC to ensure we make the right decision for B.C. families.”
It remains to be seen whether the project will be put on hold or cancelled entirely. The $8.8-billion project is already about 25% complete, with $1.75 billion already spent and $4 billion committed in contracts. The project is currently scheduled for a 2024 completion.
BCUC has been asked to evaluate the progress and budget of the project and recommend whether it should go ahead, be suspended with the option to resume construction until 2024, or be cancelled entirely. If it is cancelled, BC Hydro could be asked to remediate the construction site and proceed with other resource portfolios that provide similar level benefits at the same or lower cost as Site C.
Opposition parties react
The decision was supported by BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver, who called the project “reckless” as costs by some estimates could reach $12 billion.
“I’m glad that the BC NDP have laid out a process that will ensure that Site C finally receives an independent review,” said Weaver. “The BC Liberals should have sent this project for review from the get-go to determine whether it was in the interests of British Columbians.”
But the BC Liberals countered that assertion, saying Site C is one of the most reviewed projects in the history over the province.
Mike Bernier, the BC Liberal MLA for Peace River South, said: “Is this fake review being done in the best interest of the British Columbia taxpayer or is this simply another way of appeasing Andrew Weaver to prop up their partisan alliance? It is clear this review is designed to meet the NDP’s political needs and not the province’s electricity needs.”
BC Liberals opposition leader Rich Coleman added that without Site C, the province could experience an 8% capacity deficit, a 2% energy deficit within 10 year, and forfeit 2,600 construction jobs. Demand for electricity in BC is expected to increase by 40% over the next two decades.
The BCUC will create a preliminary report by September 20 and a final report by November 1.
The decision to establish a review follows the NDP’s firing of BC Hydro president and CEO Jessica McDonald last month and the electric utility’s announcement this week of a $1.2-billion purchase to acquire the remaining shares in the Waneta Dam and generating station in Trail.