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To C, or not to Site-C?

To C, or not to Site-C? That is, indeed, the question.

To BC Hydro, it's a useful and reliable source of renewable energy that can be used to balance intermittent energy from wind and run-of-river projects.

To those who live in the Peace, and who love the land, it’s the forever flooding of 5,000 hectares of history, culture, forest, farmland and habitat for wildlife.

In mid-May, the BCSEA hosted a cross-province webinar on the proposed Site C Clean Energy Project. This is one of many activities which, thanks to the support of our members and donors, we offer on a regular basis. The webinar presentations, by Ken Forest of the Peace Valley Environmental Association, and BCSEA's Tom Hackney and Guy Dauncey are on our website.

The reasons for building it are clear. In a world where fossil-fueled electricity made by burning coal threatens our very future by causing global warming, the more green energy we can produce the better, whether it is used in BC or sold for export. The fact that it is firm power that can also be used to shape intermittent energy is big plus.

But in a warming world in which food will be a scarce and precious commodity, and of which Steven Chu, US Energy Secretary, has warned that there may be no food coming out of California by 2050 due to the melting Sierra Nevada snow, planning for self-sufficiency in food is just as important as planning for self-sufficiency in energy.

The webinar offered some rough back-of-the-envelope calculations about other ways of investing $6.6 billion to generate energy

 

Cost per MW

(million)

MW

Capacity factor

GWh/year

Site C Dam

$7.3

900

58%

4,600

Wind

$3

2,200

35%

6,800

Geothermal

$4

1,650

75%

10,800

Efficiency

$0.75

9,400

25%

20,586

Analysis of this kind is fraught with complexities, however, and there are many other factors that need to be considered when making a decision of this magnitude:

  • What are the dispatchability and shaping costs of wind, compared to Site C?
  • What might Site C ultimately cost, in 2020?
  • How much grid expansion would 2,200 MW of wind require, and at what cost?
  • Is there scope for an extra 20,000 GWh of efficiency, on top of the 10,900 GWh that BC Hydro is already planning for 2020?
  • Does BC have the potential for 1,650 MW of geothermal?
  • What are the First Nations views of the alternatives?
  • What are the environmental impacts of the alternatives?
  • And finally - who should undertake this kind of detailed assessment? The Environmental Assessment process that Site C will now enter does not consider alternatives, and the proposed Clean Energy Act would remove Site C from scrutiny by the BC Utilities Commission, handing it directly to the Cabinet.

Would Cabinet take the time for such an analysis? One doubts it. This is the very kind of work the BCUC is good at, allowing alternative viewpoints to be presented and cross-examined.

To see or not to see the evidence for alternatives - that is the real question the province should be considering, instead of signing the deal and saying “full flood ahead”.

- Guy Dauncey
President, BCSEA