British Columbia's utility commission has a short time to examine a big issue. One of Premier John Horgan's first actions after assuming office in July was to initiate an inquiry into the fiscal viability of the Site C project in northeastern British Columbia. The project is already underway, with over 2,200 workers onsite.
As per the B.C. government's Order-in-Council No. 244 issued on Aug. 2, the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) will oversee a two-stage process to examine the impact on BC Hydro ratepayers if the project is continued, suspended or terminated.
"It's a tightly scoped request for a report," said BCUC CEO David Morton. "Is it on time and on budget, should it be cancelled, or paused? The latter two have implications, because energy would have to be sourced elsewhere."
Morton added Deloitte will be analyzing the three alternatives and the cost of using alternative energy portfolios.
"It's a different exercise than what we would normally do, which is approve or disapprove, since the project is already partially built," he stated.
Petrowest, one of the main contractors for the Site C project, recently went into receivership and may be removed from Peace River Hydro Partners, the international consortium currently building the civil-works portion of the dam.
"When the panel went on a site visit (in mid-August), that's when Petrowest happened," Morton said.
BCUC media relations manager Katherine Carlsen previously indicated to the Journal of Commerce that "Petrowest going into receivership is an issue for the panel to address in the Site C Inquiry, in so far as the issue relates to the government's terms of reference for the inquiry."
Attempts to contact Petrowest were not returned as of press deadline.
The BCUC will prepare a preliminary report for the government by Sept. 20.
The second stage of the process involves detailed examination of the BC Hydro submission as well as public consultation and comments. The commission will then review and analyze the data, with a final report for the government available on Nov. 1.
"It's a big project and the timeline is shorter than normal, but we're focused on ensuring we're getting the best quality evidence possible, in a transparent process," Morton explained.
Construction associations and other industry stakeholders are also invited to provide data and analysis pertinent to the review.
The submissions are publicly available on the BCUC website. To date the only associations to submit to the BCUC are the Allied Hydro Council of BC, the Clean Energy Association of B.C., the Peace Valley Landowner Association and the BC Sustainable Energy Association.
Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) president Chris Gardner spoke out before the provincial election on what he perceived as short-sightedness on the part of the NDP and Green party leaders.
"This stacks the deck against a project that isn't being built for today, but to help meet B.C.'s electricity needs for the next century, and to offer a clean energy alternative to fossil fuels," Gardner said in June.
The ICBA has also created the "#Get2Yes" campaign, an online portal where British Columbians can indicate their support for Site C and other major provincial projects.
The BC Building Trades has a different take on the review.
Executive director Tom Sigurdson said in early August the review was something that was skipped over when the Liberals were in power and were eager to get the project going.
"This is just another example of what the Liberals did to push a political agenda ahead of the process that's been in place for literally decades," said Sigurdson. "I don't see this as being at all out of step with past practice although it is unusual for a project that is underway."