B.C.’s new government is reviewing the financial impacts of scrapping or continuing the Site C Dam project.
Government officials announced they have asked the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) to begin reviewing the project, which was a campaign promise made by Premier John Horgan.
"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 in a statement. "The previous government refused to allow our independent energy watchdog to examine the project to determine if it was in the public interest. That was wrong. We're sending this project to the BCUC to ensure we make the right decision for B.C. families."
Construction on the $8.8-billion Site C project near Fort St. John was started under the Christy Clark government in 2015 without the independent regulatory oversight of the BCUC, states a government release.
The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of British Columbia (ICBA) blasted the review in a statement, citing the numerous hurdles the project has already had to go through.
"Site C has already spent more than a decade going through independent environmental and regulatory reviews, with more than 150 binding environmental conditions imposed on the project. It was signed off by both the federal and provincial governments. Its environmental study alone was 29,000 pages — a stack of paper taller than an NBA basketball hoop," said ICBA president Chris Gardner. "Site C has also faced 14 separate court actions and was upheld in every single one of them. At ICBA, we talk a lot about the need to 'Get to Yes.' On Site C, the NDP government needs to now 'Stick to Yes.'"
"Those British Columbians that could do that work, they are wondering why they are not on the project,"
BC Building Trades
But Tom Sigurdson, executive director for the BC Building Trades, sees the review as something that was skipped over when the Liberals were in power and were eager to get the project going.
Site C was made an exempt project under the Clean Energy Act, which means that the BCUC previously had no jurisdiction over the project, he explained.
However, under section 5 of the Utilities Commission Act, the Lieutenant Governor in Council can set terms of reference and direct the BCUC to inquire into any matter.
"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."
Sigurdson added he hopes the government will be receptive to other changes, like building the project under an allied hydro agreement, like the W.A.C. Bennett dam. He noted this would mean more jobs for British Columbians rather than bringing in outside labour.
"Those British Columbians that could do that work, they are wondering why they are not on the project," Sigurdson said, noting that some 20 per cent of workers on the project are not from B.C.
The BCUC has been asked to confirm whether or not BC Hydro is on target to complete Site C on budget and by 2024. The commission has also been asked to provide advice on implications for ratepayers associated with different options for the project.
These options include continuing construction and suspending the project with the option to resume until 2024. BCUC will also look at the costs of terminating the project, remediating the site and proceeding with other resource portfolios that provide the same level of benefits at the same or lower cost as Site C.
According to the provincial release, the BCUC will be guided by the understanding that the review is "not a reconsideration of decisions made during the environmental assessment process, by statutory decision makers, or in the courts."
The terms of reference require the BCUC to consult with interested parties.
Additionally, for the purpose of this review and obtaining stakeholder input, the BCUC may seek and employ expert advice on various subjects and employ any or all of the powers provided to it under the Utilities Commission Act, the terms read.
The review began on Aug. 9.
A preliminary report is expected in six weeks with a final report in 12 weeks.