Apr 19, 2010

Site C


I recall talking to a senior BC Hydro planner a number of years ago who mapped out a very sensible way to develop the BC Hydro system. Retain the Burrard gas-fired thermal power plant as a back-up for extreme drought, when electricity supply at the hydro facilities on the Peace and Columbia river systems is limited by low run-offs and reservoir levels. Build additional peak generating capacity at the existing Mica and Revelstoke dams to be able to produce more electricity when it is most needed and valuable. And build Site C. It would not only increase BC Hydro’s supply capability, it would also increase BC Hydro’s ability to shape its energy production to the most valuable time periods and seasons.

It seems that the government has finally started to listen to at least some of this advice. It is allowing BC Hydro to install additional generating capacity at Revelstoke and Mica, and as of today, it is allowing BC Hydro to go forward with detailed environmental assessment and permitting applications for Site C.

But the BC Hydro planner wasn’t suggesting that additional capacity at Mica and Revelstoke, and the development of Site C, be undertaken at great public expense and significant environmental cost as a complement to the government’s current Energy Plan – the plan that has been forcing BC Hydro to purchase ever increasing quantities of high cost, low value, seasonal and intermittent private power. Rather he recommended it as a compelling alternative.

The run of river gold rush brought on by the government’s Energy Plan will have significant cumulative environmental impact, and will provide little dependable capacity in the late summer and winter when needed and most valuable. Wind is even worse, providing virtually no dependable capacity (you can’t count on the wind blowing when needed), and no certainty when the power will actually be produced.

And the private ownership means BC Hydro will have no rights to the power at the end of current contract periods. It’s the old pay now pay again later plan — in fact pay too much now and pay again even more in twenty or thirty years time.

So, in comparison Site C, especially a publicly owned Site C, looks very good. The question though is Site C for what and for whom. Has the government recognized the needless cost, inefficiency and impact of its push for high cost, low value run of river and wind? Is it promoting Site C as a better way to meet BC Hydro’s requirements? Or is it promoting Site C to back up even more high cost, low value (and fundamentally uneconomic) private power projects.

There is going to be a major debate about the merits of developing Site C. One can only hope this central question is carefully addressed.