With its projected $8.8 billion price tag, the Site C dam is British Columbia’s most expensive public infrastructure project ever.
And the cost will likely be a whole lot more — a stratospheric $15 billion if the hydroelectric dam’s construction bill matches that of similar projects around the world.
For that reason alone, British Columbians ought to ask:
Do we need this project, and are their cheaper alternatives that deliver the same amount of power at less ecological and economic cost?
Former B.C. Premier Mike Harcourt says that Site C is outmoded, prohibitively costly technology and that alternatives exist that won’t result in each of us paying ever-higher hydro rates for decades to come.
Presently, we face a 28-per-cent increase in hydro rates over five years. The higher costs have nothing to do with Site C, however. They are simply the added costs that all hydro consumers must pay as the bills for updating aging dams and other hydroelectric infrastructure come due.
To say that this is causing unease in many B.C. communities is an understatement. Jobs in the pulp industry, for example, appear at risk. In an ironic response to rising hydro rates, natural gas-fired turbines are being installed at the Cariboo Pulp and Paper mill in Quesnel so that the company can cut some of its expensive hydro purchases.
Imagine how much worse things will be as Site C’s massive construction bills come due.
So what are the alternatives? Well there’s solar power for one. One peer-reviewed study found that major hydroelectric projects had cost overruns of 70 per cent, while concluding that utility-scale solar installations actually came in an average $4 million below projected costs.
Now that’s power that delivers a bang for the buck. Wind and geothermal power installations also appear to be far cheaper options than major hydro installations.
With Mike Harcourt, currently the chair of Quality Urban Energy Systems of Tomorrow, and others saying it is critical that we rethink Site C, perhaps the time has also come to ask the men and women standing for elected office in next spring’s provincial election where they stand on the project.