Skip to content

Letter: Site C an environmentally and fiscally an 'unacceptable' debt

Dear Editor: Do you ever wonder what a family member or friend would have thought of this or that? I did, a few days after the shock of the insanity that is now a $16 billion Site C dam, had subsided a bit.

Dear Editor: 

Do you ever wonder what a family member or friend would have thought of this or that? 

I did, a few days after the shock of the insanity that is now a $16 billion Site C dam, had subsided a bit. 

I wondered what my late father would have thought of this. Although he was seldom outspoken, a rise of the eyebrows would have revealed a lot. 

My father was a civil engineer who worked for the largest and oldest water authority in the Netherlands where he led the projects department. He did so with deep integrity, and commitment to the common good. He was known to be friendly, diplomatic but tough. During his 25-year term, he ensured that projects not only had the consent of landowners (who were bought out appropriately if needed), but were designed, and constructed, and delivered on time and on budget.

Genetically biased as I was, I followed in his footsteps, and attended the same technical university he and his father (my grandfather) had graduated from.

So I was engineeringly shocked to hear Premier Horgan announce the latest assumed price tag of the Site C dam and that the Indigenous and geotechnical issues remain unresolved.

As an engineer I’ve become opposed to the Site C dam, the more I’m learning about it. 

Sadly and maddeningly, the fundamental question Canada and its provinces choose to ignore continuously: Indigenous Land Title, and Treaty Rights, pops up at Site C situated in Treaty 8 territory too. 

To construct the Site C dam, the province of B.C. is literally bulldozing over Treaty 8 First Nations’ rights. This will be battled over in a 120-day long court session scheduled for Spring 2022. Add that to the price tag, and a $ 1 billion settlement that could come out of it. 

When it comes to the geotechnical issues, it is insanity. 

Former B.C. bureaucrat Peter Milburn says it best in his report: “The geotechnical issues always existed. Despite decades of research, BC Hydro did not understand how these issues would manifest themselves in the design.”  

These geotechnical issues are causing the dramatic cost increases. Construction delays immediately trigger companies affected to claim for lost time, all the way down the chain of materials and services delivery firms, with the accumulation of all of those claims ending up at BC Hydro. The design and engineering time for changes has to be paid for too, often double or triple, because of overwork caused by time urgency. 

Still at $16 billion, Premier Horgan and others, say that the dam will produce “affordable” power. Am I missing something? 

The proposal for the Site C dam was shelved twice in the past. What was different in 2013, when the project was reinitiated, was that the proposed dam had to stand up against alternatives for renewable electricity generation that were in their infancy in the 1980s: wind and solar.  

Both wind and solar technologies have been taking off big time since 2013. They’re being installed on a massive scale, making renewable energy cheaper and cheaper at prices, the dam will never be able to compete with. So it will produce power at a steep loss that will only increase over time.  To make matters worse for Site C, existing wind and solar farms are being combined with battery storage to make up for intermittence: one of the arguments to build the dam. 

So did BC Hydro ever ask the question: “Can we make wind, geo, solar work with the hydro storage reservoirs we already have?” 

There is a reason why we see so few solar and wind projects in B.C. It’s because of BC Hydro, which many have noticed, has been actively discouraging it. It only wants to focus on hydro, when it shouldn’t. BC Hydro needs a reset away from debt generation, with a new focus on all renewable forms of energy: a B.C. Power utility with a mandate to keep power clean, affordable and reliable

The future is local power generation, local storage, and shorter distribution lines to increase the resiliency locally against climate disruptions, and that of the larger network these will be linked into.   

And, of course, we must decrease our energy need through increased efficiency, our biggest challenge that comes with the biggest payback. Imagine how much energy you can save with $5 billion in energy retrofitting. The knowledge and expertise we can export. We still can.

I think it is unacceptable to pass a huge debt to next generations unable to pay it off. It’ll be another big problem to deal with besides climate change, Truth and Reconciliation, deep inequality, pollution, species extinction due to habitat loss, loss of farmland, and acidifying oceans.

We must cancel the Site C dam. It will save us $10 billion. And yes, we can still pay off the sunk costs over time, it doesn’t have to be paid back tomorrow, as the Premier suggested. 

There need to be political consequences: both Premier Horgan and Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources Minister Bruce Ralston - responsible for the Site C dam - have failed in their ministerial duties and should resign. 

Anton van Walraven