Site C Power ‘Won’t Be Needed For Decades’: Review Panel Chair
British Columbia is “making a very big mistake, a very expensive one,” by proceeding with the fiercely-contested Site C hydro dam, according to Harry Swain, who chaired the federal-provincial review panel that recommended in favour of the $9-billion, 1,100-MW project two years ago.
“Maybe we’ll need it one day,” Swain told DeSmog.ca in an interview that forms the basis of a video about the project. “But we’re not going to need it for decades.”
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That wasn’t the conclusion the Joint Review Panel Swain chaired reached two years ago. Then, it downplayed “some uncertainty about when the power would be needed,” as well as what it warned would be years of losses due to the facility’s high front-end cost to construct, declaring that overall, its “benefits are clear.”
The project “would provide a large and long-term increment of firm energy at a price that would benefit future generations,” the panel concluded at the time. “It would do this in a way that would produce a vastly smaller burden of greenhouse gases than any alternative save nuclear power, which B.C. has prohibited.”
The provincial government approved the project last year, and BC Hydro has already begun to order landowners in the construction zone to depart.
Even in 2014 however, the review panel’s report revealed doubts about the estimates on which the Crown utility was basing its case. “Energy conservation and end user efficiencies have not been pressed as hard as possible in BC Hydro’s analyses,” the panel wrote at the time. As well, “there are alternative sources of power available at similar or somewhat higher costs, notably geothermal power. These sources, being individually smaller than Site C, would allow supply to better follow demand, obviating most of the early-year losses of Site C.”
The panel also identified several irrecoverable costs of proceeding. Flooding more than 83 kilometres of the Peace River valley “would cause significant adverse effects on fish and fish habitat, and a number of birds and bats, rare plants, and sensitive ecosystems. It would end agriculture on the Peace Valley bottom lands.”
Within a year of delivering his panel’s report however, Swain was saying that neither BC Hydro nor the provincial government had fully demonstrated the need for Site C’s power output. His opposition appears only to have deepened since then. “Since 2005,” Swain notes in his most recent interview, “domestic demand for electricity in BC has been essentially flat,” eliminating the need for new, costly power sources.
Other reports have added to the doubts dogging Hydro’s business forecasts for its latest dam. Last month, a leading U.S. energy economist accused the Crown corporation of having its “thumbs on the scale,” the Globe and Mail reported.
“Using industry-standard assumptions, Site C is more than three times as costly as the least expensive option,” declared Robert McCullough, who had been hired by opponents of the dam. “The simple conclusion is that Site C is more expensive—dramatically so—than the renewable [and] natural gas portfolios elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada.”