BC Hydro’s Site C Dam on Shaky Ground, Financially and Literally
Another expert is weighing in to challenge the economic claims for BC Hydro’s beleaguered Site C hydroelectric project, even as the Crown-owned enterprise admits that another dam on the Peace River is threatened by tremors set off by the same natural gas industry the C$9-billion project was conceived to serve.
“Scrapping the Site C Dam project and aggressively pursuing wind power could save B.C. between $2 and $4.4 billion,” CBC News reports, attributing the estimate to energy analyst Robert McCullough, who delivered it last week to the BC Utilities Commission. The Commission is belatedly holding its first hearings into the public benefit of the project, after being kept at arm’s length for years by the previous provincial government.
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McCullough’s is not the first study to point to the project’s poor economics. A review by Deloitte last month estimated it would be cheaper to abandon the work after $1.2 billion had been spent preparing the site, than to finish it. Even a former chair of BC Hydro has slammed Site C as an “irresponsible” waste of public funds.
McCullough, who was hired by opponents of the project, accused BC Hydro of failing to reflect today’s realities in its dogged pursuit of Site C. “Time has moved on. These huge megadams take too long to construct. They’re expensive to build, and you have to plan them a decade in advance,” he said.
“The [renewable] competition is cheaper. It’s a lot less risky, and you only have to order them a year or two in advance. The economics have changed.”
Meanwhile, documentation unearthed from proceedings before a more obscure provincial agency shows that BC Hydro has abruptly changed its position after years of denying that hydro-fracking for oil and gas, or the associated disposal of vast quantities of recovered waste fracking water in so-called “injection” wells, could damage its dams.
Writing for Resilience.org, B.C. journalist Andrew Nikiforuk cites documents submitted by the utility and the BC Oil and Gas Commission before the Oil and Gas Appeal Tribunal, in a case involving Canadian Energy Partners and an injection well three kilometres from the Peace Canyon Dam, upstream from Site C. In its filing, Hydro asserts that: “There is a risk of an induced [seismic] event sufficient to generate the peak ground accelerations necessary to cause damage to the Peace Canyon dam.”
“In other words,” as Nikiforuk clarifies it, “the engineers feared the well would cause an earthquake that would damage the dam.”
In 2015, fracking at a gas well belonging to Progress Energy triggered a 4.6-magnitude earthquake. “Seismic experts later said the shaking set a world record as the largest tremor ever attributed to the technology of hydraulic fracking,” Nikiforuk notes.