British Columbia: Government decision to move ahead with big new dam generates considerable heat

On April 19, British Columbia’s government announced its decision to move ahead with the highly controversial Site C hydropower project on the Peace River in northeast B.C.

Environmentalists, clean-energy advocates, tribes and other affected communities question the need for the $6.6 billion, 900-megawatt plant and cite both its shaky economics and environmental impacts. The dam would flood more than 13,000 acres of valuable agricultural land and areas of cultural significance to First Nations people.

Many discount claims by the government and the provincial utility, BC Hydro, that Site C is needed to meet future provincial demand. The real point, some say, is to increase B.C.’s ability to export hydropower to California and other states with renewable energy standards (RPS). While the project is far too large for its output to be used in meeting California’s RPS, the dam and its huge reservoir “could also be used to firm wind energy generated in the Pacific Northwest and delivered to California,” according to Clearing Up.

The government also says the project is critical to meeting B.C.’s goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions 33% by 2020. Critics note that the dam will flood agricultural and pristine lands that now remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and raise the issue of greenhouse gases produced by dam-related construction and transportation.

Such questions and issues should be considered during the regulatory review process, which is expected to take two years. If things go as the government wants, Site C will be generating hydropower by 2020.