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$8-billion hydropower project in northeastern B.C. poised for approval

With so many pipelines, LNG terminals and other mega-energy projects hanging in the balance, it's not surprising that a planned $8-billion hydroelectric dam and reservoir in northeastern B.C. is facing an uncertain future.


Artist's rendering of Site C hydropower plant along the Peace River, B.C..  Image: BC Hydro.
Artist's rendering of Site C hydropower plant along the Peace River, B.C.. Image: BC Hydro.

With so many pipelines, LNG terminals and other mega-energy projects hanging in the balance, it’s not surprising that a planned $8-billion hydroelectric dam and reservoir in northeastern B.C. is facing an uncertain future.

BC Hydro’s proposed Site C Clean Energy Project along the Peace River received federal and provincial environmental approval in mid-October.

Since then a group of landowners in the river valley have filed an application for a judicial review to the B.C. Supreme Court to prevent the project from going ahead. As well, commentators such as Gary Mason in The Globe and Mail are saying that the project’s undoubted impact on aboriginal fishing and hunting grounds will make it the “first big test” of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision over First Nations right that was granted in the Tsilhqot’in Nation vs. B.C. ruling in June. Local Treat 8 First Nations are expected to launch court actions against the project soon.

Site C, located 106 kilometres downstream of the 1967 W.A.C. Bennett Dam, Site C includes an earthfill dam that is 60 metres high and over a kilometre long. The resulting reservoir would stretch 83 kilometres, flooding land to make it two to three times the width of the current waterway.

A generating station with six 183-MW generating units will provide 1,100 MW of capacity, producing about 5,100 gigawatt-hours of electricity each year for 100 years.

Plans for the Site C dam near Fort St. John, have long been in the works, with Klohn Crippen Berger and SNC-Lavalin working with BC Hydro on the project since 1988. Other consulting engineers involved on different aspects such as roads and materials include Tetra Tech, BCG Engineering, Levelton Consultants, R.F. Binnie & Associates and Lasall/NHC.

The design of the dam was recently updated to provide more seismic protection. The changes included adding reinforcing concrete buttresses to the south wall under the dam, the generating station and the spillways. An overflow auxiliary spillway was added to safely pass upstream flows if the plant loses all power. Larger turbines have also been added to increase the generating capacity so that the station can meet winter peak loads and so that it also can be integrated with intermittent loads like wind power.

The environmental assessment process has taken three years of studies to assess environmental effects and develop mitigation measures. The submission for approval involved more than 29,000 pages of evidence and had to deal with 7,000 requests for information from the public, Aboriginal groups, etc. At the end the independent Joint Review Panel held two months of public hearings.

BC Hydro argues that Site C would provide enough electricity for 450,000 homes per year and would have among the lowest greenhouse gas emissions compared to other power generation options. Site C would provide energy at around $83 per megawatt hour, and after an upfront capital cost of $7.9 billion it would be “inexpensive to operate and would have a long life of more than 100 years.”

The utility points out that project’s construction would create about 10,000 person years of direct employment and about 33,000 person years of total employment.

Hoping to appease the opposition, BC Hydro says: “Offers of accommodation have been made to all of the First Nations that the independent Joint Review Panel determined to be significantly affected by the project. While specific agreements are under negotiation, they could include elements such as lump sum cash payments, payment streams over time, the transfer of provincial Crown lands to First Nations, the implementation of land protection measures or special land management designations, and work and contract opportunities.”

If the project is given the go-ahead by the province, the utility intends to start site preparation activities in January.

To read BC Hydro’s press announcement following environmental approval of October 15, click here.

To read an article in the Globe and Mail of October 17, by Gary Mason, click here.