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The Site C Dam is now Priceless

On Friday July 31st, the BC Government finally revealed just how bad things are with the Site C dam. Of course you had to look through the usual spin and a smoke screen of blaming Covid 19, First Nation legal battles, and the previous Liberal government, to see the real problems for this mega project.

BC Hydro had withheld the two last quarterly reports on the project, and while unfortunately it was no surprise that bad news was being kept from the public, what we heard on Friday was shocking. Basically, the status of the Site C project could not be any worse, and it was left to a shaken Energy Minister Bruce Ralston to deliver the news.

However, I think Vaughn Palmer of the Vancouver Sun summarized it best:

So, to recap there’s a stability problem under the foundations for the powerhouse, the spillways and the dam itself and nobody knows what it will take or how much it will cost to fix. The government is paying the main contractor hundreds of millions extra to stay on schedule. Contingency funds are almost gone. And there’s no telling when the project will be finished or at what cost.

Meanwhile, even other aspects of the project such as Highway 29 realignments, clearing, and transmission construction are running over budget.

Site C is following the same path as every other recent large hydro dam in Canada of going grossly over budget. This was predicted by many and was especially highlighted in the 2017 BC Utilities Commission Review that John Horgan chose to ignore when he made the disastrous decision to proceed with the project. More than anything else, Friday’s announcement proved just how wrong that decision was. Site C should never have been started in the first place, it should have been canceled in 2017, and as incredible as this may seem to some, it should be cancelled now.

Even if Site C had managed to stay on one of its “original” price tags of $7.9 billion, it was going to be a financial loser in the new exciting field of cheaper energy from the alternatives. On top of that, the demand for the power does not exist, so our government convinced the shaky LNG industry to buy it at a subsidized price of half the cost of production. Now, we simply do not know what the final cost will be, but it looks like that will certainly be $12 billion or more, and maybe much more.

The people of BC deserve better than this. We simply cannot write a blank check for a dam being built on shaky ground with geotechnical problems. Whether completed or scrapped part way through construction, Site C is forever destined to be a monument of White Elephant proportions to the worst in government decision making. The famous and illusive financial “point of no return” is still somewhere in the murky future, and the prudent action for this government is to scrap it now.

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