The government’s decision on Monday to continue with the construction of the Site C dam is a major blow to the modern energy vision that was possible with the dam’s cancellation. It is a discouraging reality we must grapple with. As an entrepreneur, professional engineer and Kelowna resident, the wake of this decision leaves me with several important questions that remain unanswered.
First, how do we pay for Site C? There is currently no viable revenue model to cover its costs. It characterizes what’s wrong with politics in BC: the BC Liberals didn’t want to hear the facts and the NDP ignored the facts. The only plan presented by the NDP is for the 20+ years of excess power to be sold to the US. That power will be below-cost, forcing BC ratepayers to subsidize the rest. Meanwhile on Wednesday in Alberta, the equivalent of half of Site C’s capacity was auctioned off for wind projects at more than half of Site C’s cost of production. It’s proof there is no vision for Site C and there should be concern of the lack of foresight by either party to impacts of technological disruption energy and our economy.
Moreover, voters should be very concerned that Site C will encourage energy waste and restrict people from getting full credit for solar power they produce privately to lower their energy bills.
The province has already set in motion a number of new energy efficiency policies, including Net-Zero Ready Buildings by 2032. I am a partner at a company that designs homes today that need 90% less energy to heat. Combined with the use of cheaper solar power, our dependence on the grid will dramatically decline. With BC Hydro’s cumulative debt with Site C, significant future rate increases are inevitable to pay it off.
The jobs within the clean energy sector have also been affected by Site C’s construction. Fewer jobs have been and will be created. As an engineer who worked with Indigenous communities throughout BC to develop local energy projects, I witnessed firsthand how the approval of Site C killed innovation, jobs and local economic development throughout BC. With Site C, there is no room for them. Specifically, the 15 MW cap on independent power projects resulted in the loss of potentially hundreds of jobs locally. A large wind farm was scaled back to a handful of wind turbines on the Pennask Summit, and 120 MW project north of West Kelowna was stalled. Combined the opportunity cost is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Going forward, momentum on energy efficiency and embracing local power generation must be protected. The BC NDP need to cancel their rate freeze and provide at minimum a 10 year forecast of where rates are going to enable British Columbians to make smart energy choices. Instead of exporting power at a discount, BC should attract industries that could be electrified. The construction of an west - east transmission line to enable the export of power to the rest of Canada would assist with national GHG reduction targets. BC will need to triple down on embracing electrifying transportation. Energy efficient electric heating sources such as heat pump technology can compete with the price of natural gas for home heating and is critical to carbon free buildings. BC should encourage transitions to this technology and encourage companies to develop their products here.
The province and BC Hydro need to take a hard look at where the market is going and what Site C is doing to it. This is critical for BC to provide consumer choice, support the clean tech sector and participate in the 21st century economy. As we now face 70 years of Site C debt, British Columbians deserves a credible 70 year plan to maximize benefits.