As one of the largest infrastructure projects in Canada, the Site C Clean Energy Project gets a lot of attention, most recently at the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in Victoria. Unfortunately, what sometimes gets lost in the discussion is why B.C. Hydro selected the project as its preferred resource for the future.
First and foremost, B.C. Hydro is building Site C to help meet long-term electricity needs in B.C. While the demand for electricity fluctuates year to year, over the next 20 years, demand is projected to increase by almost 40 per cent. This growth is being driven by economic expansion and a projected population increase of more than one million people — that’s more than the entire population of Vancouver Island.
Large hydro projects such as Site C are valuable to the B.C. Hydro system because they provide both energy and capacity. Capacity is the maximum amount of electricity that can be generated at any single moment, such as on a cold winter night when demand is at its peak. While intermittent sources such as wind, solar and run-of-river hydro provide energy, they do not provide dependable capacity.
Without Site C, our province could face an eight per cent capacity deficit and a two per cent energy deficit within 10 years.
Site C will also help B.C. Hydro keep rates affordable. Today, B.C. has among the lowest residential electricity rates in North America because of our hydroelectric facilities. Large hydro projects are cost-effective because, after an upfront capital cost, they have a long life and are inexpensive to operate. This helps explain why an independent joint review panel concluded that: “Site C would be the least expensive of the alternatives, and its cost advantages would increase with the passing decades as inflation makes alternatives more costly.”
Another key feature of Site C is clean and renewable electricity; this will help B.C. Hydro maintain an electricity system that was 98 per cent clean last year. Studies show that Site C will have among the lowest greenhouse-gas emissions per gigawatt hour compared with clean-energy alternatives, and significantly less than fossil-fuel sources. The joint review panel stated that Site C would produce fewer greenhouse-gas emissions per unit of energy than any source save nuclear.
An important advantage of Site C is that it will optimize B.C. Hydro’s resources. As the third project on the Peace River, Site C will rely on the existing Williston Reservoir for most of its water storage. This will enable Site C to generate about 35 per cent of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam’s energy, with only five per cent of the reservoir surface area.
Of course, all major infrastructure projects have environmental impacts and Site C is no different. That’s why B.C. Hydro developed comprehensive environmental and community mitigation programs. These measures include a $20-million agriculture compensation fund, fish-passage facilities, establishing new habitat, local road improvements, new affordable housing and child-care spaces for the community, more than $1 million to support local nonprofits and more than $1 million to support skills training.
B.C. Hydro has also reached community agreements with Fort St. John, Chetwynd and Taylor, while a regional legacy benefits agreement has been signed with the Peace River Regional District and its member communities.
In addition, B.C. Hydro has reached agreements, or terms for agreements, with a number of aboriginal groups, including Dene Tha’ First Nation and McLeod Lake Indian Band.
And local, provincial and aboriginal businesses are participating in Site C construction. In fact, so far B.C. Hydro has directly committed more than $100 million in contracts to aboriginal businesses as part of Site C construction, and major contractors are also contracting directly with aboriginal and regional businesses.
Site C construction started in the summer of 2015, and this is an ideal time to build. The project is being financed at historically low interest rates; low commodity prices are helping to keep the costs of materials down; and the slowdown in the natural-resource sector means skilled workers are available just as Site C construction ramps up.
More than 1,400 British Columbians are currently working on the project.
Once construction is complete in 2024, Site C will benefit generations of British Columbians as a long-term source of clean, renewable and affordable electricity.
Dave Conway is B.C. Hydro’s community-relations manager for Site C.
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