Site C sent to utilities commission for review

Ken and Arlene Boon. Peace Valley Landowners Association photo
Ken and Arlene Boon. Peace Valley Landowners Association photo

BY BILL PHILLIPS

bill@pgdailynews.ca

Ken and Arlene Boon can stay in their house a little longer.

At least ‘officially.’

The Peace Valley rancher looking at being forced to move to make way for the Site C dam project got a bit of a reprieve Wednesday as Premier John Horgan followed through on a campaign promise and asked the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) to begin a reviewing the Site C project.

“This just had to happen,” he said in an interview from his home on the banks of the Peace River. “You can’t proceed with a project like this without a review.”

Construction on the $8.8-billion Site C project was started by the previous government in July 2015 without the independent regulatory oversight of the BCUC. The Liberals argued that the project has been studied extensively and didn’t need another review.

“Our government is delivering on our commitment to British Columbians by ordering an independent review of Site C to ensure we can keep hydro rates affordable,” said Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Minister Michelle Mungall. “The previous government refused to allow our independent energy watchdog to examine the project to determine if it was in the public interest. That was wrong. We’re sending this project to the BCUC to ensure we make the right decision for B.C.”

Boon said he is happy the review has been ordered, but added it should have been done two years ago. Boon is part of the Peace Valley Landowners Association, which has been opposing the Site C project for years. He said while today’s announcement is good news, he’d still like to know the “nitty gritty” of the review process, such as whether experts will be called to testify, under oath.

Boon said if the review concludes that the project is economically viable and good for British Columbia, he and his wife will accept the findings. However, “I have a hard time believing that would be the case … to flood 107 kilometres of river valley for power we can’t use,” he said.

Boon said if the British Columbia Utilities Commission called on him to present, he certainly would, however, said he the review should rely more on energy experts and economists for their findings.

“I don’t want to see a room full of lobbyists,” he said.

Specifically, through the review’s terms of reference, the BCUC has been asked to:

  • Confirm whether or not BC Hydro is on target to complete Site C on budget and by 2024, and;
  • Provide advice on implications for ratepayers associated with:
    • proceeding with the project;
    • suspending the project, while maintaining the option to resume construction until 2024; and
    • terminating the project, remediating the site and proceeding with other resource portfolios that provide the same level of benefits at the same or lower cost as Site C.

The BCUC will be guided by the understanding that the review is not a reconsideration of decisions made during the environmental assessment process, by statutory decision makers, or in the courts.

The terms of reference require the BCUC to consult with interested parties. Additionally, for the purpose of this review and obtaining stakeholder input, the BCUC may seek and employ expert advice on various subjects and employ any or all of the powers provided to it under the Utilities Commission Act.

The review will begin on Aug. 9, 2017.  The terms of reference specify a preliminary report from the  BCUC within six weeks (by Sept. 20, 2017), and a final report within 12 weeks (by Nov. 1, 2017).

The BCUC is a regulatory agency responsible for oversight of energy utilities and compulsory auto insurance in the province of British Columbia. It is the BCUC’s role to balance the interests of customers with the interests of the businesses it regulates. The BCUC carries out fair and transparent reviews of matters within its jurisdiction and considers public input where public interest is impacted. The BCUC operates under the Utilities Commission Act.