Site C dam – BC Hydro got it wrong, wrong, wrong

 

BY PETER EWART

Special to the Daily News

After the provincial election in May, the newly elected NDP government authorized the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) to conduct a review of the Site C dam project.  The BCUC panel has now released its final report and one thing is abundantly clear: it blasts BC Hydro’s economic analysis out of the water.

According to the panel, BC Hydro was wrong in its predictions regarding energy demand for its own power, as well as overall energy demand in North America.  It was wrong in projected GDP growth, disposable income growth, and energy price elasticity.  It was wrong about future hydro rate increases and the value of BC Hydro’s projected surplus energy and capacity.  It was wrong about the dam construction schedule, the current budget figures, and final cost of the project.  And it was wrong about the possibility of utilizing alternate energy sources.

Indeed, a reader is hard pressed to find anywhere in the report’s findings that BC Hydro got anything right.

How could BC Hydro and the former BC Liberal government have veered so far off base on the Site C dam?  How could a giant Crown corporation that is over 60 years old screw up so badly?

Which leads to another question.  Was this simply a screw-up or was there a deliberate attempt to mislead the people of British Columbia?

This would not be the first time that a BC Liberal government has misled people.  Soon after it was elected in 2001, the Liberal government broke its election promise not to sell off BC Rail and it used false figures and deceptive language as justification.  Similarly, it was deceptive in its failed attempt to bring in the hated HST tax back in 2009.

Certainly, powerful vested interests have likely something to do with the push for Site C.  The large corporations constructing the dam will profit hugely, as will certain banks and financial institutions, and possibly the oil and gas industries.

But not all large corporations will necessarily benefit.  It is interesting that the BC Liberal government under Premier Christy Clark refused to allow the BCUC to review the Site C proposal.  Besides providing a conduit for public input, the BCUC is one of the mechanisms through which, at least in the past, the corporate oligarchy has sorted out contradictions in its ranks.

A possible reason why the former government chose to avoid the BCUC was that it knew that sections of corporations, including the Association of Major Power Customers, were strongly opposed to Site C on the grounds that it would result in rate increases down the road for mills, mines and other enterprises in the province.

So instead of an orderly sorting out of contradictions between corporations using regulatory mechanisms, the BC Liberals brought in an open “law of the jungle” where winner takes all and damn the consequences.  As a result, the people of British Columbia and the new NDP government are left with a huge mess.

There can be no doubt, given the panel’s conclusions, that the Site C project must be cancelled immediately.  If not, the new government will inherit a sea of problems that will likely only grow worse.

However, for a mess of this magnitude, which will cost billions of dollars no matter what happens, a public inquiry is also warranted to answer the question as to how a longstanding crown corporation could get it all so wrong and how a government could take the province down such a reckless, ill-conceived path.

It also puts on the agenda the importance of discussing and deliberating on how we, as British Columbians, can have more control and more say over crown corporations like BC Hydro, as well as government as a whole.

 

Peter Ewart is a writer based in Prince George, British Columbia.  He can be reached at: peter.ewart@shaw.ca