Mega projects grab headlines and provide many photo opportunities for politicians. Since the construction of the depression era Hoover Dam, these massive construction projects have historically provided for jobs and opportunity when the economy is slow. However, some questions remain, such as; are these projects in everyone’s best interests, what are we losing, and is there a better way to accomplish our goals?
“‘Water grabbing’ refers to a situation in which public or private entities are able to take control of, or reallocate, precious water resources for profit or for power — and at the expense of local communities and the ecosystems on which their livelihoods are based.
The effects have been well-documented: examples include families driven away from their villages to make room for mega dams, privatization of water sources that fails to improve access for the public, and industrial activity that damages water quality.”
“…hydropower comprises about 70 per cent of the world’s renewable energy mix, and guarantees a lower amount of total emissions than fossil fuel plants, its overall impacts are not always positive. This is especially the case when dams are not planned with an emphasis on the impacts on people and the environment.
In North America, many dams built in the 1980s are now being demolished because of their impacts on fish species such as salmon. In some cases they are replaced with more modern dams that do not require building large-scale reservoirs.” (1)
A Short Political History of the Site C Dam
Figure 1. Construction on the Site C dam on the Peace River in the fall of 2016. Photo: Garth Lenz. (2)
“On May 10, 1990, the Vancouver Sun reported remarks made by then Energy Minister Jack Davis at an Electric Energy Forum: “Power projects initiated by B.C. Hydro will be increasingly guided by environmental concerns because of mounting public pressure.” Noting the province’s abundance of power sources, he said: “We have the scope to be different.”
However, during a 1991 Social Credit party leadership campaign the winner, Rita Johnston declared in her policy statement that she wanted to accelerate construction of the “$3 billion” dam. Johnston’s leadership was brief because the Socreds were defeated in October 1991.
In 1993, the dam was declared dead by then BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen. “Site C is dead for two reasons,” Eliesen said. “The fiscal exposure is too great … the dam is too costly. Also it is environmentally unacceptable.”
Despite these twists and turns, B.C. Hydro’s staff worked diligently to keep the dam alive.
Fast forward to April 19, 2010, when then B.C. Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell made his announcement that Site C was on again, now branded as a “clean energy project” and an important part of “B.C.’s economic and ecological future.”
Campbell claimed the dam would power 460,000 new homes and repeated the mantra of an increasing power demand of 20 to 40 per cent in the following 20 years.
In the ensuing seven years since the 2010 announcement, power demand has stayed virtually the same, despite BC Hydro’s forecast for it to climb nearly 20 per cent during that time. The reality is B.C.’s electricity demand has been essentially flat since 2005, despite ongoing population growth.
Campbell resigned in 2011 amidst uproar over the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), opening the field for a leadership race, which Christy Clark won. That brings us to the May 2013 election, during which Clark pushed liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports as the solution to B.C.’s economic woes. With the LNG dream came a potential new demand for grid electricity, making Site C even more of a hot topic.
Four years on from Clark’s pronouncement there are no LNG plants up and running, despite her promise of thousands of jobs. Without a market for Site C’s power, Clark has started ruminating about sending it to Alberta, despite a lack of transmission or a clear market.
Oxford University Professor Bent Flyvbjerg has studied politicians’ fascination with mega projects, describing the rapture they feel building monuments to themselves: “Mega projects garner attention, which adds to the visibility they gain from them.”
This goes some way to explaining the four-decade obsession with building the Site C dam, despite the lack of clear demand for the electricity. (2)
- Water and power: Mega-dams, mega-damage?
Four Decades and Counting: A Brief History of the Site C Dam https://www.desmog.ca/2017/03/23/four-decades-and-counting-brief-history-site-c-dam