Site C in BC’s best long-term interests

Blair Lekstrom and Dan Miller


If there’s one thing that both sides of the political spectrum can agree on in BC, it’s the importance and value of our publicly owned electricity system. For more than half a century, BC Hydro has been supplying people and businesses with renewable and affordable electricity, primarily from large hydro dams on the Peace and Columbia rivers.

As former ministers of energy, we can state from experience that British Columbia benefits from every hydroelectric dam built by BC Hydro. B.C. has never regretted building any of these facilities, as most of these dams were paid off years ago and now provide very low-cost electricity for our province.

We know that energy policy is challenging for every provincial government. Policymakers — regardless of their political leanings — strive to balance the need for reliable electricity against a desire to keep rates as low as possible and minimize impacts on the environment.

Our view is that BC Hydro’s proposed Site C Clean Energy Project (Site C) achieves this balance. Site C would be a third dam and generating station on the Peace River in northeast BC, about seven kilometres from Fort St. John.

Site C would provide a significant amount of energy and capacity for the BC Hydro system, and generate clean and renewable electricity for more than 100 years. It would also be among the lowest-cost options for BC Hydro ratepayers. That’s because after the upfront capital cost, it would be inexpensive to operate for more than a century. The bottom line is that Site C would result in lower rate impacts than other clean energy options for the same amount of electricity.

The project has environmental advantages as well. It will have among the lowest greenhouse gas emissions compared to other options, and a relatively small reservoir for the amount of energy it would produce. This is because Site C would use the Williston Reservoir for most of its water storage, enabling Site C to generate 35 percent of the energy of the Bennett Dam, with a reservoir that is just five percent of the size.

And let’s not forget that projects like Site C are an important economic development tool. Site C would contribute about $3.2 billion to provincial GDP during the construction period. This translates into a lot of jobs, particularly in northern B.C.

As former MLAs for rural constituencies, we understand and appreciate the sacrifices that local communities make for the benefit of the whole province. We believe it’s important that local communities in the northeast are left better off as a result of the project.

A regional legacy benefits agreement is a step in the right direction. We are pleased to see that an agreement has been signed that would provide $2.4 million to the Peace River Regional District and its member communities each year for 70 years — indexed to inflation.

Of course, you don’t build a multi-billion dollar dam overnight. They require careful planning and evaluation before moving to construction. That’s why Site C is undergoing an independent federal and provincial environmental review, including a joint review panel process, which will determine whether the project’s benefits outweigh its impacts.

While there is still a lot of work to do on Site C, we believe it is in the best long-term interests of our province.

Dan Miller is a former NDP MLA and Cabinet Minister, and served as B.C.’s 32nd Premier. Blair Lekstrom is a former B.C. Liberal MLA and Cabinet Minister. Both served as Minister of Energy and Mines.