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Horgan on Site C: ‘I Told You So’ Doesn’t Mean It’s Dead

Premier says time needed to make a decision following damning BCUC report.

By Andrew MacLeod 3 Nov 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The British Columbia Utilities Commission’s report on the Site C dam project confirms the former government was wrong to start construction, but it doesn’t make the current government’s decision on whether to continue easy, Premier John Horgan said Thursday.

“I take no comfort in saying ‘I told you so,’ but I have been talking about the challenges of proceeding with a multi-billion dollar project without any third party oversight,” Horgan said, adding that the BCUC exists to protect ratepayers from governments making bad decisions.

“The report speaks for itself. It demonstrates a project that’s over budget, a project that will probably continue to be over budget with a whole bunch of challenges with contracts and so on.”

The BC Liberal government exempted Site C from review by the BCUC before deciding in 2014 to go ahead. After forming government in July, the NDP asked the BCUC to report on the consequences of stopping, suspending or finishing the project.

Released Wednesday, the 299-page report British Columbia Utilities Commission Inquiry Respecting Site C Final Report to the Government of British Columbia found the project is already over budget by at least $1.6 billion and is likely behind schedule.

“The BCUC is not persuaded that the Site C project will remain on schedule for a November 2024 in-service date,” the summary said. “The Panel also finds that the project is not within the proposed budget of $8.335 billion. Currently, completion costs may be in excess of $10 billion.”

The report said suspending the project and restarting it in 2024 would be the most expensive option in front of the government. It also said BC Hydro’s forecast for future electricity needs was “excessively optimistic” and that wind, geothermal and other sources could provide similar benefits to Site C at a lower cost per unit of energy produced.

Horgan said the BCUC report won’t necessarily lead cabinet to decide to stop the project. “This is a serious situation that is going to have a significant impact on everything that we do going forward,” he said. “We’re going to take the time and look at the report. We’re going to do some analysis of what the consequences would be for the treasury, for taxpayers, but also what the consequences would be for BC Hydro ratepayers.”

The NDP government inherited a significant challenge and will take the time to make the right decision, Horgan said. “We have to take the broader view here,” he said. “I ran on a platform to make life more affordable for British Columbians, and this first challenge in the first 100 days is a big one and I’m going to have to grapple with it. There’s no magic fix here, but we want to make sure we do the right thing.”

After the report came out, Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Minister Michelle Mungall said the government will consult with First Nations and make a decision before the end of the year on whether to stop the project. Suspending it is no longer an option, she said.

On the steps of the legislature, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip told a crowd of around 150 protesters gathered Thursday that the project should be terminated and the NDP should be given time to arrive at that decision.

“I was greatly encouraged by the BCUC report,” Phillip said. “As a consequence of a very brief review, we’ve all learned what we’ve known and suspected for quite some time, that this is a completely bogus project.”

He said he doesn’t want his 15 grandchildren to have to pay for the Site C dam for the rest of their lives. “I have every confidence that the Horgan government will do the right thing,” Phillip said. “It’s going to be a very challenging decision, but I believe that based on the BCUC report and what that has revealed that they will step up and do the right thing in regard to all British Columbians.”

Phillip said people who want the project terminated need to be optimistic. “We need to support the work of this government. We have spent so many years in the trenches throwing rocks at this building over a whole number of issues, but now we have a government that’s willing to invest in the people of British Columbia, so we have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

“We need to give them the necessary support to be able to make the right decision and to re-elect this government the next time out, so we can continue moving into a more progressive future in the province of British Columbia and move away from these silly notions of the megaprojects and everything the Clark government represented.”

Site C is the third of a series of dams on the Peace River and would flood an 83-kilometre-long stretch of the river to generate 1,100 megawatt hours of electricity, enough to power 450,000 homes for a year.

Construction on the controversial project began in 2015, and former premier Christy Clark had said she hoped to move it beyond the point of no return before this year’s election. In opposition the NDP complained that BC Hydro was overestimating future power needs and that electricity from Site C would not be needed as soon as the government claimed.  [Tyee]

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