Tria Donaldson: “Clean” energy for dirty industry: Site C dam to power fossil-fuel extraction
What do eight mines, seven liquefied natural gas compression facilities, and two of the largest deposits of shale gas in North America have in common?
They are all high carbon, environmentally destructive industries. And they are all at the heart of Christy Clark’s new jobs plan—a plan that will cost the province billions to supply with electricity.
For decades northern British Columbia has been a hot bed of industrial activity, but high commodity prices and new technologies, such as fracking, are driving a new “gold rush”, pushing development into untouched regions. With the increasing industrial footprint comes an increasing demand for electricity.
Massive electrification projects like the Highway 37 transmission line will help to power dozens of new industrial projects, including proposed coal mines in the region’s Sacred Headwaters—the meeting place of three of B.C.’s most important salmon rivers—the Skeena, the Nass, and the Stikine. Coal-bed methane extraction is being opposed by local First Nations.
The methane extracted from the area is destined for the proposed liquefied natural gas compression stations along the coast. The first phase of the Kitimat LNG plant would require 1.5 million megawatt hours of electricity per year—one-third of Site C’s generating capacity.
With exports on the agenda, the oil and gas industry will expand at an alarming rate into the shale gas plays in Montney and the Horn River basin. Extracting these resources will involve the spread of the dangerous practice of “fracking”, which will use millions of cubic litres of freshwater drawn from rivers, lakes, and our very own hydro reservoirs. The large-scale public health and environmental concerns associated with fracking have led to bans in several countries.
When we are talking about growth in demand for electricity, all paths lead to the controversial and expensive Site C dam.
When the B.C. Liberal government announced it was moving forward with the Site C dam, it was touted as a “green and clean” solution to the province’s growing residential power rates. The energy would go to power 400,000 homes, they alleged.
But if you look at residential demand in the province, it is actually trending downwards. According to a report from economist Erik Andersen, “The actual energy sale to domestic customers in 2009 was 53,588 GW hrs - and by 2010 it had fallen to just 50,233 GW hrs.”
As news surfaces about the energy demand associated with the B.C. jobs plan, it is clear that Site C has never been about residential energy needs. It is about providing cheap energy to open up northern B.C. to reckless development.
The energy provided by Site C will be cheap for industry, but come at a high cost to B.C. Hydro and the taxpayers of the whole province.
The Site C dam will be the most expensive capital project on the books at nearly $8 billion. It will cost $87 to $95 per MWh to build. And what will industry be paying for this energy? Current industrial rates are just $40 per MWh. Which means generating the electricity needed to fuel new industrial demand will cost B.C. Hydro and the province billions of dollars.
With all the other impacts associated with Site C, it is clear that there needs to be a very serious public conversation about the future of energy supply and demand in the province, and the impact it will have on ratepayers.
Usually conversations like this would happen at the B.C. Utilities Commission—but the B.C. government has stripped away much of the regulatory agency’s powers, leaving all of us, the public, at risk.
When we look at the real costs and benefits, the case for Site C just does not add up. Far from producing “green” energy, it will produce cheap energy for dirty extraction industries.
The only “green” will be the billions of public money poured into this project. And in these tough economic times, we really can’t afford to be throwing good money after bad energy policy.
Tria Donaldson is the Pacific coast campaigner for the Wilderness Committee. As a youth climate activist, she has been involved with the goBeyond project, the Sierra Youth Coalition, and the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition.