Christy Clark fights for Site C dam to the bitter end—despite the economics

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      What cost Christy Clark her premiership?

      There are too many reasons to list here. They include the promise to allow ride-sharing, which alienated voters of South Asian ancestry. There was also her government's woeful record in overseeing children and youth in government care, as well as rapidly rising real estate prices.

      Then there was the perception that she didn't really care too much about the earth when she advanced a series of climate-damaging policies.

      Clark may have thought that if she continued rolling up huge operating surpluses and promoted giant capital projects, she would remain in office forever.

      But perhaps the biggest issue of all for the public purse was the $8.8-billion Site C dam, which cannot be justified for a bunch of reasons.

      A classic government make-work megaproject, it was completely unnecessary, considering the flat demand for electricity in B.C. over the past decade.

      Appliances, lights, and other products in homes and businesses are becoming far more energy-efficient. It's one reason why B.C. Hydro's projections for increased usage regularly missed the mark by a long shot.

      Yet yesterday in the legislature, Clark was once again claiming that demand for electricity was going to increase sharply in the coming years, making it essential to proceed with the Site C boondoggle.

      The incoming NDP government may cite these lousy forecasts when B.C. Hydro president and CEO Jessica McDonald and B.C. Hydro chair Brad Bennett are invariably replaced.

      Clark, however, remained a true believer in the Site C debacle up to the bitter end. She put her energy illiteracy on display in her final speech as premier in the B.C. legislature, even as she expressed mild contrition in other areas.

      The beneficiaries of this white elephant have been independent contractors and businesses—including many B.C. Liberal campaign contributors—looking to fatten their bottom line. In this age of distributed electricity generation, it's absurd to create so much power so far away from B.C.'s primary load centre in the Lower Mainland.

      B.C. Hydro's Site C dam will drown a land area equal to 14 Stanley Parks, according to the Wilderness Committee.

      Site C is extremely costly

      Informed citizens know the Site C dam poses enormous financial risks not only to government revenues but to future economic growth.

      An academic study published earlier this year indicated that B.C. Hydro could save $500 million to $1.65 billion by cancelling the dam, even with all of the work that's already been done on the project.

      That's because researchers concluded that Site C power would end up being exported at prices far below the cost of producing this electricity. They suggested putting the project on pause for a decade to wait to see if market conditions change.

      “The business case for Site C is far weaker now than when the project was launched, to the point that the project is now uneconomic,” Karen Bakker, Canada Research Chair in political ecology, said in a UBC news release. “The good news is that we are not past the point of no return, according to our analysis.”

      The Site C dam was sheer folly from the start because it jeopardized so much prime B.C. farmland. 

      The economics got worse with each passing year.

      What's worse is that the project was built with a 1950s mindset that condemned aboriginal people to flee their traditional territory and would lead to the loss of agricultural production just as food prices are rising. 

      The annual Paddle for the Peace event attracts hundreds of farmers, ranchers, and First Nations opposed to the Site C dam.
      Caspar Davis

      B.C. Liberals out of step with the times

      The B.C. Liberals claim to be the party that understands economics. But they appear to be utterly blind to monumental changes taking place in electricity production.

      In a recent book, Just Cool It! The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do, David Suzuki and coauthor Ian Hanington write that "centralized power sources are not efficient and are quickly becoming outdated". 

      Another B.C. author, David Boyd, has chronicled in his book, The Optimistic Environmentalist, how the International Energy Agency consistently lowballed the growth of solar energy by a large mark.

      Earlier this year, the Guardian reported that solar energy usage rose 50 percent in 2016, thanks largely to China and the United States.

      Several countries, including Germany, allow "feed-in tariffs". This enables producers of renewable energy, including homeowners, to sell electricity back into the grid. This is helping these countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are bringing the world to the brink of disaster. 

      B.C. Hydro hasn't created a feed-in tariff regulation. Only a few hundred homeowners with solar panels are permitted to sell surplus clean power back into the grid. That's one of Clark's legacies.

      The Crown utility under Clark has done only a little to stimulate other green-energy sources, like tidal power, geothermal, and wind power.

      Sure, B.C. Hydro bought a lot of run-of-the-river electricity at inflated prices when Gordon Campbell was premier. But that was basically privatizing the construction and operation of small and sometimes midsize hydroelectric dams.

      That's a far cry from giving incentives to average British Columbians to generate their own renewable power and even store it in their homes. And that's where things get really interesting between the B.C. Greens and NDP.

      John Horgan and Andrew Weaver have disagreed in the past over how electricity should be produced in B.C.

      NDP and Greens don't always see eye to eye on power production

      The big knock on solar and wind power in the past was that it couldn't be stored. This provided the perfect excuse for B.C. Hydro to pooh-pooh embracing these technologies.

      But in recent years, there have been tremendous advances in the storage, even within people's homes.

      In January Greentech Media published “Here’s Every Company That Entered the US Energy Storage Game in 2016”, which was far from a complete list.

      The book by Suzuki and Hanington points out that AllGrid Energy and Tesla are selling home-battery systems in Australia that can store its abundant solar energy.

      Under the leadership of Andrew Weaver, watch for the B.C. Greens to push for loosening B.C. Hydro's reins over the renewable-energy sector.

      Given Weaver's close association with Suzuki, we can expect the B.C. Green caucus to advocate for feed-in tariffs and to promote home storage of renewable power.

      The B.C. Greens might even argue for "demand-response" electricity pricing for residential ratepayers to promote energy conservation.

      This involves raising the price of electricity during peak usage and cutting the cost when demand slackens late at night.

      The B.C. Liberals and NDP have been too worried about the political consequences to go down that road.

      Keep in mind that the NDP has a close relationship with the labour movement, including the union that represents B.C. Hydro workers. Historically, the NDP has had close ties with other unions representing building trades, which have built much of B.C. Hydro's energy infrastructure.

      The natural inclination of the NDP in the past has been to push for B.C. Hydro to generate most of the electricity, which keeps the work in-house.

      Premier-designate John Horgan is going to face a great deal of pressure from some unions, the B.C. Liberals, and the mainstream media to complete construction of the Site C dam, regardless of the project's dismal economics.

      The B.C. Greens, on the other hand, insist they're a party of principle. And British Columbians can expect them to remain true to their word when it comes to the Site C dam. It's going to generate so much expensive electricity that there will be no need to develop a more distributed power-generation system in the province.

      Keep an eye on this issue. If Horgan doesn't tread carefully, it could rupture not only the NDP-B.C. Green alliance, but also create a major rift within his own party.