The following column appeared in the Vancouver Sun on May 14, 2014.
"The Panel concludes that B.C. will need new energy and new capacity at some point. Site C would be the least expensive of the alternatives and its cost advantages would increase with the passing decades as inflation makes alternatives more costly."
Report of the Joint Review Panel, May 2014
Hindsight is 20/20. We can now look back at the B.C. government's decision in the 1960s to harness the Peace and Columbia rivers for hydroelectricity as visionary and a proven success. At the time, however, the decision to invest significant public resources to build a hydroelectric system was seen by many as risky and was met with a lot of doubt and criticism.
Fifty years later, we now generate about 80 per cent of our electricity from those hydroelectric facilities on the Peace and Columbia rivers. This is clean, reliable and low-cost electricity that has benefited generations of British Columbians and helped build our economy.
In fact, across Canada the provinces with the lowest electricity rates – B.C., Manitoba and Quebec – have systems that rely on large hydro for their electricity.
But resting on our laurels is not an option. Our forecasts show that the demand for electricity will increase by approximately 40 per cent over the next 20 years. And an emerging liquefied natural gas sector could further increase the demand for electricity.
As extensive as BC Hydro's electricity supply is, it will not be enough to meet B.C.'s long-term electricity needs. To meet this growth, BC Hydro is proposing aggressive conservation measures, upgrading its facilities, buying electricity from clean energy producers, and proposing to build Site C.
If government approves the project, Site C would be BC Hydro's first new hydroelectric project in more than 30 years, and the third facility on the Peace River.
The decision to propose Site C was made after careful consideration of all available options to meet future electricity needs. BC Hydro's conclusion is that Site C provides the best combination of financial, technical, environmental and economic development attributes, compared to alternatives.
Site C would have a relatively small footprint for the amount of electricity it would generate. This is because Site C would rely on the existing Williston Reservoir for most of its water storage, allowing it to generate 35 per cent of the energy of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam with only five per cent of the reservoir area.
In addition, since large hydro projects are powered by water, Site C would produce among the lowest levels of greenhouse gas emissions compared to alternatives.
The project would also provide an economic boost. Construction would add $3.2 billion to B.C.'s GDP. This economic activity would result in 10,000 person-years of direct construction employment; 33,000 in total.
Like our existing hydro facilities, Site C would be a multigenerational asset. After a significant upfront capital cost, Site C would be inexpensive to operate and would have a long life of more than a century.
With more than 50 years of proven success with hydroelectric power, it is perhaps not surprising that more than 80 per cent of British Columbians surveyed last year supported building Site C. This support is premised on the project undergoing an environmental review and taking community views into account.
Site C is currently in a federal-provincial environmental assessment. In early May, the Joint Review Panel submitted a report on Site C to the federal and provincial governments for consideration. The panel report confirmed that there is a need for new electricity resources to meet growing demand, and that Site C would be cost-effective.
In fact, the Joint Review Panel stated that after an upfront capital cost, Site C would lock in low rates for many decades.
Of course, all new electricity-generation projects have environmental impacts and Site C is no different. While Site C has the potential to result in some significant effects, we believe they are justified by the need for the project and the benefits it would provide for B.C.
A decision on environmental approval is expected within six months, and the final step would be an investment decision by the B.C. government on whether to proceed.
BC Hydro believes Site C is the right thing to do. It would build on the legacy of our existing hydro resources by providing clean, renewable and cost-effective electricity for generations to come.
Charles Reid is the President and CEO of BC Hydro.