GLOBE Foundation

BC Hydro`s site C project to undergo joint environmental assessment


Source: GLOBE Foundation

A draft agreement has been inked by B.C. and Ottawa for a joint, harmonized review panel for the proposed Site C dam. The project consists of a dam and 1,100-megawatt generating station on the Peace River in northeastern B.C. Site C would be the third dam on the Peace.

B.C. Hydro said the eco-assessment for Site C provides opportunities for input from the public, aboriginal groups and other stakeholders. The public will have 30 days to submit comments on the draft agreement, from Oct. 7 to Nov. 7.

Earlier this year Calyn Shaw, MA and Alison Shaw, PhD, from the ISIS Research Centre, Sauder School of Business, UBC published a Briefing Note 'BC's energy future: Ensuring a comprehensive assessment of Site C Dam.'

That Briefing Notes provides useful insights that will help members of the general public wishing to comment on the proposed Terms of reference for the Site C eco-assessment. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of the authors and PICS Editors: Dr. James Tansey, Hisham Zerriffi, Ivan Watson, and Robyn Meyer.


The Government of British Columbia (BC) has announced that it has advanced the Site C dam project to the third stage of development. The third stage is the final consultation phase involving regulatory and environmental assessment that will take up to two years to complete.

Site C will be the third dam on the Peace River, downstream from the existing WAC Bennett and Peace Canyon dams. Part of the BC government's rationale for Site C is that it will help ensure that BC can meet growing energy demands while also achieving energy self-sufficiency goals by 2016.i It is expected to cost at least $6 billion to build.

As of Fall 2010, BC Hydro finalized decisions about the framework for Stage 3 evaluations including the following:

  1. Refining and updating the historic project design to reflect current environmental, seismic and safety guidelines.
  2. Advancing environmental and socio- economic studies from baseline work to impact assessment, including measures to avoid or mitigate impacts.
  3. Consulting with the public, communities, Aboriginal groups and property owners, as well as the Province of Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
  4. Preparing to enter a formal environmental assessment process.

Stage 3 provides an optimal time for the BC Government and BC Hydro to identify critical gaps. This brief will examine the Stage 1 and 2 evaluations, identify gaps and make recommendations on elements to be included in Stage 3, particularly in regard to point 2. This should yield a comprehensive and transparent decision-making process in the evaluation of Site C.


According to the BC government, the construction of Site C dam will help to meet growing energy demand by providing reliable electricity 24 hours a day, 365 days a year;ii or enough to power approximately 410,000 homes in BC a year.iii To date, BC Hydro feasibility studies and reports conducted during Stages 1 and 2 have addressed specific areas of concern including studies relating to:

  1. climate and greenhouse gas emissions of the damviii ix
  2. aboriginal consultation and engagementx , and
  3. properties and Highway 29 consultation.xi Greenhouse gas (GHG) analyses indicate there will be minimal GHG emissions associated with the dam once it is operational and over its operating life of 80-100 years.xii

As of January 2011, four field studies have been undertaken in Stage 3 including baseline climate monitoring in the Peace River Valley.xiii While some useful information is providedxiv , there are considerable gaps in the analysis that need to be addressed during Stage 3 for the overall assessment to be comprehensive and transparent.


Stage 3 needs to recognize existing informational and transparency gaps that will help build the credibility of the project under new climate policy initiatives. These gaps need to address the following issues:

1. Land-use assessment

A comprehensive land-use assessment has been identified as necessary (in previous Site C assessments) in order to evaluate the potential opportunity costs for the 2066 hectares of Classes 1 and 2 xv agricultural landxvi (a significant portion of which is in the ALR) to be flooded. In a 1991 study, BC Hydro states:

For an application to be defensible, an assessment of both the immediate and long-term impacts of the Site C development on agriculture will be needed. This should include both the direct effects (loss of farmable area to the reservoir) and indirect effects (property segmentation, potential climate effects, slumping and safe line issues, etc).

This evaluation should be based not on current cropping patterns, but on land values which reflect the highest use to which the land could be put assuming agricultural management decision-making in the absence of the threat imposed by the flood reserve for a proposed dam project.xvii

Such an assessment has not been done. In fact, the land-use information used in these assessments is based on survey information from a 1979 report (which was intended to be updated but has not been) that suggests agricultural impacts would represent a 32% loss of prime agricultural land in the valley.xviii

The land to be flooded by the Site C reservoir is part of a significant area of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR)xix and requires careful treatment, particularly as viable agricultural lands are likely to become even more critical to northern BC under future climate projections.

As a result, an updated assessment of the land-use, ecosystem, and food security implications of Site C under a 100-year planning horizon that explicitly includes climate change projections needs to be included. xx BC Hydro has indicated that no decision has been made regarding these types of assessments for Stage 3.xxi

2. Transparency of use and assessment of options

There is a need for further transparency in regards to a) the intended use of electricity from Site C and b) comparative studies regarding options for alternative energy sources.

a) Intended use of the electricity from Site C

Explicit reference to the use of the additional energy provided by Site C is important for at least two reasons. While Site C is being built for BC Hydro's domestic 'firming and shaping' mission, increased energy export is a likely outcome of the Clean Energy Act's mission to be 'a net exporter of electricity from clean or renewable resources'. xxiii xxii

As a result, it is necessary to consider and address the standards of our largest energy importer, California. California's energy standards require 33% of total state energy to come from renewable energy by 2020; renewable energy standards are defined as energy generated from sites under 30MW.

However, within BC's current energy generation grid, it remains difficult to track and monitor the transmission of energy from site of generation to final destination or use. In future, more adequate tracking, monitoring, and reporting will be required to advance the export potential of renewable portfolio standard premiums from BC to California.

If the Site C decision is intended to meet the self-sufficiency targets by 2016, and provide 'firming and shaping' in the energy grid, xxiv especially during lulls in domestic use, there may be alternatives that have not been adequately explored that could provide more desirable long-term opportunities for energy exports at premium prices.

b) Alternative energy options

Current available information has not alleviated concerns of the opportunity costs associated with Site C for considering long-term energy generation options, particularly under the province's clean energy mandate. There is no question that Site C is a good option for the province to meet short-term energy goals; however, the timeline for Site C to be operational is 10-12 years.

Thus, a question that must be addressed is: in 12 years how likely is it that improvements in alternative energy and smart grid technologies will make distributed energy sources more attractive than Site C as a way to increase provincial resilience and to kick start a diversified green energy economy?

For instance, rapid advancements in solar and wind technologies are making renewable energies more economically viable, potentially making these alternatives desirable over the same period of time. Moreover, consideration is needed for the additional value that future firming power from Site C will provide to the BC grid as more intermittently-generating renewables --particularly wind power-- come on line.

While alternative energy options were identified in Stage 2 xxvii xxv, the various options were considered on a discrete, qualitative basis.xxvi What is needed rather is a rigorous mapping process, outlining viable and integrated small-scale renewable energy opportunities in the province, estimations of gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity produced per year (including issues of intermittency), and the potential of an integrated, smart grid technology to provide 'firming and shaping' within the system.

Integrated sites such as Whistler's Fitzsimmons Creek produces 32 gigawatt hours of electricity annually, enough to power 3,200 homes each year, and over the long-term may contribute to long-term resilience under climate projections (e.g. increased storm events have had significant impacts on centralized generation systems). Government of BC, Bill 17 - 2010, Clean Energy Act:

The dam is projected to add dependable clean energy capacity to the provinces stock; providing approximately 900 megawatts (MW) of capacity and about 4,600 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity each year.

Using alternative climate change and energy scenarios as a decision support tool would significantly enhance the multifaceted aspects of such long-term energy decisions.

Caution must be used against the path dependency created by large-scale heritage infrastructure in BC, and particularly the 30-year history of Site C as an optimal energy site. Current and future alternative energy potentials must be treated as a viable and quantifiable policy alternative to Site C, particularly in regard to current energy and climate goals and the opportunities / uncertainties that alternative climate futures pose.


Moving forward on Site C requires a transparent and clear demonstration of a comprehensive assessment that contributes to BC's energy planning and climate change future. BC Hydro has been planning this site for three decades and has invested an estimated $100 million to date, including $41 million for the Stage 2 consultation phase (representing only 1.6% of the total project cost), including investments in substantial land acquisitions over an extended period of time (the Crown and BC Hydro currently own 4,980 hectares in the Site C flooded impact area, an equivalent of 93% of flooded land area). xxviii

It is imperative that a comprehensive assessment that integrates the multiple criteria above be completed in Stage 3 in order to provide the robust analysis necessary to inform this $6 billion decision.

This type of analysis will also provide necessary transparency and political legitimacy to the government's decision and clarity on what are currently mixed signals regarding energy planning, emissions reductions, and climate change in BC.

Further Reading

  1. Government of British Columbia, Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum, 2007. BC Energy Plan
  2. BC Hydro, Site C Reports: Document Centre.
  3. BC Hydro, 'Site C Clean Energy Project: Building on the Power of BC'
  4. Globe and Mail. April 26, 2010. 'When green isn't green enough' by Mark Hume
  5. Sierra Club of BC, 2010. 'Site C Decision 'Misguided''
  6. David Suzuki Foundation, April 19, 2010. Press Release - Protecting the Peace: DSF statement on B.C.'s Site C project'

Check here for details on Sources. This Briefing Note was published originally on 25 January 2011

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