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NDP government sends Site C dam for independent review

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Vancouver Sun by Rob Shaw /August 2, 2017

VICTORIA — B.C.’s new NDP government has referred the largest construction project in the province’s history, the Site C dam, to an independent review to see whether it should continue, be paused or completely cancelled.

Energy Minister Michelle Mungall made the announcement at the legislature Wednesday. The review will start on Aug. 9.

“Rather than questioning whether or not the project should have started, the review will focus on looking forward,” Mungall said.

The NDP had promised during the May election campaign to send the $8.8-billion project, under construction on the Peace River in northeast B.C., to a review by the independent B.C. Utilities Commission.

The BCUC will be asked to produce a preliminary report by Sept. 20 and a final report by Nov. 1.

“Once we have the final report, government will consider the advice from the B.C. Utilities Commission, along with other environmental and First Nations considerations, and make a final decision on the future of Site C,” said Mungall.

In the meantime, the approximately 2,200 people working at the site will remain on the job, said Mungall. However, B.C. Hydro will not tender any major contracts during the three-month review, she said.

The BCUC review will look at whether B.C. Hydro can complete the project on budget and on time by 2024. But it will also ask the commission to provide advice on the costs and implications of various scenarios, including proceeding as planned, suspending the project but keeping the option open to resume construction until 2024, or cancelling the project altogether and proceeding with other projects that could provide energy for a lower cost than Site C.

Environmental and First Nations issues aren’t part of the terms of reference, because the Utilities Commission will need to focus on the economics of the project, said Mungall.

That idea of suspending Site C but keeping open possible future construction to 2024 — which Mungall called the “mothballing” proposal — is a new idea that drew criticism from Green Leader Andrew Weaver.

“I suspect the option about delaying and stalling is going to be the kind of kick-the-can decision that will be made,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the right decision. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see that as the decision, because it’s a way of trying have your cake and eat it too, which we’ve seen a lot of in B.C. politics.”

Overall, however, Weaver said he’s pleased at the NDP’s terms of reference for the review. The Greens provided suggestions that were listened to, said Weaver. The NDP and Greens have a power-sharing agreement that props up the NDP government. Weaver said it would not be threatened if the NDP were ultimately to conclude, after the BCUC review, that Site C should continue.

“If they decided to proceed based on what I can only guess will be the economics, I think it will be crazy, and I think it will be fiscally foolish and I suspect they would have troubles within their own caucus if they proceeded,” Weaver said of the NDP.

The Site C dam project, which was started under the Liberals in 2014, has been defended by B.C. Hydro as a necessary way to provide clean, reliable power for the province’s future needs. The NDP and Greens have called it a costly boondoggle when alternative wind, solar and geothermal power sources were not properly investigated.

Hydro has since spent $1.75 billion in construction at Site C, with another $4 billion committed in contracts so far.

Former B.C. Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald had argued in June, during the NDP government’s transition to power, that any delays beyond June 30 in displacing local landowners Ken and Arleen Boon to build a new highway to the dam would result in $630 million in additional costs and a year’s delay in construction.

Mungall said Wednesday those figures were incorrect and that the Ministry of Transportation has found an alternative way to prevent flood while allowing the Boons to remain in their homes during the review without incurring costs or causing delays.

The Site C review announcement Wednesday was praised by some environmental groups and criticized by contractors.

Sierra Club B.C.’s campaigns director, Caitlyn Vernon, applauded the review.

“The reality is that we don’t need Site C power, its hideously expensive and inevitable cost overruns would be paid for by B.C. ratepayers, and more environmentally and economically viable alternatives are available today,” Vernon said in a statement.

The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association held a press conference outside the legislature with more than 2,000 mock pink slips to symbolize the workers who might lose their jobs if the government cancelled the project.

“The review is unnecessary,” said association president Chris Gardner.

“This project has been a decade in the planning, an independent panel took three years and reviewed the project, the federal and provincial levels of government both approved this project. The focus now should rightly be completing this project on time and on budget.

“The message this is sending to businesses in British Columbia and investors from outside British Columbia is that regulatory approvals and environmental assessments are not worth the paper they are printed on. A government can come along and change its mind on a whim and you don’t have a project.”

See article here ……

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