Site C Hydro Dam will go ahead after historic decision by B.C.’s NDP Premier

site-c-project-location-mapBringing an end to years of controversy, in what NDP Premier Horgan called a “very, very divisive issue”, the British Columbia government announced on December 11 that it will proceed with construction of the Site C hydroelectric dam , on the grounds that it is too late to turn back.  In a press release  which blames “megaproject mismanagement by the previous government”, the government justifies its decision by saying that  cancellation would result in  “ an immediate and unavoidable $4-billion bill – with nothing in return – resulting in rate hikes or reduced funds for schools, hospitals and important infrastructure.”  The press release continues with a list of sweeteners for the opponents of the project, announcing that improved project management to keep costs to $10.7 billion; new community benefits programs to keep jobs in local communities and  increase the number of apprentices and First Nations workers hired; a new BC Food Security Fund to help farmers whose land will be negatively affected; and the promise of a new alternative energy strategy for B.C. .

The National Observer provides a brief overview of reaction in “As costs escalate, Horgan says it’s too late to stop Site C mega-project” . CBC News covers the debate and the decision in several articles, including “ John Horgan disappoints both Site C opponents and supporters in northeast B.C.”   and “B.C. government to go ahead with Site C hydroelectric dam project ” which examines the huge political fallout and  states that the Green Party , which holds the balance of power in B.C.’s legislature,  will not  force an election over the issue, despite their opposition to the decision.

Reaction on labour issues :  For mainstream union reaction to the decision, see “Site C: What Happens Next?”  in The Tyee (Dec. 11)  .  The complex labour politics of Site C is summarized in “ Construction Unions Pressing for Completion of Site C” , which appeared earlier in The Tyee,  (Nov. 24) , and takes a deep dive into the ties between the NDP government and  the Allied Hydro Council of BC, a bargaining agent for unions at previous large hydro projects, and an advocate of the  Site C project.  Following the decision, the  Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) stated their “relief” for the go-ahead decision, with the reservation that “Arbitrarily setting apprentice and other workforce ratios will limit contractor flexibility and inevitably drive up costs and slow the construction schedule.”   Similar sentiments appear in the press release from the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) , which represents the majority of Site C workers  under the Open Shop system in place since 2015.

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Photo by Yvonne Tupper, from CBC News

Re the First Nations opposition: “‘A reconciliation fail’: B.C. First Nations promise court action over NDP’s approval of Site C”   at CBC News (Dec. 12), quotes First Nations leaders, including the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, and the West Moberly First Nations and Prophet River First Nations, who have already announced that they will apply for a court injunction to halt construction of the project and begin a civil action for Treaty infringement.

A sampling of reaction of environmentalists appears in “Site C a betrayal of First Nations, Ratepayers and Future Generations” (Dec. 11) and in multiple articles at DeSmog Canada https://www.desmog.ca/  . A glimpse of the environmental campaign appears at the Stop Site C website , and the  Wilderness Committee, a member of that campaign, reacts here .

Climate change policy in B.C. must deal with controversies – Kinder Morgan, Site C, and more

Flag_of_British_Columbia.svgIn his November 30 article, “Where is B.C. headed on climate action?”, Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives begins with a bit of history – November 2017 marks the 10 year anniversary of the passage of  B.C.’s  Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act, followed by B.C.’s carbon tax, the first in North America, in 2008.  His overview then discusses climate change policy since the Liberal government and its Climate Leadership Team (CLT)  were replaced by the government of the New Democratic Party in Summer 2017.  Specific issues raised: the new government may still be considering the  development of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) on the north coast; an inadequate annual increase to the carbon tax of just $5 per tonne per year (instead of the $10 per tonne recommended by the CLT); the need for a public inquiry into fracking  (as called for by the CCPA and 16 other organizations); and the need for leadership on more stringent regulation of methane emissions.  The author concludes:  “The BC government’s opposition to Kinder-Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline expansion is laudable. But there is much left to be done on climate action in BC… We need an action plan commensurate with the urgency posed by climate change and the aspirations of leadership claimed by BC politicians.”

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B.C. Premier John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver announce their coalition in June 2017

Although Marc Lee has written about the controversial Site C Dam project previously, he doesn’t include it in this overview, although it is still very much a live issue.   Following the Report of the Independent Review of the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC)  on November 1, the government indicated it would decide by December 31 whether to proceed with the project or not.  On December 1, the B.C. Green Party, the government’s coalition partner, sent an Open Letter to the Premier, arguing for cancellation of Site C on the grounds that it is likely to continue to exceed budget, and that alternative sources of energy are now cheaper.  Questions about the job creation forecasts used to justify the original decision have also been raised – most relying on the latest analysis from the University of British Columbia Water Governance Institute. Their latest  full report  was released on November 23; a 2-page Briefing Note also released argues that terminating Site C and pursuing  the alternative scenario put forth by BCUC would create three times as many jobs as the construction and operation of Site C by 2054, albeit with short-term job losses.  The longer term scenario forecasts jobs in site remediation, energy conservation, and alternative energy projects, including in the Peace River region.  Commentary on the jobs debates has appeared in “Digging for The Truth on Site C Dam Job Numbers ” in DeSmog Canada (Nov. 16) and  in “ A BC without Site C best bet for taxpayers ” an Opinion piece in The Tyee written by  Jay Ritchlin of the David Suzuki Foundation, which labels the call for current construction jobs as “a red herring”.

Also in The Tyee:Construction Unions Pressing for Completion of Site C” (Nov. 24) , which takes a deep dive into a recent press conference of the Allied Hydro Council of BC, a bargaining agent for unions at previous large hydro projects, and an advocate of the Site C project. The detailed article, outlining ties between the Council and the NDP government, is by Sarah Cox, author of  Breaching the Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley’s Stand Against Big Hydro (UBC Press, forthcoming Spring 2018).    The Allied Hydro Council submission to the BCUC Inquiry is here .

B.C. Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council established to guide provincial policy

BC Advisory CouncilOn October 23 , the British Columbia Government announced the appointment of  the Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council, to “provide advice to government on actions and policies that can contribute to carbon pollution reductions and optimize opportunities for sustainable economic development and job creation. This includes working with industry and the federal government to address the competitiveness of emissions-intensive trade-exposed sectors, to help them reduce their emissions and continue to thrive economically.”  The formal Terms of Reference are here .   “B.C. Government sets up Climate Council”  in the Climate Examiner provides a  good summary:   “The new body is not intended to craft an entirely new climate change strategy for the nascent government, but rather advise on how to build on the previous climate team’s work, particularly with respect to decarbonizing the major sources of emissions in the province: transport, industry and buildings, the minister said. In addition, the council will offer advice on how to achieve a new mid-term emissions reduction target of 40 percent by 2030, legislation for which is to be introduced next spring.”

The Advisory Council is a permanent group comprised of  22 members, some of whom advised the Liberal governments’ 2016 Climate Leadership Plan;  members are appointed for two year, renewable terms.  The Co-Chairs are Merran Smith, Executive Director, Clean Energy Canada and Marcia Smith, Senior Vice-President of Sustainability and External Affairs, Teck Resources Limited. A full list of members is available –    notably, it includes Lee Loftus, Executive Director of the British Columbia and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council, (a partner organization with the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW) project);  Gavin McGarrigle, BC Area director, Unifor; and  D.J. Pohl, president, Fraser Valley Labour Council.  Academic and activist members Nancy Olewiler, Professor, School of Public Policy, Simon Fraser University; Judith Sayers, Adjunct Professor, University of Victoria; Sybil Seitzinger, Executive Director, Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, University of Victoria; Michelle Molnar, Environmental Economist, David Suzuki Foundation; and  Karen Tam Wu, Acting Director, Pembina Institute.

Final report on Site C dam leaves B.C. government to decide: continue or terminate the multi-billion dollar project?

On November 1, the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) released its Final Report to the Government on the Inquiry Respecting Site C,  the most controversial energy project in the province.  (A 20-page Executive Summary is here)  .  BCUC concurs with previous criticisms that B.C. Hydro’s forecast for electricity demand had been “excessively optimistic”, and that the project is likely to run late and over budget – possibly costing more than $10 billion. In his Submission to the BCUC in August, Revisiting the Economic Case for Site C,  CCPA  Economist Marc Lee discussed many of these same concerns, and also raised the issue that the  scope of the BCUC  inquiry should be expanded to  consider Site C’s environmental effects and the implications for First Nations . All Submissions and documentation are available at the Inquiry website.

The BCUC Final Report does not make recommendations, but presents detailed information on the costs of three alternatives: continuing and completing the project, terminating it, or suspending it. The report also considers the potential of  alternative, renewable energy options of wind, geothermal, and industrial conservation.  It concludes that suspending the project and re-starting it later is too expensive an option, leaving  the provincial Government to decide: continue, or terminate Site C.  The government response  states that “we anticipate a decision by the end of the year.”  CBC News presents some of the range of reaction to the BCUC report in , “ ‘I think it would be devastating for our whole community’: report raises local anxiety about Site C’s future”  .  DeSmog Canada published a detailed summary, along with background information about the many protests and objections, at “Site C Dam Over Budget, Behind Schedule and Could be Replaced by Alternatives: BCUC Report” . (November 1)

 

The new British Columbia government tackles climate change policy and controversies: Site C, Kinder Morgan, and Carbon Tax neutrality

As the smoke from over 100  forest fires enveloped British Columbia during the summer of 2017, a new brand of climate change and environmental policy emerged after June 29, when the New Democratic Party (NDP) government assumed power , thanks to a Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Green Party Caucus.  Premier John Horgan appointed Vancouver-area MLA George Heyman, a former executive director of Sierra Club B.C. and president of the B.C. Government Employees and Service Employees’ Union, as Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, with a mandate letter which directed Heyman to, among other priorities, re-establish a Climate Leadership team,  set a new 2030 GHG reduction target, expand and increase the existing carbon tax, and “employ every tool available to defend B.C.’s interests in the face of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline.”  A separate mandate letter to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, directed the Minister to create a roadmap for the province’s energy future, to consider all Liquified Natural Gas proposals in light of the impact on climate change goals, to freeze hydro rates and to  “immediately refer the Site C dam construction project to the B.C. Utilities Commission on the question of economic viability and consequences to British Columbians in the context of the current supply and demand conditions prevailing in the B.C. market.” In addition, the government “will be fully adopting and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

Some notes on each of these priorities:

Re the B.C. Climate Leadership Plan The recommendations of the B.C. Climate Leadership Team were ignored by the Liberal government when delivered in 2016.  In mid-September 2017, the reasons for that became clear, as reported by the National Observer , DeSmog Canada, Rabble.ca and Energy Mix . According to the National Observer,  “provincial officials travelled to Calgary to hold five rounds of secret meetings over three months in the boardroom of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). Representatives from Alberta-based oil giants Encana and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (CNRL) are shown on the list of participants meeting with B.C.’s ministry of natural gas development.”  In the article for DeSmog Canada, Shannon Daub and Zoe Yunker state that the Climate Leadership process was a stunning example of institutional corruption: “what can only now be characterized as a pretend consultation process was acted out publicly….  The whole charade also represents an abuse of the climate leadership team’s time and a mockery of B.C.’s claims to leadership during the Paris climate talks, not to mention a tremendous waste of public resources.”  The documents underlying the revelations were obtained under Freedom of Information requests by Corporate Mapping Project  of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, of which Shannon Daub is Associate Director.

Re the  Carbon Tax:  The Budget Update released on September 11 states: “The Province will act to reduce carbon emissions by increasing the carbon tax rate on April 1, 2018 by $5 per tonne of CO2 equivalent emissions, while increasing the climate action tax credit to support low and middle income families. The requirement for the carbon tax to be revenue-neutral is eliminated so carbon tax revenues can support families and fund green initiatives that help us address our climate action commitments.” For context, see “B.C. overturns carbon tax revenue-neutrality”  (Sept. 22) by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions;  for reaction, see the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-B.C. or the Pembina Institute .

Re the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline:  On October 2, 2017, the Federal Court of Appeal  is scheduled to start the longest hearing in its history, for the consolidated challenges to the National Energy Board and Federal Cabinet approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Project.  The government has applied for intervenor status, and in August  hired environmental lawyer and former B.C. Supreme Court Justice  Thomas Berger as an external legal advisor on the matter.  West Coast Environmental Law blogged, “See you in court, Kinder Morgan” , which provides a thorough summary of the 17 cases against the TransMountain expansion; WCEL has also published a Legal Toolbox to Defend BC from Kinder Morgan, which goes into the legal arguments in more detail.  The NEB website provides all official regulatory documents. Ecojustice is also involved in the complex court challenge.

Re the Site C Dam:  In early August, the B.C. government announced a review of the Site C project by the B.C. Utilities Commission.  The Preliminary Inquiry Report was released on September 20,  calling for more information before passing judgement on whether BC Hydro should complete the project. The Inquiry Panel also finds “a reasonable estimate of the cost to terminate the project and remediate the site” would be $1.1 billion, based on the figures provided by BC Hydro and Deloitte consultants. The Inquiry report is  summarized by  CBC . Next steps:  a series of round-the-province hearings and final recommendations to government to be released in a final report on November 1.

After years of protests about Site C, evidence against it seems to be piling up. A series of reports from the University of British Columbia Program on Water Governance, begun in 2016, have addressed the range of issues involved in the controversial project : First Nations issues; environmental impacts; regulatory process; greenhouse gas emissions; and economics.  In April, an overview summary of these reports appeared  in Policy Options as  “Site C: It’s not too late to hit Pause”,  stating that Site C is “neither the greenest nor the cheapest option, and makes a mockery of Indigenous Rights in the process.”   On the issue of Indigenous Rights, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for a halt on construction in August, pending a full review of how Site C will affects Indigenous land.

If Site C is a good project, it’s time for Trudeau to trot out the evidence” in  iPolitics (Sept. 17), calls Site C “an acid test for Trudeau’s promise of evidence-based policy” and an environmental and economic disaster in the making.  The iPolitics article summarizes the findings of a submission to the BC Utilities Commission review by Robert McCullough, who concluded that BC Hydro electricity demand forecasts overestimate demand by 30%, that its cost overruns on the project will likely hit $1.7 to $4.3 billion, and that wind and geothermal are cleaner alternatives to the project. McCullough’s conclusions were partly based on his review of the technical report by Deloitte LLP, commissioned by the Inquiry.