LETTER – A rock and a hard place: Site C

Construction at Site C. (Image: BCHydro)

B.C. Premier John Horgan described the government’s decision on Monday to greenlight the Site C dam project as one of those ‘rock and hard place’ choices.  He stated that he was never in favour of the project. He would never have started the project. There is not a good case for the project. There is a painful choice left between either cancelling or proceeding. He informed us that the choice is to plunge ahead.

I have my own rock and hard place in all this.

I’m trying to understand what motivated the decision to proceed with something openly admitted to be bad, risky and destructive. I’ve come down to two overall explanations. Either scenario is painful.

One scenario involves the government’s offered explanation: that cancelling the project creates a big expensive mess and a debt. It would be a hit to ratepayers. The cost would jeopardize other essential programs. We need to spread the costs over decades to come.

This explanation leaves me wondering about debt. How can a project with a very risky plan and a projected weak return on investment (as detailed in the BCUC review and by so many other economists and energy experts) justify a further penny? But it is not a penny; it is $8 or $9 billion more (at least) beyond the current $2 billion investment.  What happens when interest rates rise on all this borrowed money?  The mess is still there, just a much more expensive mess. It seems that the plan here is to keep our fingers crossed and trust it will all work out with magical future paybacks. Aren’t we just deferring the risks and debt to the next generation by digging ourselves into a deeper hole?

The other explanation is that the decision to proceed is motivated by short-term political strategy and by special interest groups who are pulling the strings. Another election looms around the corner…well… angry ratepayers are a problem. The optics are poor. On top of this, there are powerful forces that benefit from these megaprojects. They have been active to initiate the work and over these past months to save it. Alas, I grow weary with wonder about the state of our democracy and about how much integrity remains in government.

So I find myself between a rock and a hard place to understand. On one hand, the decision comes from simply ignoring the evidence and naively hoping for the best. On the other hand, it Is once again the influence of big money, backroom power, and rotten politics. Or it is a mix of both.

Either way, it’s a painful place to find ourselves.


About Mel Rothenburger (6246 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on LETTER – A rock and a hard place: Site C

  1. Jennie Stadnichuk // December 16, 2017 at 8:59 PM // Reply

    Unfortunately this bad decision is not in the realm of “clean energy” that hydro power is touted to be. When we consider the incredibly immense equipment being used during the many stages of construction and the carbon emissions that is produced, it is relatively clean only because we consider only the hydro energy that results. In choosing Site C with its incredible cost (that will only increase) we are wasting funds that should be used to develop a “made in B.C.” alternative energy industry. Such vision would include training specialists in production, assembly and installation of wind and geothermal to join solar technology. It could also include incentives to business and homeowners with a goal of meeting the mythical “carbon neutral” economy! Or even a “0” emissions one! How far towards this goal would the Billions of dollars from the Site C get us?

  2. Site C has difficult geology on which to build a dam. The land is clay and loose rock, rather than the hard mountain rock of most of our other dams like Mica and Revelstoke. It will require intensive engineering.
    However, I think we need to stop thinking colloquially and think of the whole earth. In British Columbia we have an abundance of water sources capable of generating huge amounts of hydro electric. Much of this continent still generates electricity using coal.Even more is generated using natural gas and we should remember that natural gas is still fifty percent carbon. Our excess power will be sold on to the NorthAmerican grid, thereby helping to reduce carbon generated power, and we will be paid for this service, so in the long run we will see a return on our investment.

  3. As much as all have become accustomed to trash whichever level of government gets in our crosshair at a particular moment in time we must remember, a decision made by said government will never make everyone happy all of the time.
    It is like a high stake chess game and the outcome often just a case of hoping for the best…or for the least worse outcome. Of course there are vested interests and the worse of “politicking” may be happening behind the scene but debt, as long is managed is not such a dire outcome. Our society is defined and shaped by debt. A very large segment of our economic reality is in regards to debt management for public and private enterprise.
    Site C is not the first nor it will be the last public money fumble to preoccupy us. Nevertheless I remain hopeful people will be increasingly pay attention to matters pertinent to society in general and demand accountability!

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