Work camp for the Site C dam is a self-contained town called Two Rivers Lodge, with restaurant, theatre, lounge, gym, yoga studio and hair salon. The camp is budgeted at $470 million to build and operate. (BC Hydro)

Site C dam project draws criticism at first public input session

The new NDP government initiated a review of the project

An American energy consultant told the BC Utilities Commission that the Site C hydroelectric dam currently under construction in the northeast region of the province doesn’t make sense from an economic or energy production perspective.

Robert McCullough of the Oregon-based firm McCullough Research, taking part in a public input session about the $8.8-billion project in Vancouver on Saturday, said that building dams for energy is an outdated practice.

He said the cost of renewable energy sources like wind and solar have decreased dramatically in the last five years and building a dam over the Peace River doesn’t make sense.

“The era of big iron has passed,” he said “We just have had a technological change that people are adjusting to now. We can actually save $1 billion dollars by simply abandoning the project and going to other technologies.”

McCullough said his firm would also be providing the utilities commission more detailed analysis of the project.

The province’s new NDP government directed the utilities commission to review the economic viability of the megaproject that was initiated by the former Liberal premier Christy Clark.

Proponents of the project have said it will create hundreds of jobs and support the province’s future energy needs.

WATCH: Work begins on Site C generators

More than 100 people attended Saturday’s session where 34 speakers were registered to voice their perspectives to the commission.

Galen Armstrong with the Sierra Club BC said although the dam will be located on the Peace River in the northeast region of the province, everyone will be paying for it in the years to come through increased hydro rates.

The utilities commission released a preliminary report Tuesday that said BC Hydro had already spent $1.8 billion on construction by June 30 and the cost of cancelling the project would amount to $1.1 billion.

But Armstrong said those costs don’t suggest the project is past the point of no return, as it represents a fraction of the total project cost, and its cancellation would spare the environmental implications of flooding rich agricultural land.

“It’s absolutely not past the point of no return in terms of First Nations who use the land … in terms of the farmers and the potential to grow food there,” he said. “I’m very hopeful they’ll make the right choice and end this project.”

The report also raised concerns that nearly half of the project’s $794-million contingency budget has already been spent, but it also said information is lacking to determine whether the project is overall on budget.

Site C would be the third dam on the Peace River, flooding an 83-kilometre stretch of valley, and has faced fierce opposition from local First Nations, landowners and farmers.

Ten more public input sessions are scheduled across the province in the coming weeks and a final report is expected to be delivered to the government on Nov. 1.

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