B.C. Premier John Horgan has given the green light to completion of the Site C hydroelectric dam, after B.C. Hydro revised its cost estimate upward by more than $1 billion.
The B.C. NDP cabinet has struggled with the decision, with the project two years in and facing a cost of $4 billion to shut down construction of the third dam on the Peace River and put the site back the way it was.
After hearing from experts for weeks, the government faced an estimate that B.C. Hydro rates are already expected to rise 30 per cent over the next 10 years without the costs of Site C.
If the dam is halted, rates would go up another 12 per cent by 2020 to pay the cost. That translates to an extra $198 per year for an average single-family house.
When it proceeds, government officials expect the additional rate increase would be 6.5 per cent when the dam goes into service in 2024. B.C. Hydro would likely apply to the B.C. Utilities Commission to “smooth” that rate increase, raising it in smaller steps to pay for the dam.
Horgan blasted the previous B.C. Liberal government for “megaproject mismanagement” that left the NDP government with little choice.
“It’s clear that Site C should never have been started,” Horgan said. “But to cancel it now would add billions to the province’s debt – putting at risk our ability to deliver housing, child care, schools and hospitals across B.C. And that’s a price we’re not willing to pay.”
The risk reserve for Site C has been increased by $700 million to prepare for further costs increases.
B.C. Liberal critic Mike Bernier, MLA for Peace River South, said the project had been studied for a decade and 2,000 families and Peace region businesses have been left with uncertainty while the new government’s review carried on.
B.C. Liberal finance critic Tracy Redies, a former B.C. Hydro board member, said the NDP’s review confirmed that with projected growth in electricity demand, B.C. will need the equivalent of nine Site C dams by 2050.
B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver said proceeding with Site C was a result of the NDP “pandering for votes” by taking $4.7 billion of Port Mann bridge debt onto the government books to cancel bridge tolls.
Now the province can’t afford the $4 billion cost of stopping the dam, and it has two bad policies based on political expediency, Weaver said.