May 12, 2014
Time for BC Government to also look at lower cost, less impactful power supply options to Site C
In responding to the release of the Joint Review Panel report, the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) commended the Panel's exhaustive study of the environmental impacts of the proposed Site C hydroelectric project in northeast BC, as well as the Panel's conclusion that critical information gaps on project costs and renewable energy alternatives preclude a firm recommendation on whether Site C is the best option for meeting future electricity needs.
CanWEA BC Regional Director Nicholas Heap says that the Panel has done a thorough job of assessing a wide range of identified environmental impacts, both positive and negative.
"The Panel recommendations on environmental and economic impacts provide guidance on the kinds of additional information the Province will need to make informed decisions that serve the best interests of BC Hydro ratepayers and British Columbians," Heap says.
The Panel recognizes the benefits of the Site C dam as a zero-emission renewable energy facility, highlighting its avoided-air and low greenhouse emissions during electricity generation; and finding that a number of assessed environmental impacts would not be significant if recommended mitigation actions are implemented.
However, the Panel also highlights areas where Site C would cause "significant adverse effects" on a range of other environmental issues; including fish and fish habitat, valley bottom wetlands, several threatened or endangered species of birds and bats, and on "visual resources." The Panel notes that some expected environmental impacts "cannot be mitigated" including those to "migratory birds relying on valley bottom habitat" as well as on hunting, non-tenured trapping, fishing and other traditional uses of the land by local First Nations.
Of equal value to this environmental impact assessment, notes Heap, is the Panel's identification of critical information gaps that prevented it from reaching a broader conclusion on whether the Site C project is the best option for expanding electricity supply.
Site C's design as a one-size-only 1100 megawatt project, its high capital cost and long construction timeline are major concerns given, as the Panel notes, the near-impossibility of accurately predicting long-term electricity demand to meet industrial development.
The Panel is particularly concerned about the lack of reliable information on economic costs. Low-cost alternatives to Site C are available, but "the Panel cannot be confident that IPP alternatives vs. BC Hydro alternatives, or supply vs. demand management alternatives, are accurately valued." Particularly striking is the Panel's lack of confidence in the modeling of costs and project financing for the Site C project, describing it as "an accounting marvel should not be allowed to drive choices that would affect the BC economy and landscape for many decades."
"Clearly, we need better numbers for Site C, and more analysis of other low-cost electricity supply options that can be brought on incrementally and at the appropriate scale to meet our future needs, " Heap says.
Heap adds that with rapid technology improvements and lower turbine costs, BC Hydro's own analyses indicates that wind energy now comprises the bulk of BC lowest-cost renewable energy generation opportunities.
"Wind is zero-emission, low-impact renewable energy generation that enjoys strong support from First Nations and British Columbians," he explains. "Wind is already producing enough electricity in the province to power every household in northern BC, and there are lots of additional low-cost, low-impact resources identified and ready for construction."
Heap says the recommendations of the Panel call for better information and more informed outcomes.
"CanWEA and the wind energy industry in BC will be working with BC Hydro and the provincial government in the months ahead to ensure that all viable options - including wind - are thoroughly assessed so that the province's next generation assets really do offer the greatest benefit at the lowest economic and environmental cost to ratepayers and to all British Columbians," he says.
For more information:
The Canadian Wind Energy Association
Suite 710, 1600 Carling Avenue
Canada, K1Z 1G3