‘Slow-Motion Disaster’: Who’s Overseeing Site C?

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‘Slow-Motion Disaster’: Who’s Overseeing Site C?


A landslide at the Site C construction site, April 15, 2018. Photo: Arlene Boon

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‘Slow-Motion Disaster’: As Canada’s New Hydro Dams Spiral Out of Control, Who’s Overseeing Site C?

Peace River Valley farmers Ken and Arlene Boon were at a lookout on a neighbour’s property on Sunday when they spotted a fresh landslide at the Site C dam construction site.

Arlene snapped some photos of the latest geotechnical issue to dog the troubled project and posted one on Facebook, with the caption: “just more of the north hill sliding down to the bottom.”

Given that the slide is on the same hill where recent attempts to stabilize the riverbank are encroaching on infrastructure for the $470 million Site C dam workers’ camp, including its water line and parking lot, the couple was not surprised to see the latest slump.

But they are astounded that the NDP government is keeping the public in the dark when it comes to details about geotechnical problems, rising contract costs and other major issues plaguing the largest publicly funded infrastructure project in B.C.’s history.

“It seems that under the NDP there’s a bigger cloak of silence,” Ken Boon, president of the Peace Valley Landowner Association, told DeSmog Canada.

“They’re just going to sit on all this bad news. It’s out of sight and out of mind.”

No public access to detailed Site C information

As soon as the B.C. Utilities Commission completed a fast-tracked review of the Site C project last November, the door slammed shut on public access to detailed information about the $10.7 billion project on the Peace River in northeast B.C.

Normally, the independent utilities commission — acting in the public interest — would provide ongoing oversight during project construction.

But the former B.C. Liberal government changed the law to remove the BCUC from scrutinizing the Site C dam, which the commission had previously rejected as an energy option.

Instead of fully restoring the commission’s watchdog role, the NDP government announced in December that it would create a new Site C “Project Assurance Board” as part of a turnaround plan to contain escalating project costs.

The new board has been meeting since January, even though its composition has not been finalized, according to an email from the B.C. energy ministry.

Yet the public has heard nothing about the board’s findings, even though a major Site C contract — to build the project’s generating station and spillways — was recently awarded for $350 million more than documents (accidentally released last fall) revealed that BC Hydro had budgeted.

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..from the above piece


Meanwhile, in Labrador and Manitoba…

In Newfoundland and Labrador, a $37.5 million Commission of Inquiry is underway — including a forensic audit — to determine where things went sideways with the hugely over-budget Muskrat Falls dam, whose $12.7 billion price tag will add $1,800 a year to the annual hydro bills of every household in the province.

Vardy said while the commission can pinpoint what went wrong and make recommendations, it can’t address what he calls the “democratic deficit.”

“Which is what happened in our governance system that allowed us to go down this road without correction,” Vardy said in an interview.

In Manitoba, where the over-budget Keeyask dam is also causing hydro rates to soar, the former head of the province’s Public Utilities Board is among those calling for a forensic audit to examine why things went so wrong.

Graham Lane, who chaired the utilities board from 2004 to 2012, said the situation in Manitoba is so dire that he and others are calling for an immediate halt to construction of the Keeyask dam, even though up to $4.5 billion in sunk costs have been incurred.

That compares to about $2 billion in sunk costs for Site C.

“This story isn’t going to end very well,” Lane, a retired chartered accountant, said in an interview. “It’s never too late to stop.”

Manitoba hydro customers now face compounding eight per cent rate increases each year for six years in a row as a result of over-spending on the Keeyask dam and related transmission lines.

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Anti-Site C petition approved by Elections BC

Elections B.C. has approved an application to try to stop the Site C dam construction project using the province’s recall and initiative law.

The petitioner is identified as Ion Delsol Moruso, a Cowichan Valley resident who was among those signing a letter to Premier John Horgan in February opposing the dam. The petition is to be issued in July, giving organizers 90 days to collect signatures of at least 10 per cent of registered voters in each of B.C.’s 87 electoral districts.

The law has only been used successfully once, to force the cancellation of the harmonized sales tax in 2010.

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Feds surprise B.C. by abstaining on Site C dam legal challenge

The German word schadenfreude immediately sprang to mind for Victoria lawyer Robert Janes when he heard the surprise news that the federal government will not contest an interim injunction application by a Treaty 8 First Nation seeking to halt work on the Site C dam.

Janes said there are many officials in Ottawa who believe the B.C. government is deliberately putting Ottawa in an untenable position on the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion championed by Alberta and the federal government.

“That has probably not created a lot of willingness on the part of the federal government to bail B.C. out of the fight that B.C. has chosen to have with the Treaty 8 First Nations,” said Janes, a litigator with extensive experience representing First Nations.

“I’m sure there are many federal politicians and officials having the feeling of schadenfreude or, as the German say, happiness in the misery of others, as they look at B.C. in this situation. But that of course is purely speculative.”

The decision leaves the B.C. government to stand alone in court this July fighting West Moberly First Nations, which brought the injunction application pending a full civil trial that aims to terminate the Site C project on the grounds that it infringes on treaty rights.

The question of whether the Site C dam infringes on treaty rights has never been tested in the courts, and a favourable ruling for First Nations could shut down the entire Peace River hydro project.

Tim Thielmann, a lawyer for West Moberly First Nations and Prophet River First Nation, said Canada’s position appears to be unprecedented.

Thielmann said he is not aware of any other case in Canada in which a government has elected not to defend its own authorizations from being struck down by litigation brought by First Nations.

The Site C dam required multiple federal authorizations to proceed, including one permit that granted BC Hydro permission to cause “serious harm” to fish habitat.

“They [the federal government] say that they do not consent to the injunction,” Thielmann said in an interview. “But they do not oppose the injunction. What they say is they take no position. It’s the equivalent of abstaining on a vote.”


Contradictory positions from federal government

The federal move also shines a national spotlight on the B.C. government’s contradictory position towards First Nations, a position that Chief Roland Willson of West Moberly First Nations called “hypocrisy.”

“They’re playing hardball on Kinder Morgan,” Willson said in an interview. “They’re saying ‘let’s stop everything and let the courts decide,’ but here on Site C they’re just rolling ahead.”

“We’ve asked them numerous times to stop. That’s the part that’s hard to understand. They’re saying one thing for Kinder Morgan but totally saying the complete opposite on Site C. They’re speaking out of both sides of their mouth.”

Like the federal government, B.C.’s NDP government has pledged to advance reconciliation and to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that large resource projects such as the Site C dam must have the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples.

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‘You take us off the land, and you destroy a piece of who we are’

The following is an excerpt from Breaching the Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley’s Stand Against Big Hydro, by Sarah Cox, released this month.

For Chief Willson and other First Nations, BC Hydro’s response to multiple requests to leave the gravesites and sweat lodge untouched, and to reroute the new highway, encapsulated everything egregious and unbalanced about the entire Site C process.

It also underscored that the B.C. government, through BC Hydro, was in the driver’s seat, while the valley’s people were captive, seat-belted passengers speeding to a finish line they had no wish to reach.

As the chiefs soon discovered, the recommendations of Canada’s landmark Truth and Reconciliation Commission meant little when it came to Site C. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election promise to forge a new relationship with Canada’s First Peoples came to mean even less when the new federal government did not exercise its power to pause Site C construction, at least until First Nations court cases were resolved.

Grand Chief [Stewart] Phillip, the long-standing president of the B.C. Union of Indian Chiefs, used the words “blatant hypocrisy” and “racist double standards” to describe the provincial government’s treatment of the First Nations members who were fighting Site C. Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, declared that proceeding with Site C contravened both Canadian and international law, for it trampled on the ability of Treaty 8 First Nations to exercise their inherent and treaty rights.

Willson, for his part, said the B.C. government was punishing his First Nation because they refused to be, in Willson’s words, “good little Indians.”


“What we’re opposed to,” he insisted, “are the unnecessary impacts of Site C. Site C is 100 per cent unnecessary.”

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Site C Injunction Request Has Strong Argument But Poor Odds

The federal government made a splash in the Site C news cycle earlier this month when Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould announced it would not oppose an injunction application from two First Nations groups. It means the B.C. government and BC Hydro will go into the injunction hearing, scheduled for mid-summer, without the federal government on their side. It also removes a heavyweight influence in court.

“It’s significant that one of the governments, whose authorization stands to be struck down by this injunction, has decided that they will not oppose it,” said Tim Thielmann, general counsel for the nations, saying the courts tend to defer to the Crown’s position on understanding public interest.

Beyond that, it’s not clear the federal government’s absence will change anything. UBC Indigenous law professor Gordon Christie says it’s an interesting move that won’t amount to much.

“I think they’re trying to change the image they’re projecting, but they’re picking a situation that it doesn’t really seem to lead to a different outcome,” Christie said. “So it looks good for them, but they’re also probably well aware of the fact that B.C. will fight tooth and nail to have the dam construction continue, so they don’t have to do anything.”


The injunction application, filed in January, is related to two civil suits filed by West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations. The two nations argue that Site C and the combined effects of the two other dams on the Peace River are an unjustified infringement of Treaty 8 rights. Previous court challenges have been unable to address this question because they were judicial reviews, a streamlined process.

“Because work on the project is proceeding, it was necessary to bring an interim injunction to ask the court to suspend work on the dam so that the rights that we say are being infringed aren’t gone before the First Nations can have their day in court,” Thielmann said.

West Moberly is asking for a full stop of construction except for any preservation activities needed to maintain the site until the civil case is heard. Failing that, it’s asked for work to be stopped on 13 critical areas. It also requested an expedited trial date.

Most impacts from the dam are irrevocable; if the injunction fails, the infringed rights can’t be restored. The only recourse will be monetary.

“I suspect that the Treaty 8 nations have a reasonable chance at winning the infringement case, but what will that mean?” Christie said. “It will just mean they get some compensation. Taxpayers will be on the hook — and of course no government official is going to suffer at all from this. They’ll have the dam built, and the water will flood the valley, and the oil and gas industry will have their cheap power to continue their fracking operations up there.”

Rev Pesky

From above posted article:

Christie said. “It will just mean they get some compensation. ... They’ll have the dam built, and the water will flood the valley, and the oil and gas industry will have their cheap power to continue their fracking operations up there.”

That's kind of interesting, because up 'til now the excuse for the opposition was that the Site C power was going to be used for the LNG industry.

Martin N.

For some background on this issue, I found it very informative to research the origin and effect of Treaty 8. 

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

Rev Pesky wrote:

From above posted article:

Christie said. “It will just mean they get some compensation. ... They’ll have the dam built, and the water will flood the valley, and the oil and gas industry will have their cheap power to continue their fracking operations up there.”

That's kind of interesting, because up 'til now the excuse for the opposition was that the Site C power was going to be used for the LNG industry.

..i've always used the term lng industry to encompass the extraction as well.

..that aside i remember posting a piece a while back about site c also being used to power fracking. i recall you calling it nonsense or some such thing and saying it wasn't possible.

..are you now conceding that point? or is this just another attempt by you to try and discredit the point that site c is being built to power lng.

Rev Pesky

epaulo13 wrote:

..are you now conceding that point? or is this just another attempt by you to try and discredit the point that site c is being built to power lng.

I would say the amount of evidence that Site C electricity will be used for fracking or LNG is about the same. That is, there isn't any evidence for either. 

However, I'm willing to listen to any evidence you have, for either. But just saying so doesn't constitue evidence.

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

BC Hydro says three LNG companies continue to demand electricity, justifying Site C

Despite recent project cancellations, BC Hydro still expects three LNG projects — and possibly a fourth, which is undergoing a feasibility study — will need power from its controversial and expensive Site C hydroelectric dam.

In a letter sent to the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) on Oct. 3, BC Hydro’s chief regulatory officer Fred James said the provincially owned utility’s load forecast includes power demand for three proposed liquefied natural gas projects because they continue to ask the company for power.


In a redacted section of the report, BC Hydro also raises the possibility of a fourth LNG project, which is exploring the need for power in B.C.

“BC Hydro is currently undertaking feasibility studies for another large LNG project, which is not currently included in its Current Load Forecast,” one section of the report notes, though the remainder of the section is redacted.

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

The gas that will be shipped as LNG will actually be LFG.  The worst lies about gas power for homes is allowing the term natural to be attached to the gas that they are selling which is largely extracted by the fracking process.  LNG and fracking are insepearable parts of Canada's mad rush to sell as much carbon as possible before its too late. Our oil oligarchy plays all the parties really well.

Site C is a broken BC NDP promise.  I guess those BC oil lobbyists Moe Sihota and Ken Georgetti still have sway.  The two of them have done more to destroy the democratic left in the BC NDP and the labour movement than any right wingers attacks.

Martin N.

epaulo13 wrote:

Rev Pesky wrote:

From above posted article:

Christie said. “It will just mean they get some compensation. ... They’ll have the dam built, and the water will flood the valley, and the oil and gas industry will have their cheap power to continue their fracking operations up there.”

That's kind of interesting, because up 'til now the excuse for the opposition was that the Site C power was going to be used for the LNG industry.

..i've always used the term lng industry to encompass the extraction as well.

..that aside i remember posting a piece a while back about site c also being used to power fracking. i recall you calling it nonsense or some such thing and saying it wasn't possible.

..are you now conceding that point? or is this just another attempt by you to try and discredit the point that site c is being built to power lng.

Upstream natural gas extraction has little to do with liquefied natural gas except to provide the feedstock.

While Site C or any other electrical generation source can power an LNG plant, fracking, by its nature must be portable, ie: large diesel powered compressors mounted on tractor- trailer combinations. Site C power cannot be used for fracking.

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

Site C is a broken BC NDP promise.

..site c is more than a broken promise it's a betrayal on a notley scale. the deliberately lies as there was never any intention to seriously consider stopping the dam's construction. included was all the crocodile tears shed by those ndp caucus members who spoke in public about the difficulty of the decision. 

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..i repeat a notley sized betrayal.

British Columbians shortchanged billions from fossil fuel industry revenues

Earlier this year, Premier John Horgan announced that the British Columbia government was prepared to offer billions of dollars in tax breaks to Royal Dutch Shell should the global fossil fuel giant build a massive liquefied natural gas plant on our province’s north coast.

Absent from the news then, however, was any mention of how the public is being shortchanged billions of dollars in revenues from the fossil fuel industry regardless of whether Shell proceeds with its LNG Canada project or not.

Happily picking up where the previous BC government left off, the current government allows Shell and its competitors to dramatically reduce the royalties they pay on natural gas and other hydrocarbons they drill and frack from the ground in BC’s northeast quarter.

Now, in an ominous development, our government says we are not even entitled to know how much the government actually subsidizes individual energy companies.

In mid-March, the government passed an amendment to the Petroleum and Natural Gas Act. Ministry of Finance officials say the new “confidentiality” provision prevents them from disclosing what individual fossil fuel companies pay in royalties.

If this stands, British Columbians of all political leanings ought to worry.

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..more from #16


Companies like Shell gain access to our fossil fuel resources when our government sells them “subsurface rights”. After those sales, companies may produce natural gas and other fossil fuels by drilling and fracking them from the ground. But once they do so, they must pay royalties on what they extract. Those royalties then help the provincial government pay for a very tiny portion of our health, education and other public service costs.

I say tiny because the public benefits derived from those royalties are dropping faster than a stone through water.

In fiscal year 2008, according to the “upstream development division” of BC’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, British Columbians received $1.16 billion in royalty revenues. By 2017, however, revenues had fallen nearly 90 per cent to $147 million. Yet over that same time, natural gas production shot up 72 per cent and production of gas liquids such as condensate entered the stratosphere, climbing by 250 per cent. Virtually all of the increased output was piped east to Alberta’s oil sands industry.

Now, the government that provided those generous subsidies says the public is not entitled to know what individual companies pay in royalties.

Is our government afraid to let us know? You be the judge.

Every time Shell or its competitors drill deep or horizontal wells in BC – even though such wells are standard industry practice – our government grants them credits allowing them to claim back part of the costs of doing so. The credits translate into far lower royalty payments on the natural gas and gas liquids those companies produce.

In each of the last 10 years, Shell and others used those credits to reduce their royalties by a massive amount. In the last six years in particular, the write-downs were never less than 60 per cent and as high as 73 per cent. What this means is that collectively over the past decade British Columbians lost nearly $5 billion in additional royalty revenues.

And the subsidy train has only just pulled out of the station.

In a startling disclosure last November, BC Energy Minister Michelle Mungall said the current value of outstanding credits is $3.2 billion – a whopping $1.1 billion more than the previous year. That eyebrow-raising jump in the credit account is two times greater than the previous record for an annual increase. Yet when asked to elaborate on the unprecedented increase, Mungall’s communication’s director, David Haslam, declined to provide any concrete explanation.


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Bureaucrats prepared Site C dam press release a week before NDP reportedly made decision to proceed

B.C. energy ministry staff were instructed to prepare a press package saying the Site C dam would proceed almost a week before Premier John Horgan held final deliberations with his Cabinet, according to documents released under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation.

Energy ministry bureaucrats and BC Hydro also compiled information for the NDP government to demonstrate that terminating the $10.7 billion Site C project would nail BC Hydro customers with higher hydro bills, according to the documents.

The rising hydro bill scenario was later overstated by the government to cast the worst possible light on the consequences of halting the project.

The FOI documents indicate that at least five days before the provincial cabinet met last December 6 and reportedly made the final decision to proceed with the Site C dam, and at least 10 days before Premier John Horgan announced “with a heavy heart” that the project would continue, senior officials in the lead ministry in charge of the file considered the decision a done deal.


According to the heavily redacted FOI documents, on or before December 1 the B.C. energy ministry asked BC Hydro to compile different scenarios to explain the impact of a 12 per cent hydro rate increase.

On December 2, BC Hydro president Chris O’Riley sent an email — with the subject heading “termination rate increase put in terms of customer bills” — to energy ministry deputy minister Dave Nikolejsin and assistant deputy minister Les MacLaren.

BC Hydro detailed examples of the impact of a 12 per cent rate hike in four different regions of the province, for three types of dwellings: single family dwellings, townhouses and apartments.

Out of 12 different scenarios BC Hydro sent to the B.C. energy ministry, the only one the government chose to highlight to reporters on the day of Horgan’s announcement was the most expensive scenario — the impact on a single family dwelling on Vancouver Island.

And even that scenario was taken out of context, because it was for a household with electric heat, rather than an oil or gas furnace — a detail omitted in final press documents prepared by the energy ministry.

According to Statistics Canada, only 28 per cent of B.C. households use electric heat.


Project financing experts told The Narwhal that the 12 per cent rate hike scenario presented by the government was out of step with standard practice for North American utilities that decide to discontinue an energy project.

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..a healthy side of bc hydro.

Skidegate on the way to becoming a "city of the future"

HlGaagilda (Skidegate) is on the way to becoming a city of the future. In a genuine effort to decrease diesel consumption, heat pumps have been installed in almost all of 350 homes and solar panels installed on all major buildings.


The band ordered so many heat pumps that the installer, Fujitsu Canada, sent a representative to the island to find out what was going on. The Fujitsu team was inspired by what they learned and gave the band reduced pricing for everyone who was interested in buying a pump. They also fit the George Brown Recreation Centre and community hall with heat pumps for free, Yovanovich explained.

"The money saved is both a big and small part of it," Stevens said. "Our main concern is for Mother Earth."

Heat pumps will be saving people about $100/month, which works out to over $400,000/year. This affects both Skidegate and the surrounding communities. Heat pumps improve air quality and circulation throughout the home or building, reduce mold and are cost efficient.

Stevens pointed to the heat pump above her head in the office, as it opened and closed in silence, working away to regulate the temperature of the room.

Working with B.C. Hydro, the band has started to install energy efficient upgrades in every home. Through the Energy Assistance Conservation Program, B.C. Hydro has changed light-bulbs to LED lighting, put pipe wrapping on hot water pipes, and draft-proofed windows and doors in many homes. Moraes said they bring B.C. Hydro members to the community to run workshops and give presentations that provide training and education for the community, building capacity and help the community to take even more meaningful steps towards energy self-dependence.

"We have a healthy relationship with B.C. Hydro," Moraes said, and the others agreed. "We have been collaborating with B.C. Hydro for over ten years and through them, piloted programs on-reserve, to become more sustainable."

The band council is currently working on building a small office for B.C. Hydro on the reserve. Media relations representative of B.C. Hydro, Susie Rieder said in an email that the heatpump project they helped fund is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 570 tonnes a year. That's the equivalent of saving 750,000 kWh annually- enough to power 68 homes.

"We provided the band with over $250,000 in rebates to fund this project through our Home Rennovation Rebate Offer, where homeowners can receive rebates for a variety of energy-efficient upgrades," Rieder explained. "The Band also participates in our Net Metering program – designed for customers who want to generate electricity for their own use and to offset their load."

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After heat pumps came solar panels.

Empowered, literally, by the success of the heat pump project, the community looked at other clean energy initiatives. Skidegate rests on the southeastern side of the island and receives more sun that most other areas. Solar seemed like the natural next step.

"Solar energy is just starting to gain speed. People were afraid of it, because most things were high risk, high cost," Moraes said. "But solar prices have dropped significantly in the last ten years. More people want to work with solar, since panels are cheaper and batteries more efficient."

All of the Chief Administrative Officers on Haida Gwaii meet every one to two months. In a meeting, led by Kim Mushynsky, they collectively decided to "solar-up" one building in every community. Skidegate councilors chose to solarize the George Brown rec centre, a 50Kw project.

Moraes said solar offsets the demand of electricity from diesel generation. On October 13, 2016, more than 23,000 litres of diesel from a sunken barge devastated more than 60 per cent of the Heiltsuk Nation's clam beds. The catastrophic spill, and other spills and scares like it, emphasize the risk that oil tankers pose to the coast and the need for more appropriate marine response. Yovanovich said they don't want to see a similar disaster to the Nathan E. Stewart on their coast. As ambassadors of the land, moving away from diesel is a top priority, Moraes added.

After the rec building, the band council was inspired to solarize more buildings. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada had a big funding blitz, Stevens said, for “Canada150,” so the council took advantage of the moment and applied for funding to do the roofs on the Haida Heritage Centre. They also secured funding from Gwaii Trust, a locally-controlled perpetual trust fund, and smaller solar companies.

For the project, they contacted David Isaac, President of W Dusk Energy Group. With the support of Bullfrog Power, W Dusk sent a crew to Haida Gwaii, to install a uniquely designed solar project- the biggest of its kind in the province.

Isaac is Mi'kmaq, originally from Listuguj, Quebec, but raised in Vancouver. In a café downtown Vancouver, he said he started out working in healthcare, had studied to become a doctor, but always had an on and off relationship with energy. He decided to commit to clean energy, when he saw how Indigenous communities were leading the way for a more renewable future in Canada. After the Heritage Centre solar project, Isaac started saying, "If you can do solar in Haida Gwaii, you can do it anywhere."

"Initially we looked at wind, ocean and thermal heat pumps, a whole host of technologies, but we ended up coming full circle to solar," he explained. "When you add it all up, solar was the best option on a price per watt basis, and considering operation and maintenance."