By Cam Fortems, Kamloops This Week
While there are uncertainties with budgeting and future power demand, Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar (Liberal) is urging the New Democrats to complete construction of the controversial Site C project on the Peace River near Fort St. John.
Politicians and conservation groups reacted this week to release of a report by the B.C. Utilities Commission that places a difficult decision in front of the governing NDP: continue with construction on a project with uncertain demand that may exceed $10 billion in costs or shut it down, clean it up and restore the land at a bill of $1.8 billion — with nothing to show for it.
“I don’t think the report is anything surprising,” said Milobar, who is urging the New Democrats to make a swift decision on the project, while the legislature is in session.
“Twenty six hundred people are hanging by a thread whether they’ll have a job.”
In the bigger picture, Milobar said many mega-projects struggle with cost overruns.
“Your end result is still going to be a power supply that’s secure and stable and can provide on-demand power day or night for the next 100 years.”
Gisela Ruckert, a sustainable energy advocate in Kamloops, said the utilities commission report has placed the New Democrat government in a difficult position.
The only option ruled out in the report is to suspend and restart the project in 2024 — something that will add $3.6 billion in costs and is the most expensive of the three scenarios.
“I’ve never been a fan of the project particularly,” she said.
“I feel sooner or later we’ll want that high-quality agricultural land and there’s large concern about Aboriginal rights.”
But Ruckert said she recognizes “we’ve put so much into it.”
The commission found a package of alternative energy — wind, solar and geothermal — could provide similar cost benefits compared to Site C. It also said BC Hydro has overestimated demand for power.
Ruckert said the decision sets the NDP up to be criticized no matter its decision for factors put in place by the B.C. Liberals.
“There’s so much risk on either side,” she said.
Milobar and his Liberal colleagues, however, are urging the project move ahead.
“Other jurisdictions are developing wind and solar because they don’t have the ability to develop hydro — that’s a competitive advantage,” Milobar said.
The independent review concluded the $8.3 billion megaproject is over budget and behind schedule.
The utilities commission says the dam is not likely to be completed by the 2024 deadline and could end up costing 20 to 50 per cent more than budgeted, increasing completion costs to above $10 billion.
The province’s minority NDP government asked the utilities regulator to examine the project’s economic viability, which was a signature job-creation initiative of former Liberal premier Christy Clark.