An environmental review of BC Hydro's proposed third dam on the Peace River concludes it offers a long-term source of inexpensive electricity to meet future needs, but panelists are unconvinced that construction needs to start next year.
The joint federal-provincial panel released its report Thursday on Site C, a $7.9 billion project that has been considered for 30 years. Its report describes significant impacts to fish habitat, wetlands and aboriginal hunting and trapping territories, and recommends the B.C. government consider alternatives for clean energy including large-scale geothermal that BC Hydro is currently not allowed to build.
Energy Minister Bill Bennett said the federal and provincial governments will study the 450-page report and decide by this fall whether to issue the required permits. If they are approved, a final investment decision is expected by the end of 2014, with a decade of construction to begin in January 2015.
Bennett noted that the panel did not factor in extra demand for electricity for liquefied natural gas development in northern B.C., because major producers intend to power their LNG processing plants with natural gas.
Bennett said LNG producers will need substantial electricity for their operations, beyond the main machinery for chilling and compressing gas. A smaller LNG plant proposed for the Woodfibre pulp mill site near Squamish would use all-electric processing, and it alone would add substantially to BC Hydro's industrial load, he said.
"We know the demand for power is growing," Bennett said. "Our population is set to increase by 1.1 million people over the next 20 years, our economy is growing, people are using more devices and there are new uses for electricity like shore power [for ships in port] and electric vehicles."
NDP leader John Horgan termed the government's construction plan "reckless and irresponsible," adding billions to BC Hydro's debt at a time when ratepayers are looking at 28% rate increases in the next five years.
Horgan said the uncertainties about load forecasting and costs should be referred to the B.C. Utilities Commission, but Bennett said that is unlikely to happen.
Aboriginal people in the Peace region say Treaty 8 guarantees them the right to hunt, trap and fish as they did before the treaty was signed in 1899.