Governments set to decide fate of Site C Dam in Peace River Valley

Image from BC Hydro

Image from BC Hydro

Fort St. John – British Columbians will soon know the fate of the Peace Region’s proposed Site C dam, when provincial and federal governments release an expert panel’s report assessing the controversial project and recommending whether it should be approved.

If built, the Site C dam would provide 1,100 megawatts of capacity, and produce about 5,100 gigawatt hours of electricity per year — enough energy to power the equivalent of about 450,000 homes per year in the province.

BC Hydro believes the project will produce a long-term source of clean, renewable electricity. The influx of reliable power would help meet future power demand in the province, which is projected to grow by about 40 per cent over the next two decades, especially given increased electricity needs from planned Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities.

However, Site C is opposed by many BC farmers, First Nations, conservation groups and area residents, since the dam would have many large-scale environmental and social impacts. First Nations, in particular, whose traditional territories are already suffering significant impacts due to oil and gas development, are keen to protect the Peace River Valley, which contains ancient village sites and sacred areas, as well as critical wildlife habitats.

“The ability of grizzly bears, caribou and other sensitive large mammals to live in the Peace region is already severely constrained by industrial development,” said Sarah Cox of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. “Site C will make the problem worse, and some species could disappear from the region altogether.”

With a projected cost of at least $8 billion, and a reservoir that would flood 107 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries, the dam would also impact over 31,528 acres of some of BC’s most important agricultural land, constituting the largest loss of farmland in the history of the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve. Plus, the dam’s $8 billion price tag would be shouldered by BC Hydro ratepayers, who would see an additional round of rate increases to pay for the costliest infrastructure project BC Hydro has ever built.

“A great deal hangs in the balance,” said Joe Foy, National Campaign Director with the Wilderness Committee. “There is certainly no need for this expensive power, and the damage the Site C dam would do to farmland and First Nations’ territories is appalling.”

On May 1, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) announced that the panel handed its report to federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq and the BC Environmental Assessment Office. The BC and federal governments now have six months to make a final decision about whether or not to approve Site C, although a decision could come earlier.

Opponents of the Site C dam are planning two large public events to show support for protecting the Peace River Valley. A festival celebrating Peace River Valley farmland is planned for Vancouver on Saturday, June 14 and the 9th Annual Paddle for the Peace event is planned for Fort St. John on Saturday July 12.