Sitting down with a cup of tea before bed last night, I watched a bit of TV, flipping through the channels before settling on the 10 pm news on Global BC 1. Early on, a segment came up on the arrests at the Site C demonstration outside the BC Hydro gates, and a brief mention of the Treaty 8 campers at the heritage Rocky Mountain Fort Site.
Next thing you know, a gruff Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy & Mines is onscreen talking about Site C.
This was his statement:
” We’re a duly elected government that took seven years to do our due diligence, to determine that this was the best way to acquire new electricity at the lowest price, clean electricity , uh, that is with Site C. We made that decision,uh, we’re going to have to get this project built on time,otherwise it will go over budget.”
It starts at the 1:06 mark at this video segment, but do watch the entire clip – the energy lawyer at the end say this could still all go sideways : http://globalnews.ca/video/2441396/site-c-controversy
After so many years of writing this blog, or during the years I wrote the debate column in 24Hours Vancouver, the stuff that comes out of politicians mouths really shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but yet, it still does. I guess it’s just the optimist in me that still believes people who are elected should stand with a bit more integrity than this.
My outrage simmering again despite the vanilla chai tea, I took to social media to quickly share why his statement- unquestioned- was just so outrageous:
And off to bed I went, firmly resolved to blog again in the morning.
Honestly Bill, just because you said it, doesn’t make it true. But of course for many politicians truth is highly subjective.
The truth is that in 2010, under former premier Gordon Campbell, the BC government made sure Site C and many other energy projects,would never face the scrutiny of the public or the BC Utilities Commission. Andrew Nikiforuk sums it up so well, right here:
Bypassing the public’s watchdog
Given the huge cost to taxpayers and so powerful arguments against it, such a project deserves to be adjudicated by an impartial body with the public interest as its mission. That would be the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC).
The specific public mandate of the BCUC is “to ensure that ratepayers receive safe, reliable, and non-discriminatory energy services at fair rates from the utilities it regulates.” The only time the BCUC vetted the Site C project was back in 1983, and it rejected it.
This time around, the B.C. government excluded the project for any such due diligence, explaining “only duly elected officials have a right to make” such monumental decisions and not regulatory bodies specifically designed to provide checks and balances on political decision-making.
Economist Marvin Shaffer told The Tyee that “In my view, the government didn’t want the BCUC to review the merits and in particular the timing of Site C because it could well have been rejected by the Commission.”
“Virtually every ratepayer group including large power users and the wide range of general (commercial) users as well as the Public Interest Advocacy Centre would argue against building Site C at this time,” added Shaffer, a professor at Simon Fraser’s School of Public Policy.
Long story short, if this government doesn’t like the rules of the game, they change them. And we will all pay the price if the federal government does not see fit to intervene and pull approval :
Panel warns of ratepayer hit
But even a 2014 joint federal and provincial environmental assessment panel couldn’t find any real need for the project. Their 473-page study dramatically concluded that the BC Hydro had “not fully demonstrated the need for the project on the timetable set forth… For a number of reasons set out in the text, the Panel cannot conclude that the power of Site C is needed on the schedule presented.”
The panel pointed out that in most places around the world, energy intensive liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals usually provide their own energy needs by burning natural gas. In addition the dam wouldn’t be generating power till 2024 or several years after most proposed terminals were to be built.
As a result the panel recommended that the BC Utilities Commission conduct a thorough review of the project as well as future provincial electrical needs and societal costs if the government decided to proceed with Site C.
The panel also made many other key points. For example, it concluded that a number of energy alternatives such as geothermal were “competitive with Site C on a standard financial analysis” but found the province hadn’t carefully explored the option.
The panel also noted that “a failure to pursue research over the last 30 years into B.C.’s geothermal resources has left BC Hydro without information about a resource that BC Hydro thinks may offer up to 700 megawatts of firm, economic power with low environmental costs.”
The panel added that the province’s Clean Energy Act gave the province and BC Hydro the mandate to investigate these matters.
The federal assessment also questioned the high cost of the project and the risks for ratepayers: “BC Hydro projects losing $800 million [from the dam] in the first four years of operation. These losses would come home to B.C. ratepayers in one way or another.”
There are outstanding court cases involving Treaty 8 members, who are currently exercising their rights at Rocky Mountain Fort camp, one of the oldest and most historic sites in the province, trying to prevent it from being logged. Rich in history for First Nations and non-indigenous people, history is again being made right now at that site. http://blogs.theprovince.com/2016/01/07/sarah-cox-with-site-c-protest-history-is-again-being-made-at-the-rocky-mountain-fort/ ( a must read, even I had no idea of the history of this site. )
But still, Bill says, we must move ahead and build this dam ( we don’t need) or it will be over budget. ( which history shows is likely to double by the end of construction http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-03-10/large-dams-cost-double-original-budget-oxford-researchers-say)
It is a legacy project, pure and simple. They knew it would not be approved by the independent review of the BCUC. They did nothing to pursue the alternatives suggested the first time it was rejected. And then they changed the rules, when the rules didn’t work in their favour.
This is not about good policy. It’s not even about clean energy anymore. It’s about being able to say ” We built the largest infrastructure project BC has ever seen.”
1) BC Hydro issues eviction notice under cover of New Years Eve https://lailayuile.com/2016/01/02/bc-hydro-issues-rocky-mountain-fort-campers-at-site-c-a-24-hour-eviction-notice-on-new-years-eve/
2) A litmus test for ‘Real Change’ : where is Justin Trudeau on Site C? Why isn’t new federal government investigating why Harper invoked cabinet secrecy on Site C decison? https://lailayuile.com/2016/01/04/the-litmus-test-for-real-change-where-is-prime-minister-justin-trudeau-on-sitec/
3) ( photos of demonstration here) Separate demonstration at Site C BC Hydro gates results in three arrests, including Arthur Hadland- long time former Peace River politician https://lailayuile.com/2016/01/06/longtime-peace-river-politician-and-site-c-opponent-arthur-hadland-arrested-at-site-c-demonstration-today
4) UBCIC issues press release one day after Treaty 8 does, asking BC Hydro to stand down. https://lailayuile.com/2016/01/07/first-nations-prepare-for-arrest-to-stop-site-c-dam-ask-prime-minister-to-suspend-federal-approval/
**The most telling comments from Bennett came in this Globe and Mail article from a while back. The last two paragraphs, are alarming.