BC Hydro/NDP use Covid delays to cover for the real story of Site C progress report: No foundation stability, no plan in sight to fix it, no final project cost and no in service date.
In the age old tradition used by politicians of every stripe who are forced to release bad news, the NDP waited until late Friday before the BC day long weekend to tell the public about the long overdue progress reports on the Site C dam.
And the news wasn’t good…. delays and rising costs related to the Covid pandemic had taken its toll, and now the project was facing cost overruns, and unknown in service date and worse yet…. a final budget figure couldn’t even be given! In fact, a quick google search shows the majority of headlines and excerpts on this by media bought the carefully crafted press messaging hook line and sinker on the Covid angle, with some not even mentioning the bigger story held within the report.
It was the infatiguable Sarah Cox of The Narwhal who immediately posted the real story... the one that no one wants to talk about, and for good reason….
“The Site C dam project is facing unknown cost overruns, schedule delays and such profound geotechnical problems that its overall health has been classified as “red,” meaning the project is in serious trouble, according to two overdue project reports released by BC Hydro on Friday.
BC Hydro and B.C. Energy Minister Bruce Ralston blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for the Site C project’s deepening woes.
Yet BC Hydro’s own reports show the project was facing significant cost and scheduling pressures long before the pandemic emerged in B.C. On March 18, B.C. declared a state of emergency, but the province deemed the Site C dam an essential service, allowing work on the $10.7 billion project to continue.
According to the reports, as of December BC Hydro was already scrambling to deal with formidable geotechnical issues on the Peace River’s notoriously unstable right bank, which is intended to provide the foundation for the project’s powerhouse, spillway and future dam. The reports said the magnitude of the geotechnical issues has become increasingly apparent this year.
“I don’t think it’s credible [to use the pandemic] in explaining what’s happened so far,” said Harry Swain, chair of the panel that examined Site C for the provincial and federal governments.
Swain said significant problems with foundation conditions under the right bank have been known for at least two years, giving BC Hydro plenty of time to update the project’s cost and schedule.
“BC Hydro is concealing information or the government is not asking for it,” Swain told The Narwhal.
Cox was quickly followed up by Vaughn Palmers story, which left no doubt as to what was really going on here:
“The New Democrats tried Friday to blame the pandemic for the latest budget and scheduling setbacks at B.C. Hydro’s troubled Site C hydroelectric project.
But Hydro confirmed that one of the biggest problems surfaced before B.C. had its first confirmed case of COVID-19.
“At the end of December 2019, a … geological risk materialized on the right bank,” the company reported in twin filings to the overseer, the B.C. Utilities Commission.
Hydro previously had to address geotechnical problems at Site C. Some tension cracks emerged on the left (or north) bank of the Peace River when the B.C. Liberal government was in office, adding construction costs and delaying the river diversion by a year.
But the seriousness of the problem on the right (or south) bank emerged only as a result of “analysis of geological mapping and monitoring activities during construction.”
If not addressed, it threatens the stability of the entire project.
“BC Hydro identified that additional scope and design enhancements would be required to further enhance the foundations of the structures on the right bank including the powerhouse, spillways and earth fill dam.”
Yes: The fix requires shoring up the foundations of the powerhouse, the spillways and the earthen fill dam itself.
Nor is it readily apparent how to fix things, according to Hydro’s far-from-reassuring filings to the Utilities Commission.
Possible solutions include “design changes for the roller-compacted concrete core buttress to enhance the foundation with anchors, additional grouting for the earth fill dam and a shear key for the right bank of the earth fill dam.”
Plus: “Improvements to the spillways and powerhouse roller-compacted concrete buttresses (and) piles, anchors and structural support in the approach channel.”
Also: “Improvements to the drainage within the rock and changes in the design of the approach channel. The benefit of additional drainage would be to reduce the water pressure acting on the roller-compacted concrete structures.”
Hydro doesn’t even try to guess at a cost, except to predict it will be “much higher than initially expected” when the problem was first flagged at the outset of the year.
“Construction costs estimates and constructability reviews are being conducted in parallel to compare the options and evaluate the cost and schedule implications to the project.”
As somone who has repeatedly documented and broken stories on the ongoing and costly geotechnical issues for years on the notorious left bank( north bank) – with photos often sent to and followed up on by both NDP mla offices and federal NDP and Liberal MP’s – it can be said by no one in this government, that the extent of the geological conditions and associated geotechnical challenges they presented, were not known before the decision to continue this project was made. In fact,my posts and photos were often the only reason mainstream journalists even followed up on the geotechnical issues I first reported.
These issues have been brought up in hearings by experts, in BC Hydro documentation, in historical accounts of the valley…. this just isn’t ‘new’ information to BC Hydro or to the BC Liberals or to the BC NDP, and to deny they knew the extent of risk, is kind of like saying the Rocky mountains aren’t rocky.
These conditions are inherent to the entire valley, not just the left bank above and around the diversion tunnels. It is not the place to build a dam, and everyone knows it. Last year, I even posted a photo of the south bank mentioned in this new report, showing evidence of slumping, in this blog post. https://lailayuile.com/2019/07/25/placement-of-site-c-work-camp-defines-the-term-calculated-risk/
This is exactly why everyone pushed the NDP so hard not to go ahead with the dam. We knew it was going to be an expensive exercise in futility that was going to have a generational impact on Hydro ratepayers, and BC taxpayers.
But they would not listen. And we have been right the entire time. Just because you can build something, doesn’t mean you actually should.
These are screenshots from the most recent report. You can click on each one for a full view.
It’s alarming to read this. Why are they ramping up when they should be ramping down? This. Is. Time. To. Stop.
So,to recap, we have a dam project:
- that was approved *with no business plan* ever presented by the previous Liberal government, nor did they submit it to the BCUC for review prior to approval.
- that was approved in an area of the valley that the governments own report in 1991 identified as one in which development should be minimized due to the instability of the slopes. ( report linked to here https://lailayuile.com/2017/11/13/the-billion-dollar-question-with-only-one-right-answer/)
- that the BC Utilities commission warned – when it was finally put to a minimal review by the NDP – was unlikely to be on time or on budget. ( also linked to in this post https://lailayuile.com/2017/11/13/the-billion-dollar-question-with-only-one-right-answer/)
- that has been plagued with geotechnical issues on the left ( north) bank since day 1, and not surprisingly, now the right ( south) bank has stability issues for the foundations of the very heart of the mechanisms that operate the dam.. and the dam itself… and they have no idea how to fix, or how much it will cost.
So what does the current government do?
And who do they appoint? Peter Milburn. Yes, THAT Peter Milburn.
Ok then. Good luck with that. I’m sure he will come up with a miracle solution for building a dam in mud banks.
Not surprisingly, I’m feeling a bit of deja vu as I sit here and write, because it was just months ago the final report from the inquiry into the Muskrat Falls dam debacle was issued. And reading it, it’s like having a premonition of the future here in BC with Site C, in fact it is eery how that debacle mirrors site c in every aspect…https://watershedsentinel.ca/articles/muskrat-falls-report-slams-nalcor-ceo-province/
“On March 10, the long-awaited 1,000-plus page final report of the Muskrat Falls inquiry became public, revealing a project so misguided and predetermined that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador “failed in its duty to ensure that the best interests of the province’s residents were safeguarded.”
The report’s executive summary states the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador did not prove a business case for Muskrat Falls. Instead, the province placed faith in Nalcor Energy, a provincial crown corporation created in 2008, and tasked with developing potential electricity generation at Gull Island and Muskrat Falls, on the Churchill River in Labrador.
Nalcor rammed through the project despite a mandate to “conduct a comprehensive study of all potential long-term electricity supply options in the event that the Lower Churchill project does not proceed.”
In doing so, the corporation exploited the trust given to them, the report said, by “frequently concealing information about the project’s costs, schedule and risks” in order to present the Muskrat Falls project to the province and the public as the lowest-cost option for electricity.
Cost estimates for the project – appraised at $7.4B in 2012, and currently sitting at $12.7B – were “clearly influenced by optimism bias, strategic misrepresentation, and political bias.”
The project now accounts for roughly a third of Newfoundland and Labrador’s debt.
“The decisions Nalcor made to reduce the cost estimate must be seen as part of a pattern of questionable decisions that systematically tended to overstate the Project benefits, understate its cost and disregard alternatives,” the report reads.
Deciding what option would result in the least expensive power for consumers would normally fall on the Public Utilities Board, Newfoundland and Labrador’s utility regulator. But because the Lower Churchill Project had been exempted from this oversight by an Order in Council in 2000, the choice was left to Nalcor. In arriving at a decision, the report found Nalcor used “questionable justification” in screening out other potential options including importing electricity from Québec, natural gas from the Grand Banks, wind power, smaller hydro sites, and electricity conservation and demand management.
At Nalcor’s helm was then-CEO, Edmund Martin.His zealousness for the Muskrat Falls project “resulted in a combination of unrealistic optimism, a willingness to misrepresent costs, schedule and risk, and an inability to change course when things were going wrong.”
“It is noteworthy that ratepayers on the Island of Newfoundland, who are responsible for repaying the cost of the Project through electricity rates, face the prospect of greatly increased power bills when the Project comes on-line,” the report notes.
Crazy. You could cross out Muskrat Falls in this and replace with Site C, and it’s literally the same story.
I want to make something very clear here.
People have lost their homes via expropriation, generations of history, First Nations have lost territory and cultural sites, and beautiful pristine areas that should have been secured, have been cleared or razed over for this dam. And for what?
These issues were all known, and yet just like Muskrat Falls, two difference governments and different Hydro company leaders have continued down the same disastrous path. And it isn’t just a societal and human disaster, its a fiscal nightmare with an unknown price tag.
And to see the BC Liberals try and claim moral high ground now that they handed this project over on time and on budget? No, I don’t think so. You approved and applauded a project built in unstable terrain, with no business case, that your government previously exempted from review by the regulator, and said nothing when your leader vowed to get it done while at a funeral. Sit down and be quiet. ( and seriously, y’all have no credibility on any other issue either)
But our current government, as hard as they all try now to distance themselves , actually once fought on the same side as us, with us, to stop the dam…for all the same reasons we warned them about that are unfolding now.
They worked side by side many of the Peace Valley residents and activists who tried to stop this. They brought up our stories and photos in the legislature to question the former government. They knew all this info. So they do own this now. There can be no distancing or pointing fingers at anyone but themselves. They had the chance to stop it, and CHOSE to continue.
I don’t see how they can, in good conscience, continue on knowing there is no fix, no cost and clearly no trust in how things continue to be pushed along on site. I don’t put any credence in anything Peter Milburn will say. He was on team Christy for gawds sake!
For once and for all, it’s time to stop this dam mess.
Come back MONDAY August 10th, for a post on the situation with the Old Fort Slide, just downstream from Site C. No… that hasn’t been resolved yet either and residents still aren’t getting answers to their questions.
( a complete and updated directory of all past Site C and Old Fort slide posts, by year and headline, can be found here: https://lailayuile.com/the-case-to-stop-site-c-construction-links-news/)