Summary

In September, 2011, the federal and provincial ministers of the environment announced that the Site C Clean Energy Project would undergo a joint federal/provincial environmental assessment (EA) process. In October, 2014, the federal and provincial governments decided to issue an environmental certificate for Site C.  In December 2014, the BC provincial government announced its intentions to proceed with the project; however, at present there are six court cases launched against the decision to proceed with project.

Details

The project, proposed by BC Hydro, consists of constructing and operating a dam and 1,100-megawatt hydroelectric generating station on the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia. The project would be the third in a series of dams on the Peace River in British Columbia. The project components are an earthfill dam 1,050 metres long and 60 metres high, an 1,100-megawatt generating station and associated structures, an 83-kilometre long reservoir, realignment of four sections of Highway 29 and two 77-kilometre transmission lines along an existing transmission line right-of-way connecting Site C to Peace Canyon.

The Peace Valley Environment Association (PVEA) decided to formally participate in the EA process. We hired agrologist Wendy Holm and G.G. Runka Land Sense Ltd. to assess the project proposal on our behalf. Later in the process, we also hired Dr. Marvin Shaffer, economist, to assess and comment on the project. Very sadly, Gary Runka, principle of G.G. Runka Land Sense Ltd. passed away part way through the process. We were very fortunate to obtain the services of Eveline Woltersen, soil scientist and environmental chemist, to work on our behalf after Gary’s passing. Comments from all consultants were submitted for consideration on behalf of PVEA as opportunities for public input were made available throughout the EA process.

Once the Joint Review Panel was established, Ms. Holm, Ms. Wolterson and Dr. Shaffer prepared reports and conducted presentations for the Panel on behalf of PVEA. The key comments, concerns and recommendations from our 3 experts are available at the end of this document. Ms. Holm and Ms. Wolterson’s reports are available here and Dr. Shaffer’s report is available here.

The Joint Review Panel issued a series of 50 recommendations to the provincial and federal governments for consideration on May 1, 2014. The recommendations were shared with the public on May 8, 2014. The Panel summary is available here and the full report is available here.

All documentation associated with EA process on Site C can be found here.

Following are some of the key comments/concerned by each of our experts:

Wendy Holm, an agrologist who specializes in agricultural economics and public policy
• BC Hydro dramatically undervalued the economic loss to agriculture and the public interest arising from the construction of Site C Dam.
• There will be intense pressure on food prices as we move into the future. As traditional foodlands lose their capacity to produce, this will result in reduced supply and higher demand for food around the world.
• The land to be flooded by Site C is capable of producing high-yielding fruits and vegetables for over a million people. When it comes to agriculture, BC needs to focus on ‘resilience’; in other words, it needs to keep open our options for food production and supply so as global forces continue to reduce traditional sources of supply, we are prepared. The foodlands written-off by BC Hydro in its impact assessment of Site C are, in fact, this province’s ‘Plan ‘B’.
• The area of agricultural land that would be impacted by Site C is grossly under-represented. BC Hydro’s economic evaluation of loss resulting from of the construction of the Site C dam is based on 1,666 hectares of land; that only represents 13% of impacted farmland. The actual impact area is 31,528 hectares of Class 1 to 7 land.
• The Peace River Valley has sat within the shadow of the dam since the late 1950s. This has dramatically limited investment.
• BC Hydro projects total economic activity resulting from agriculture in the Peace River Valley would total $215 million over 100 years. Even using BC Hydro’s own model, with its impoverished impact base of 1,666 hectares (5% of Site C impacted ALR) a more robust horticulture scenario suggests agricultural activities capable of generating fully $2 billion from farm gate sales and secondary economic activity alone during this same time frame. This doesn’t measure values associated with human health resulting from better nutrition, particularly in Northern communities.
• According to the experts, Site C dam may have a 100-year life. The agricultural land in the Peace River Valley will support life in perpetuity. It is natural capital belonging to tomorrow that is not for today to withdraw.
• There are many alternatives to energy, but no alternatives to food producing land.

Eveline Wolterson, soil scientist and environmental chemist
• The Peace River Valley has extraordinarily high value for agriculture and it’s my opinion that the public interest is better served by allowing it to continue to sustain citizens through agricultural production rather than destroying it for power production. Power can be sourced from other alternatives; agriculture cannot.
• There is a misperception that there is a vast amount of agricultural land that’s waiting to be exploited. Essentially what’s happened over the last 10 years is that there’s been a serious and alarming decline in agricultural land area in both Canada and the US.
• The productivity of the agricultural land in the Peace River Valley is incredible: it is unique not only in the Peace River region, but in British Columbia and Western Canada. Farmers in the valley report yields that are unheard of elsewhere in BC.
• It is not well known that crop yields actually increase as you move from southern BC to northern BC. This is due to better precipitation, more hours of daily sunlight during the growing season and lower wind speeds.
• BC Hydro established a baseline for agricultural production in the Peace River Valley that is completely inaccurate: it created a utility rating system that has never been used or even heard of in the agricultural industry; and, it failed to account for the influence of the 50-year flood reserve on existing agricultural production in the Valley. Additionally, BC Hydro fails to address the impacts of changes to global food production and supply over time, which will ultimately influence the economic value of the agricultural lands in the Peace River Valley.
• BC Hydro fails to address the cumulative impacts that Site C would have to farmland and farming operations. It will be a hardship for a farm family to lose their best land to flooding, but if you consider the additional impacts, such as: fragmentation of their best hayfield by a highway realignment; loss of the groundwater spring they used to use to water their stock; and, increased nuisance from wildlife or public trespass, those hardships begin to accumulate. Then, potentially, five years post-project they’re told that their house needs to be moved: it all becomes a bit too much. One can see how a series of large and small impacts, however mitigated or compensated for individually, eventually become a series of inefficiencies and lingering aggravations that seriously affect the desire and economics of agricultural use.
• BC Hydro offers meaningless, boiler-plate compensation and mitigation options to farmers potentially affected by Site C. They come right out of a textbook. They lack detail and there’s no way of knowing how they will be implemented nor whether the farmers in the valley feel they are adequate. They give me no confidence. Nor is a 5-year monitoring plan adequate, when you consider that impacts such as slumping of the banks will go on for decades, just as they have along the upstream Williston reservoir and on BC Hydro reservoirs elsewhere in the Province, such as along the Arrow Lakes.

Dr. Marvin Shaffer, economist who specializes in energy, transportation and natural resource economics
• BC Hydro’s analysis of future demand is based on a very serious market failure in the pricing of electricity. The average price for new industry is about $50/ Mwh, but the cost of new supply, whether delivered from Site C or other sources, is $100/MWh or more. So that clearly attracts more demand than economists would consider economically justified.
• Site C would not be required if Burrard Thermal were allowed to retain its status as a back-up facility for use on during drought or periods of peak demand. It would be far more cost effective for BC Hydro to utilize more effectively the electricity available from existing non-firm sources as well as the spot market, while maintaining Burrard for back- up, than to proceed with building Site C.
• Even without Burrard, BC Hydro could meet the future energy needs of the province more cost effectively if they developed single-cycle gas thermal plants which can be built on an ‘as needed’ basis, strategically located and supply low cost energy to meet peak loads.
• We wouldn’t be producing energy from gas turbines any more than we have to; in most years we would be using available non-firm hydro and purchases of spot-market energy, which forecasts tell us are going to be much lower costs sources of energy in the future than Site C.
• BC Hydro didn’t provide appropriate cost comparisons to alternative sources of power in their analysis. The 1,100 MW capacity of Site C will result in an oversupply of energy for many years after it is commissioned. Clearly, if alternative sources of energy were used, they could be constructed on an incremental, as-needed basis, thus resulting in significant cost savings over time. We wouldn’t end up with a huge initial surplus of power for many years like we would with Site C.
• Site C is going to result in significant adverse environmental and social effects and there is, in my view, no basis to conclude that they’re justified based on the need for or alternatives to Site C. There are far more cost-effective alternatives that can be pursued.

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IImpacts to wildlife from the Site C dam project were assessed by Dr. Clayton Apps, PhD, RPBio.  His report is here: AppsY2YPeaceBreakCarnivoreCEAReportFINAL

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