B.C. leaders reviewing report on status of Site C in latest development on project’s obstacles

Journal of Commerce | Russell Hixson | January 13, 2021

British Columbia’s Energy Minister Bruce Ralston is passing along an independent report on the status of the Site C Dam project to cabinet for review. 

The report was prepared by Peter Milburn, a former deputy finance minister who was appointed by the province as a special adviser to the project after reports showed it was having issues. 

Officials would not comment on the contents of the report until Premier John Horgan and his cabinet have reviewed it. 

It is not the first time the project has encountered issues or faced scrutiny from the province. The Journal of Commerce is providing a quick glance at some of Site C’s biggest challenges.  

Virus uncertainty

Like every other part of society, the project has been impacted by COVID-19.

The project significantly trimmed down its workforce by 50 per cent to reduce the risk of the virus spreading in the camps in March 2020. The province also appointed a special adviser to help lead it after it began getting reports from BC Hydro showing COVID-19 could hurt the completion schedule.

Following the holidays, the province’s health officer issued an order limiting staff increases at five major industrial sites, including Site C, to stop cases from rising in the north.

The site has had 30 cases of COVID-19. 

Rising costs

The rising cost of the dam has long been a contentious issue. A feasibility study done in 2007 put the project’s total cost at $6.6 billion. In 2011 an updated cost projection bumped that up to $7.9 billion.

When the project was approved by the former premier, Christy Clark, it had a price tag of $8.3 billion. When current Premier John Horgan had weighed cancelling it in 2017 reports estimated the dam would cost $10.7 billion to complete. He determined the costs to cancel were too great and pressed on. 

Last year a letter to officials from a group of experts, economists, First Nations leaders and CEOS, including former BC Hydro president Marc Eliesen, stated that the latest estimates showed the project would cost $12 billion to finish. The group called on the province to halt activity on the site until a full accounting of costs and risks to the project could be produced so a decision about continuing can be made.

Unstable ground

One issue that threw a major wrench into project plans was a series of large tension cracks that began to form on the north bank of the Peace River. BC Hydro, in documents submitted to the BC Utilities Commission, noted that dealing with the cracks pushed back river diversion a year and added $610 million to the total project cost.