Tuesday, December 16, 2014

BC's Site C Dam - Another stack in the LNG house of cards

The BC government announced today that they were going ahead with an $8.8 billion commitment to build BC's largest dam - "Site C". A few (even on the left) believe we should support Site C, as a large, green public energy infrastructure project. It is important to understand that that is not what this is.

Critics of the project consist of most of the province that isn't involved in the building and resource extraction industry. First nations oppose the project. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the BC Union of Indian Chiefs was one of the first to condemn the decision. The flooding will destroy a number of First Nations sites and is actively opposed, with law suits pending. Local communities generally oppose the project, concerned about the impact of a massive influx of people in an area already experiencing growth. The nearest municipality of Fort St. John cannot currently handle an increase of so many workers and would face strains on public infrastructure such as schools and hospitals and other public services. The residents of the 5500 hectares of fertile farm land that will be flooded obviously oppose the project.

Yet the approval should come as no surprise given the Premier's unbreakable allegiance to her ill-fated plan to make BC wealthy (or should I say some BC businessmen wealthy). This was her smoking gun in the most recent election.

On almost every metric, this project makes little sense. BC does not currently need the energy and perhaps never will. That was the sentiment of the first two decisions of the BC Utilities Commission in 1982 and 1989 which was effectively shut out of this round of decision making.

The project is estimated to cost $8.8 billion, but will realistically be closer to $10 - $20 billion given the history of costing for large government projects. To put this in perspective, just this week the very same government said it couldn't afford to pay for adults to upgrade their high school coursework to pursue post-secondary opportunities because the $20 million was too rich. This project could probably pay for smaller class sizes, free childcare, and housing all our homeless. Or how about programs to address the highest poverty rate in Canada?

While hydro electrical power may appear "clean", many believe the real purpose of the dam is to support the proposed Liquefied Natural Gas projects the Premier is so desperately trying to attract to the province. First, they introduced a tax rate of only half what they proposed during the election (which sadly had the support of the NDP as well). Now, they are providing an external energy source to support those projects, should any of them ever proceed. This project might appear to be a large, green, government infrastructure project, but the LNG component makes it more like government's part of a public/private partnership to develop natural gas extraction. This means a net increase in consumption of energy, including dirty energy.

Site C is just one more component of the public infrastructure needed to "entice" (publicly subsidize) the LNG industry. As I reported previously, the provincial mandate in education - both high school level and for colleges - is to target funds into trades programs designed to fast track students as quickly as possible into resource jobs. The trajectory of government on every front seems to have only one purpose in mind - turn BC into the next Alberta.

Lost on no one is that just as the announcement was made, the entire world is consumed with falling gas and oil prices, making new LNG investment by private interests increasingly unlikely. The Premier's entire provincial agenda is more and more looking like the last desperate attempt to win in the bursting resource extraction bubble.

No comments:

Post a Comment