Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett provided the first construction update on the construction of Site C dam at a monthly Cranbrook Rotary Club meeting on Thursday.
The hydroelectric project, currently under construction on the Peace River just south of Fort St. John, carries a price tag of $8.335 billion and will be completed in 2024, generating 1,100 megawatts of electricity.
So far, so good.
“I’m proud of the fact that government decided to build the project and I do believe that it’s going to be built on time and on budget,” Bennett said.
Bennett’s presentation consisted of a slide show of the project’s current status and background, including the provincial government’s investigation into the need for generating 1,100 megawatts of electricity, along with consultation with various nearby communities, First Nations and inter-governmental agencies.
Initially, Bennett said he was personally opposed to the project, however, he changed his mind as government searched for a way to generate more power by using renewable means without having to build a large hydroelectric dam.
“So we took a year and worked with the Clean Energy Association of British Columbia and gave them and all of their members an opportunity to show us how they could generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity for less than the cost of the electricity that we would get from a dam like this,” Bennett said.
“Over the course of the year, I learned and I think everyone in our government learned, is that there’s a reason why jurisdictions like Quebec, Manitoba and B.C. have the lowest prices in North America.
“It’s because we have large hydro.”
As of March 31, 2016, $950 million has already been spent, with $4 billion locked down in committed contracts and agreements, Bennett said.
“When you build a project like this, you have to build in a large contingency, you have to build in factors for interest, because you’re borrowing a lot of money as you build something like this and the interest adds up over a 10-year period, it’s a lot of money,” Bennett said.
“…So having $4 billion in construction costs locked in after only one year puts the province in very, very good position. Obviously, I can’t guarantee anybody that the project will end up on time and on budget, but it is off to a very strong start.”
Bennett adds that BC Hydro is not building the dam; the project is being contracted out to large firms, which are, in turn, subcontracting out more work.
“The risk is on them and not on BC Hydro and the B.C. ratepayers,” Bennett said. “That’s why I feel not overconfident, but pretty good about what’s happening.”
Bennett also addressed the importance of engagement with First Nations, noting that the province and BC Hydro have been in consultations since 2007. First Nations businesses have been awarded $100 million in contracts, Bennett added, while agreements have been made with various aboriginal groups.
However, the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations are opposed to the project and have litigation before the courts. Opposition has also come from ranchers, landowners and environmentalists concerned about the adverse affect to wildlife habitat.
“Contrary to what you will see in the popular media, BC Hydro has been engaged with First Nations on this project for the last seven years,” said Bennett. “The province has been engaged at least that long. We have had some court cases…but essentially, we have many First Nations benefiting from the project, in terms of their businesses.”