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GEORGE: Stop the Site C dam project, I can't afford it

October 03, 2017 - 12:15 PM

 


OPINION


Back in 2004, I was listening to a CBC radio interview with then Green Party of Canada president, Jim Harris. Something he said resonated with me and drove me to become a member of the party, and eventually, to run for them in my riding.

"Our platform is fiscally conservative, socially responsible, and environmentally sound."

It was the idea that all three could be balanced in public policy and in our society that caught me. 

Living in British Columbia for most of my adult life had made me sick of the partisan duopoly that represented politics here. We were continually told that we could either have a just society or "jobs, jobs, jobs". Either/or, but never both. The environment wasn't even on the radar of either party. I could see the need to bring the environment to the table, and maybe just maybe, we could even find a way towards a better balance between the economy and society while we were at it.

For the first time over the past 13 years, I find myself advocating for a more balanced perspective on behalf of not the environment, not for social justice, but for the economy. In a recent Canadian Press article published by the Vancouver Sun, the author closes with the following: "The utilities commission is holding hearings around the province on the project that has faced angry opposition from Peace Valley landowners, First Nations and environmentalists."

The group the author left out are those who are opposed to the government wasting our money.

Back in 1983, the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) spent a little over five million dollars doing a thorough examination of the Site C project. They considered the perspectives of First Nations. They examined the case of the Peace Valley landowners. And they even considered, at length, the likely environmental impacts of the project. Their recommendations to the government of the day were to not proceed with the project unless two conditions could be met. Both conditions were predictably economic.

In order to justify the investment in the dam, the BCUC asked that BC Hydro prove that we needed the power and that we needed it now. The commission had a long history of working with BC Hydro and knew that it had a pretty poor track record when it came to such projections, something that hasn't really improved over the past 34 years. The second condition, which would come into play only if the first condition was met, was to establish that there were no alternatives to Site C that would have smaller economic, social, and environmental impacts that would still meet the demand.

The Social Credit government of Bill Bennett, recognizing that meeting those conditions was impossible, shelved the project. Even if they had bullied the BCUC on the demand projections, they knew that there were other options, including completion of the Revelstoke project, that would be cheaper and have significantly smaller impacts on both the environment and the people near Revelstoke. Site C was dead.

But if there is one thing we have learned over the years in British Columbia, it is to never underestimate a party in power when it comes to taxpayer funded boondoggles.

Since 1981, British Columbia's population has grown by 69 per cent, while demand for power has grown by only 58 per cent. The primary reason is that industrial users aren't using as much as they had in the past, and that consumers are becoming more efficient in their use of electricity. The trend continues, even as BC Hydro projects a turn around in demand, any day now.

Will we need more power at some point in the future? Sure. But just as it would be foolish to purchase a new car that won't be needed for another five years and park it in the garage until then, it would be foolish to borrow and spend billions of dollars to purchase an asset that we not only don't need now, but that we have no way of paying for out of a discounted revenue stream. Could we sell power to Alberta and help wean them off of coal? Yes, if we are willing to sell it to them at a steep discount, something that isn't included in BC Hydro's revenue projections.

Numerous financial evaluations of the project have come from a number of places. The University of British Columbia, Oxford University, and McCullough Research all challenge the macroeconomics of the project. Deloitte recently prepared an analysis of costs for submission to the BCUC that was embarrassingly released unredacted to the public. Regardless of the impact that this release may have on future contract negotiations, it provides a refreshingly transparent look into how our government and our Crown utility conduct themselves when spending our cash. I encourage every taxpayer and every person paying a Hydro bill to read it in its entirety.

This project has been about politics since day one. It stresses the financial health of BC Hydro, preparing for the day when it can be packaged to be sold to private interests for pennies on the dollar. The B.C. Rail debacle is an example of how well this model "works".

At the end of the day, we don't need the power and by the time we do, the final phase of Revelstoke will be coming on-line. If nothing else we can get some of those IPP producers to actually produce some power for the cash we are paying them. If we finish Site C, ratepayers will pay to subsidize Alberta industry and our grand-kids will still be paying off the construction tab from providing all of those welfare cheques, oops, I mean jobs, when they are getting ready to retire.

Stop Site C. I can't afford it.

— Chris George believes one measure of a just society is found in how well it balances fiscally conservative economics with social responsibility and environmental soundness in all of its living arrangements.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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