Why British Columbians Should Demand a Public Inquiry on the Site C Dam

Emma Gilchrist
Christy Clark wearing hard hat

For years British Columbians have been left in the dark about the most expensive public project in our history.

All of that came to an end on Wednesday when the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) issued its final report on the Site C dam.

The results are, well, damning.

“This report indicates had the Liberals put this to the commission four years ago, Site C would not be built,” Mark Jaccard, a professor at Simon Fraser University's School of Resource and Environmental Management, told the Globe and Mail.

Normally the construction of new electricity generating facilities can’t begin without B.C.’s independent regulator issuing something called a “certificate of public convenience and necessity.”

But the Site C dam never had such a certificate. Why not? It was exempted from review under the previous BCLiberal government.

That means construction on the dam began without any independent, in-depth examination of the costs of the project or the demand for the project. Seriously. The B.C. government skipped the regular review process and instead ploughed ahead with a mega project with no idea whether it was a) needed or b) the most cost effective source of electricity.

That’s led to calls this week for a public inquiry into how (and, perhaps more importantly, why) BC Hydro and the BC Liberal government made that decision

“I would like to see a full inquiry to investigate how BC Hydro executives and the previous government essentially conspired to manufacture the case for Site C,” Marc Lee, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, told DeSmog Canada.

“As someone who strongly believes in public sector institutions and Crown corporations, to have our electricity utility lying to us, making up numbers and doing all sorts of spurious comparisons between its preferred option and the alternative is shameful.”

Shameful indeed.

Here’s just one example. In August, BC Hydro submitted to the BCUC that it had screened out solar energy on the basis of a cost estimate of $97/MWh in 2025. In response to a follow-up question from the commission, BC Hydro admitted the cost of solar is now only half that at $48/MWh.

While BC Hydro has argued for years that alternatives weren’t viable, the panel found that actually — even factoring in a $1.8 billion cost to terminate Site C and remediate the site — an alternative portfolio would still likely come in at a similar cost to Site C.


Should there be a public inquiry on the Site C dam? 

What do you think? [editor: see original article for poll]