After years of preparation, Site C gets environmental approval

Image of rendering of proposed Site C dam
Artist's rendering of the Site C Clean Project, a proposed third dam on the Peace River in northern B.C. By relying on the existing Williston Reservoir for water storage, Site C would be able to generate approximately 35 per cent of the energy produced at the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, with only five per cent of the reservoir area.

B.C., federal governments give environmental green light to third dam on Peace River

"You folks [BC Hydro] have been open with information, have been hard-working and diligent at producing answers to sometimes outrageous questions, mostly from the panel. You've been highly professional and hard-working. I might say it's not easy being the target."

— Harry Swain, chairman of the Site C dam review panel, during a January 23, 2014 public hearing

After many years of planning and more than 7,000 information requests from various stakeholders, BC Hydro's proposal to build a third dam on the Peace River reached a major milestone this week with federal and provincial environmental approval for the Site C Clean Energy Project.

The environmental approval comes about five months after a Site C Joint Review Panel, including two months of hearings chaired by Swain, confirmed that there will be a long-term need for new energy and capacity, and that Site C would be the most cost-effective option for meeting that growth in electricity demand.

It's not a final approval for the proposed project, as Site C still requires a final investment decision by the Province and regulatory permits and authorizations before it can proceed to construction. But the green light was welcome news to BC Hydro, which had been all-hands-on-deck for years in studying the environmental impacts of the proposed dam.

"This is a significant milestone for the Site C project," said Susan Yurkovich, BC Hydro's Executive Vice-President responsible for the Site C project. "After a rigorous environmental assessment process, the project has received environmental approval."

Since 2007, BC Hydro has undertaken extensive consultation and engagement with the public, Aboriginal groups and local governments, including more than 500 meetings, presentations, community events and open houses.

The official environmental assessment process began in 2011 and included studies to identify and assess potential project effects and develop comprehensive mitigation measures. BC Hydro filed more than 29,000 pages of evidence and responded to more than 7,000 information requests from the public, Aboriginal groups, government agencies, communities and stakeholders.

In addition, the regulatory agencies undertook multiple consultation periods, culminating in a two-month public hearing process held by an independent Joint Review Panel.

Environmental approval of the project comes with conditions from the federal government and the Province that BC Hydro must meet to build and operate the facility.

"BC Hydro will carefully reflect on the conditions and ensure that plans are in place to fully meet all of the conditions set out by the federal and provincial governments," said Yurkovich.

Subject to approvals, site preparation for Site C would start in January 2015

Site C would provide 1,100 megawatts of capacity, and produce about 5,100 gigawatt hours of electricity each year — enough energy to power the equivalent of about 450,000 homes per year. It would have among the lowest greenhouse gas emissions compared to other electricity-generation options.

By relying on the existing Williston Reservoir for water storage, Site C would be able to generate approximately 35 per cent of the energy produced at the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, with only five per cent of the reservoir area.

Site C would be among the most cost-effective resource options for BC Hydro ratepayers at a cost per megawatt hour of $83. After an upfront capital cost of $7.9 billion, Site C would be inexpensive to operate and would have a long life of more than a 100 years.

A regional legacy benefits agreement would provide $2.4 million annually to the Peace River Regional District and its member municipalities for 70 years, starting when Site C is operational. The annual funding would be indexed to inflation.

Offers of accommodation have been made to all of the First Nations that the independent Joint Review Panel determined to be significantly affected by the project. While specific agreements are under negotiation, they could include elements such as lump sum cash payments, payment streams over time, the transfer of provincial Crown lands to First Nations, the implementation of land protection measures or special land management designations, and work and contract opportunities.

Image of infographic showing the economic benefits of the proposed Site C dam