Before a single watt of power flows from a modern hydroelectric dam, there is one thing these massive projects reliably achieve: they consume money, lots of it – and, too often, far more than planned.
On Friday, British Columbia Premier John Horgan confirmed what has long been known. The Site C dam, half built on the Peace River in the province’s northeast, is way over budget. The estimated cost is now $16-billion, some 50 per cent higher than the $10.7-billion forecast in 2017, and nearly double the $8.8-billion budget when Site C was given the green light in 2014.
The news lands after months of review of the troubled project. Even before the pandemic slowed construction, BC Hydro oversight was lacking. Then proposed fixes for the geological issues threatening the dam’s stability needed to be addressed.
With about $6-billion already sunk into Site C – and the cost of killing the project outright pegged at another $4-billion – Mr. Horgan on Friday said the best choice is to spend $10-billion more to finish the dam. If the project were cancelled, power rates could surge to cover the debt, without any power being produced.
Mr. Horgan is likely right that, at this stage, it’s too late to turn back. He had that opportunity in 2017, when his NDP first won government. Back then, with $2-billion already spent and jobs on the line, he chose to proceed.
Site C will, eventually, generate electric power, and it will flow for decades. That electricity will be a lot more expensive than it was supposed to be, and possibly more expensive than alternatives such as wind or other renewables, but other options were never seriously considered, by Mr. Horgan’s government or the previous BC Liberals.