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British Columbia B.C. construction workers plead for Site C dam project to proceed

The Site C Dam location is seen along the Peace River in Fort St. John, B.C., Tuesday, April 18, 2017.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A group representing dam-construction workers says British Columbia should proceed with Site C because billions of dollars have already been sunk into the project, a point the group says was not properly considered by the recent B.C. Utilities Commission review.

The Allied Hydro Council of BC also suggested that the utilities commission did not adequately weigh the challenges of relying on alternative energy sources.

The group's push comes two weeks after the commission completed its review of the project and found significant deficiencies with BC Hydro's plan.

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The commission said it was not convinced that Site C would remain on schedule and expressed concerns that completion costs could rise to more than $10-billion. The commission also suggested B.C.'s energy demands could be lower than forecast and that alternative energy sources could be sought.

The B.C. government will decide by the end of the year whether to scrap the project. The dam is already two years and $2-billion into construction.

Wayne Peppard, an Allied Hydro Council representative, told a Vancouver news conference Wednesday that his group believes the project should proceed.

"If the decision by the government is not to proceed, then we're all in a bit of a bind," he said.

The council said the utilities commission did not give proper weight to the amount of money that's already been poured into construction.

Jim Quail, a lawyer who joined Mr. Peppard at the news conference, noted billions of dollars have already been spent on the project and the cost of terminating it and remediating the site would be about an additional $2-billion.

"If you proceed with the dam, the sunk costs are all part of the overall cost of completing the dam. …You've got something functioning and [it] has value," he told reporters.

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When asked if this could be seen as throwing good money after bad, Mr. Quail offered an analogy of a person building a house.

"You lay the foundation, you start framing it, then you start thinking, 'Maybe this isn't the house that I want.' So maybe the option is, 'I'll demolish it all and I'll start over with something else.' You're not going to ignore the fact that you've already spent a third of the cost of building your house because it's built into your mortgage," he said.

Mr. Quail said people can debate whether Site C was the best asset to invest in at the time, but it is an asset.

Lorne Sivertson, the former chief executive officer of Columbia Power Corp. who also spoke at the news conference, questioned the utilities commission's claim on alternative energy sources.

The commission said alternative energy sources such as wind and geothermal could provide similar benefits as Site C, at an equal or lower cost.

But Mr. Sivertson said bringing on new power sources would take considerable time, given the slow permit process, for instance.

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The hydro council's written report described the commission's alternative energy blueprint as unrealistic and unreliable.

A B.C. Utilities Commission spokesperson said in a statement after the hydro council's news conference that the commission "stands by the analysis and findings of its report."

"It is the BCUC's role to balance the interests of customers with the interests of the businesses we regulate," the statement read.

Energy Minister Michelle Mungall in a written statement said she had just received the hydro council's report and it "clearly indicates a high level of interest in the government's decision on the Site C project."

"Government will review all the information available to make the best decision in the interests of British Columbians and ratepayers," the statement read.

The government last week announced that BC Hydro customers would be spared a 3-per-cent rate hike next April. A broad review by the government of the Crown corporation's finances will determine if the one-year freeze can be sustained.

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Mr. Peppard said the council plans to release further reports involving Site C in the near future.

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