Halting construction of a massive hydroelectric project could save B.C. as much as $1.6-billion as declining electricity demand and cheaper alternative power undermine the business case for the Site C dam, says a report released by the University of British Columbia.
The report by two private-sector environmental consultants and the director of UBC's Program on Water Governance, says the project should be suspended.
"Our analysis indicates that cancelling the Site C project as of June 30, 2017, would save between $500-million and $1.65-billion, depending on future conditions," the report said.
The future of the $8.8-billion Site C dam, in northeastern B.C. along the Peace River, has emerged as an issue in the campaign for the May 9 provincial election. The BC Liberals are taking credit for pushing it through, and in the process creating jobs, while the Opposition New Democrats have pledged a new review with the B.C. Utilities Commission.
The research team behind the report, led by Karen Bakker, director of the Program on Water Governance, says the energy from the Site C dam would be $1.4-billion to $1.7-billion more expensive than that of alternative energy sources such as wind and natural gas. As well, the report says none of the power generated by the dam will be needed by the time of its scheduled opening in 2024, meaning the Crown-owned energy utility BC Hydro could be forced to sell at a loss of more than $1-billion.
Liberal Leader Christy Clark has vowed to get Site C project construction "past the point of no return," but Dr. Bakker said it has not reached that point yet.
"The assumption that we're past the point of no return has dominated the debate in B.C., but no one has ever done an analysis," she said. "So that's what we did, we took BC Hydro's own numbers" from data on its website.
She said the government should "hit pause" on the dam and she echoed the NDP's call for a review by the utilities commission. The report says the dam could be cancelled or at the very least delayed until the power is needed.
Dr. Bakker wrote the report along with Richard Hendriks, director of Ontario-based Camerado Energy Consulting, and Philip Raphals, executive director of the Montreal-based non-profit the Helios Centre.
The report concludes BC Hydro has overestimated energy demand for decades, and notes an earlier estimate that 70,000 gigawatt hours would be needed by 2024 has been pushed back eight years to 2032. Not only is demand declining, but export prices for electricity have decreased as well, Dr. Bakker said.
BC Hydro, which has defended the project, declined to comment on the study because of the election campaign.
The BC Liberal Party referred to comments from Ms. Clark, who told reporters earlier in the week during a visit to the construction site that the power will be needed eventually.
"Site C isn't going to be finished for another 10 years," Ms. Clark said on Tuesday. "So if the electricity isn't needed for 10 years, when do they expect us to start it? Nine years from now? Eleven years from now?"
NDP Leader John Horgan said Ms. Clark's comments are evidence the Liberals' business plan is not defensible.
"The Liberals have always gone to the utilities commission and made the case, but this time they didn't," he said in an interview. "It confirms for me what I've been saying for years now, that the Liberals are proceeding without a solid business case."
The B.C. Utilities Commission is an independent regulatory body that primarily looks after B.C.'s natural gas and electricity utilities. The Liberals have rejected calls to refer the project to the commission.
"The reason the Liberals didn't go there was because the Liberals didn't have a case," Mr. Horgan said. "You should be building it when you need it, and that's why you should go to the Utilities Commission."