B.C.'s New Democrats and Greens are promising to send the Site C megaproject to the B.C. Utilities Commission for review, raising the possibility of scrapping a project Premier Christy Clark previously vowed to get "to the point of no return."
Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and NDP Leader John Horgan outlined the terms of their fledgling relationship on Tuesday, including their plans to place Site C, an $8.8-billion project in northeastern B.C. along the Peace River, under renewed scrutiny. It was part of an agreement to bring down the Liberal government in the minority legislature.
The parties' election platforms differed in their approach to Site C – while the NDP promised to send it to the commission for a review, the Greens wanted it cancelled outright.
The agreement commits to "immediately refer the Site C dam construction project to the B.C. Utilities Commission on the question of economic viability and consequences to British Columbians in the context of the current supply and demand conditions prevailing in the B.C. market."
The B.C. Utilities Commission, set up in 1980, regulates natural gas and electricity utilities in the province and typically would have reviewed a major project like Site C.
But under former premier Gordon Campbell, the Liberal government exempted Site C, along with other projects including the Northwest Transmission Line, from review.
A 2014 report blasted the Liberal government for cabinet interference that undermined the commission's role.
"We laid out some draft documents about how we would direct the [commission] to answer the specific questions about why the decision was made, what the cost of going forward would be, what the consequences were going to be for hydro rates in the long term and what other alternatives were available," Mr. Horgan told reporters in Victoria.
"We're not going to stop work at Site C while that review takes place, but we have a six-week and a three-month time frame for a preliminary response and a final response and we're going to get at that as quickly as possible," he added.
The dam is under construction, with about 2,000 people working at the site. The Liberal government has already spent or committed $4.4-billion for the project.
It has faced several legal challenges and opposition over environmental and financial concerns, with critics questioning the costs and even the need for the electricity it would provide.
Groups backing Site C immediately cried foul, saying the project should be evaluated on a long-term basis that takes future population growth and energy demands into account.
"Site C is being built for the growth of the economy that is going to occur over decades to come," said Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C., a group that represents non-union contractors and supports Site C.
"This is a project that provides clean energy, clean power … we are going to need secure, reliable energy," Mr. Gardner said.
The value of a utilities commission review would depend on its terms of reference, which would be set by the provincial government, said Vancouver energy lawyer David Austin.
"Site C has not been properly reviewed from a financial perspective," Mr. Austin said.
"What's the financial justification for this project – how much is it going to cost, what's the revenue and what are the risks? So that's what the terms of reference, in very basic terms, should encompass."
The provincial government approved Site C in December, 2014, after an environmental assessment by the provincial and federal governments through a Joint Review Panel process.
Harry Swain, one of three panel members who wrote the 2014 report, has said there are better alternatives, but that the panel was not permitted to evaluate them as part of its work.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's review panel report found clear benefits to the project, in terms of supplying a large amount of energy, but noted the judgment hinges "on the degree to which present consumers should pre-pay the benefits to future generations."