Skip to main content

BC Hydro powerhouse and generators.

The B.C. government will reveal this spring if it is prepared to move ahead with the province's first major hydroelectric dam project in decades.

The $6-billion-plus Site C megaproject, with 900 megawatts of capacity, would go a long way toward the province's goals of regaining self-sufficiency.

But the pending decision comes at the same time that B.C. is wooing California legislators to accept its power exports as clean and green - despite state restrictions that deem any project over 30 MW in capacity as non-renewable.

"My commitment is to make an announcement one way or another this spring," said Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom, whose riding of Peace River South has been divided over the long-delayed project. "I don't know if it will be a yes or a no, but they are looking for an answer."

It has been 25 years since Crown-owned B.C. Hydro completed its last large dam. And it has been a decade since the province has been reliably energy self-sufficient.

Last week, legislators from California toured run-of-the-river projects in B.C. The province is hoping to persuade them to roll back restrictions that exclude most of the province's new clean-energy projects from the state's premium renewable energy prices.

An aggressive expansion of B.C. energy exports is expected to be a major part of the new Clean Energy Act that Mr. Lekstrom is slated to introduce this spring. He said getting past the California green restrictions is critical to those plans.

"We can't sit back and expect to get into the California market without doing some work," he said. "It's urgent."

Patrick Mason, president of the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy, headed the delegation visiting B.C. last week.

In an interview Monday, he said the group was impressed with B.C.'s regulations on run-of-the-river projects. "I'll be telling the environmental groups on our board they really should take a look at them before they make up their minds."

Mr. Mason said the state will have to rethink its definitions of clean power in order to meet its ambitious target of getting a third of its energy from renewable resources by 2020. He said the cap of 30 MW per project is an arbitrary one, driven by a political backlash against the impact of hydroelectric dams within California.

"We have pretty much agreed we are not going to build more dams, but the point we are trying to make is these are very difficult targets," he said. "We are trying to put everything on the table."

Before meeting with Mr. Lekstrom, his coalition members toured the Ashlu Creek run-of-river hydroelectric plant near Squamish. The project has a capacity of almost 50 MW and Mr. Mason said the group was surprised to see the small footprint of the project.

However, he said there were no discussions about Site C.

Plans for a third dam on the Peace River have been on the shelf for at least three decades but last fall, BC Hydro produced an updated study that has been sitting on Mr. Lekstrom's desk ever since. If he gives the project a green light, it must still go through an environmental assessment, which could take two years to complete.

Mr. Lekstrom said he has no trouble with the idea that a major hydroelectric facility like Site C should be considered a clean, renewable energy source.

"I certainty think it trumps coal-fired power, I think it trumps nuclear power, so is it a clean option for south of the border? Most definitely it is."

However, there is opposition, particularly from residents of the Peace River who say the massive dam, which would be 1,100 metres in length with a reservoir 83 kilometres long, is far from environmentally friendly.

"It's not green at all," said Sandra Hoffmann, co-ordinator of the Peace Valley Environmental Association. "It would flood a river valley, much of it is class one and class two agricultural land that you can never get back."