“The Dirty Dam Truth” – Boston Globe op-ed

6 August 2021

The dirty dam truth, Boston Globe op-ed by Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert


The dirty dam truth, Boston Globe op-ed by Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert
Excess water spills over the top of a dam on the Lower Klamath River known as Copco 1 near Hornbrook, Calif. in 2020. A plan to demolish four dams on California’s second-largest river to benefit threatened salmon has sharpened a decades-old dispute over who has the biggest claim to the river’s waters. The project, if it goes forward, would be the largest dam demolition project in US history and would include the Copco 1 facility pictured. Gillian Flaccus/Associated Press

The Dirty Dam Truth
The Boston Globe
Ryan Gellert
August 5, 2021

“Hydropower is often marketed as the kind of clean, renewable energy we’re supposed to want. It’s what dam developers have been claiming for decades. But a growing body of scientific research shows just the opposite.”

The Biden administration has taken unprecedented action to confront climate change during its first months in office, from reentering the Paris Agreement on day one to announcing an ambitious greenhouse gas emissions target. But as the president works with Congress to pass the American Jobs Plan, he has an opportunity to address an equally important but often overlooked aspect of the climate crisis: dams and hydropower. They contribute to climate change, send species to extinction, and displace communities. Dams are destructive relics of the past and have no place in an America vying to be a leader in clean energy, water sustainability, and environmental protection while creating the jobs of the future.

In Massachusetts, the recent removal of three dams on the Mill River reconnected more than 30 miles of blocked fish habitat, reduced the risk of flooding, and removed public safety hazards. At Patagonia, we’re proud to stand with Indigenous communities in opposing Hydro-Québec’s plan to build a 145-mile hydroelectric transmission line from Canada to Lewiston, Maine, through ancestral territories and carbon-capturing forests — while advertising it to Massachusetts electricity ratepayers as a climate solution. We also support efforts by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, other environmental groups, and state agencies there to remove four dams on the Kennebec River that threaten the survival of endangered Atlantic salmon.

Mill River, at the site of a decommissioned dam
A surveyor walks the banks of the Mill River, at the site of the former Whittenton Pond Dam, just upstream from downtown Taunton, Mass., July 25, 2018. CHARLES KRUPA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Hydropower is often marketed as the kind of clean, renewable energy we’re supposed to want. It’s what dam developers have been claiming for decades. But a growing body of scientific research shows just the opposite. Of the 91,457 dams in the United States, it is estimated that 75–90 percent no longer serve any functional purpose and are detrimental to ecosystem health and water quality. Dams flood millions of acres of wetlands, grasslands, and forests, killing plants and reducing carbon sequestration. And research shows that the reservoirs they create add nearly a billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the air every year, mostly in the form of methane released as the submerged vegetation and trapped nutrients from upstream break down and bubble potent greenhouse gases to the surface.

As global temperatures rise, dams and their stagnant reservoirs become more harmful and less efficient. Fish are perishing in, and downstream of, warming reservoirs coast to coast. And, as we’re witnessing right now in the drought-stricken West, dams are proving to be an unreliable and unsustainable water supply and energy solution. More numerous fires, floods, and erosion are filling reservoirs with sediment, reducing storage capacity. With shallow waters, even more of this essential resource is lost to evaporation. A United Nations study found that reservoirs evaporate more water than is used by people. Investing in groundwater recharge, aquifer storage, and better management offers a less expensive and more efficient solution. Stanford researchers have found that the storage capacity of underground aquifers in California dwarfs the storage capacity of all reservoirs in the state combined and that groundwater storage costs much less than dam storage.

Meanwhile, dams threaten the river systems that move nutrients from land to ocean, feed plankton and fish, provide clean water for millions of people, protect vulnerable areas against floods and droughts, and transport about 200 million tons of carbon to the ocean each year. Many cultural sites and ancestral lands important to sovereign tribes and Indigenous people remain submerged behind dams. And as vital sediment sits trapped behind dams, coastal communities lose an essential tool for replenishing beaches, fighting coastal erosion, and fending off rising sea levels. By contrast, the removal of dams can quickly reverse this trend and grow the shoreline. Just months after the removal of two large dams on Washington’s Elwha River, the river’s sand and cobble delta grew almost 100 acres of new land out into the sea.

In addition to the harm they cause to people and the environment, dams are hideously expensive. Once dams are built, maintenance costs can be astronomical. All told, it would cost more than $70 billion to rehabilitate US dams.

The dirty dam truth, by Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert
The Iron Gate Dam, powerhouse and spillway on the lower Klamath River near Hornbrook, Calif.,GILLIAN FLACCUS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Not only does removing dams help reduce emissions, restore former carbon sinks, and increase climate resilience — it allows us to spend money once used for costly dam maintenance on truly renewable, clean energy and more sustainable water solutions. All of this comes with enormous benefits to ecosystems, like providing a real chance at survival for the many endangered runs of keystone species like Pacific and Atlantic salmon, and the many species and communities that depend on them. Plus, the cost of removing a dam is often much lower than the cost of maintaining one.

The Biden administration must take three crucial steps. First, it should include significant funding for dam removal in the American Jobs Plan, while excluding new dam investments. We can build back better while creating jobs and fighting climate change, all while benefiting tribal, rural, and economically marginalized communities. Second, it should direct the Environmental Protection Agency to require that all dam facilities study, evaluate, and report data on their full carbon footprint (carbon emissions and lost sequestration). Finally, it should remove electricity produced by hydropower dams from all US clean energy standards and strengthen Federal Trade Commission guidance around false environmental and climate claims related to dam facilities and hydropower.

The American Jobs Plan can be a profound step forward for our country, and for the protection of our planet, especially if the United States harnesses this opportunity to remove the destructive dams of a bygone era and invest in the more efficient, less harmful solutions now available. But we have to act fast. The public needs to urge President Biden and Congress to exclude any new investments in dams in the 21st Century Dams Act and infrastructure package — except for urgent safety matters — and instead use the legislation to fund dam removal.

We can’t afford to miss this chance to end our reliance on these outdated, expensive, harmful structures of the past and make smart investments in our country’s future. The nation’s health — and ours — depends upon it.

Ryan Gellert is CEO of Patagonia.

Reports on Hydro fiascos in Manitoba and B.C. expose the rot at Crown-owned utilities

4 March 2021


Transmission lines, Globe and Mail
Full text of this excellent piece by Konrad Yakabuski in the Globe and Mail, March 4, 2021
Misery loves company. And so it was that taxpayers in Manitoba and British Columbia found themselves commiserating last week with the release of separate reports detailing the mismanagement and dissimulation that has left them to foot the bill for uneconomic hydroelectric projects championed by provincial monopolies with dreams of empire.
The reports on Manitoba Hydro’s Keeyask dam and B.C. Hydro’s Site C generating station were eerily similar in how they enumerated the factors that led to massive cost overruns on both projects, beginning with complacent politicians and a lack of independent oversight at the government-owned utilities that had promoted them. The reports also read much like the findings of an earlier inquiry into the financially ruinous Muskrat Falls project in Newfoundland and Labrador.
In all three cases, provincial premiers allowed their better judgment to be clouded by a desire to build personal legacies in the form of gigantic dams that they perhaps hoped might one day be named after them. They allowed the heads of their respective Crown-owned electrical monopolies to indulge their own empire-building instincts to pursue those projects based on rosy assumptions concocted to dazzle unsuspecting taxpayers and avoid scrutiny.
Politicians of all stripes fell into this trap. In Manitoba, it was former New Democratic premier Gary Doer’s government that authorized construction of Keeyask dam and Bipole III transmission line, the costs of which have ballooned to $13.4-billion from an initial estimate of $9.7-billion, and led to a tripling of Manitoba Hydro’s debt in 15 years.
In 2008, Mr. Doer declared that “hydroelectricity is Manitoba’s oil,” suggesting his have-not province might get rich by exporting power to midwestern U.S. states hungry for clean energy. This was always a pipe dream, since continental electricity prices were already then beginning a steep descent because of a glut of cheap natural gas and the increasing attractiveness of alternative sources of renewable power. The oil-electricity analogy was also highly misleading. In 2019, for instance, Canada exported $87-billion worth of crude oil. Electricity exports totalled a mere $2.5-billion, mostly from Quebec.
As last week’s report from an independent review of Keeyask and Bipole III, led by former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall, concluded: “The incomplete analysis of the projects, driven by government endorsement, a construction contract that deferred construction risk to Manitoba Hydro, and a lack of effective project oversight at the corporate level, led to project delays and significant cost overruns.”
As a former right-leaning premier of an oil-producing province, Mr. Wall may not have been the best choice to lead the review commissioned by Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister. But his exhaustive report, which runs more than 14,000 pages with appendices, should put to rest charges by Mr. Doer and others that this was just a partisan exercise.
In B.C., former provincial deputy finance minister Peter Milburn’s report on the Site C fiasco found a similar story of politicians rushing to sign off on a megaproject without due diligence. In this case, it was former Liberal premier Christy Clark’s government that gave the go-ahead to Site C in 2014, forgoing a prior independent review by the B.C. Utilities Commission.
Premier John Horgan’s New Democrats, which had opposed Site C in opposition, put in place a “project assurance board,” or PAB, that was supposed to keep tabs on B.C. Hydro. It also hired consultants Ernst & Young to provide an additional layer of oversight. But the PAB, Mr. Milburn found, was stacked with B.C. Hydro board members, while E&Y appears to have been systematically kept out of the loop by officials at the provincially owned utility.
“Ultimately, B.C. Hydro determined the amount and type of oversight they would receive from EY,” Mr. Milburn wrote. “This appears inconsistent with the concept of independent review and with B.C. Hydro’s commitment to government.”
Astonishingly, Mr. Horgan has chosen to make only cosmetic changes at B.C. Hydro in the wake of Mr. Milburn’s report and a jaw-dropping revision to Site C’s budget. The project is now slated to cost $16-billion, or almost twice the $8.7-billion it was estimated to cost in 2014, with no guarantee that further problems won’t still arise as B.C. Hydro seeks to reinforce Site C’s shaky – literally – foundations.
Mr. Doer and Ms. Clark may have thought they were following in the footsteps of the visionary premiers of the past – Manitoba’s Duff Roblin and B.C.’s W.A.C. Bennett – by developing their provinces’ hydroelectric potential. But those earlier mid-20th-century projects were pioneering feats that paid off because of the unbeatable natural attributes. Keeyask, Site C and Muskrat Falls were subpar in comparison.
That all three projects were allowed to proceed speaks to the rot within Canada’s Crown-owned electrical utilities. It is beyond high time someone cleaned house.

BREAKING: West Moberly First Nations Threaten Court Action Regarding Site C Safety Risks

25 January 2021

Also see story here.



Court Motion Brought to Access Site C Safety Risks Kept from Public

First Nation “actively considering” new court injunction if work on “unsafe, unnecessary, and unlawful” Site C dam continues

January 25, 2021. Moberly Lake, B.C: In an open letter to the Premier and his cabinet, Chief Roland Willson of West Moberly First Nations has called for an immediate suspension of work on the “unsafe, unnecessary, and unlawful” Site C dam until there is a cabinet decision on cancellation.

News of serious problems with the dam’s foundations surfaced publicly in July of last year, but documents obtained by reporters reveal that BC Hydro knew of the problems as early as September 2019. Today, nearly one and a half years later, construction continues at a cost of $100 million per month with no safe solution to the problems in sight.

Details of the escalating costs and safety concerns remain shrouded in secrecy, with BC Hydro withholding its two latest progress reports from regulators and the Premier refusing to release the report prepared by his special advisor, Peter Milburn. Chief Willson’s open letter reveals that his First Nation will bring a court motion to obtain the information being kept from the public. This includes Peter Milburn’s report, two new expert reports commissioned by BC Hydro, and all draft reports, terms of reference, emails and geotechnical information.

The open letter warns that West Moberly is “actively considering” a return to court for a new injunction if the Premier allows construction to continue. In October of 2018, the Court denied a previous injunction but stated that a new injunction could be granted if there was an “unforeseen and compelling change in circumstances” before trial.

In the letter, Chief Willson urges the Premier to make good on promises to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to uphold the rights guaranteed by Treaty 8:

“You can reject the madness of ploughing ahead with this unnecessary, unsafe, and unlawful project. You can choose instead to immediately suspend the project. You can work with West Moberly and other Indigenous treaty partners to provide truly clean energy alternatives that meet the needs of all British Columbians. You can show Canada and the world that the only way to escape our colonial history of neglect and betrayal is to act boldly and honourably in the decisions that lie before us today.”

Read the open letter here:


Globe editorial: The Site C dam has been a disaster in the making for decades. Should B.C. pull the plug?

3 January 2021

Globe and Mail editorial, January 3, 2020

The report must have landed on British Columbia Premier John Horgan’s desk with a thud. It was not a welcome Christmas present.

The report in question is an independent assessment of the troubled Site C hydroelectric dam under construction on the Peace River in the province’s northeast. It was scheduled to hit the Premier’s desk in the days before Christmas, and could be made public as soon as this week.

It will be grim. How grim is the question.

Last summer, BC Hydro revealed Site C was in big trouble. A shaky foundation on the river’s right bank threatened the stability of the dam, and costs were spiralling. The $10.7-billion project was already over budget, with about half the money spent. Mr. Horgan ordered an independent review and said halting Site C for good was possible.

“If the science tells us and the economics tells us that it’s the wrong way to proceed, we will take appropriate action,” the Premier said.

If this sort of story sounds familiar – big dam, big promises and big problems – that’s because the saga of Site C has many prequels in the world of hydroelectric megaprojects. Backers exaggerate the benefits and minimize the challenges; then construction starts and predictable surprises pop up like weeds. What started life as a reasonable idea is suddenly twice as expensive – and no longer so reasonable.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Muskrat Falls dam is, at $13.1-billion, more than double its original budget. It has pushed the province to the financial brink. Ottawa, which had guaranteed $7.9-billion of project debt, stepped in again in mid-December and deferred $844-million in payments. Power is finally supposed to flow late next year.

The feds are also aiming to make Muskrat Falls viable – or are they throwing good money after bad? – by backing the so-called Atlantic Loop, a network to carry the electric power to Atlantic Canada.

For B.C., there is still time to turn back at Site C, as difficult and financially gutting a choice as that may be. Killing the project now means $6-billion-plus spent for zero power. But it may make sense, if pushing forward means a final bill at upwards of $15-billion.

There is bipartisan blame for this mess, which is decades in the making. There are two large dams on the Peace River, one completed in 1968 and the second in 1980. They have supplied plentiful and affordable power to the province. The plan had always been for a third dam. In 1967, a spot near the Alberta border, Site E, was seen as the best location. The terrain was firm, but it was rejected because of cost.

Instead, a decade later, the seemingly cheaper but geologically troublesome Site C was chosen.

In the 2000s, building Site C became a priority of the BC Liberals. It was exempted from an independent review and construction started – with a budget of $8.8-billion – in 2015. Former premier Christy Clark promised to get the work beyond the point of no return. In 2017, the NDP formed government. They had opposed Site C but Mr. Horgan decided to push forward. Mike Harcourt, a former NDP premier, in 2017 called Site C a “clear, unmitigated disaster.” And that was when only $2-billion had been spent.

More warnings came behind closed doors, before finally spilling out last summer.

Mr. Horgan’s first big decision as Premier in 2017 was whether to continue construction at Site C. The first big decision of his second term will once again be Site C.

Is the project already so far along that stopping it makes no sense?

In October, the C.D. Howe Institute released an analysis from two hydro experts, which concluded that the case for Site C is “getting weaker.” At $10.7-billion, it is only “marginally economic.” Cancellation, the report said, should be on the table if costs jump. At $15-billion, it makes more sense to shutter Site C, absorb the costs, and invest in wind power and battery storage, the report said. Wind power plus battery storage would also allow for smaller projects, rather than one huge one.

Site C was always a problematic place to build a large dam. Numerous decision makers over the years pushed ahead anyway.

Now, Mr. Horgan has to eyeball the sums and consider the conclusions in that report on his desk – and decide whether prudence means pressing forward, or turning back.

Globe and Mail: B.C. needs a public inquiry to sort out the Site C mess

31 December 2020

By Konrad Yakabuski, Globe and Mail, December 31, 2o20.
Article is paywalled so full text is here.

The evidence is now indisputable that British Columbia’s Liberal government erred in 2014 in approving construction of the Site C hydroelectric dam on the Peace River, and that the province’s current NDP administration should not have allowed the project to proceed in 2017.

The question now facing Premier John Horgan is whether, more than five years into construction and with about $6-billion spent on the 1,100-megawatt hydro generating station, his government can pull the plug on the project without causing more problems than it solves.

Either way, it is a bad situation that calls for a public inquiry into how Site C got this far in the first place. The pattern of a provincial hydroelectricity monopoly influencing gullible politicians to back its anti-competitive ambitions regardless of the costs is a familiar one in Canada. In its desire to block potential renewable energy interlopers on its turf, BC Hydro appears to have provided its political overlords with a less than fulsome explanation of the downsides of Site C.

This is not to say Mr. Horgan and former Liberal premiers Christy Clark and Gordon Campbell do not bear blame for what is becoming a financial fiasco. Independent energy experts warned them against building Site C, arguing that BC Hydro had used questionable assumptions about future demand and the cost of alternatives to make the economic case for Site C.

The risk that Site C would become a financial sinkhole was not even the biggest strike against the project. It had been common knowledge that Site C was a suboptimal location for a big hydroelectric project. There was a reason for that. The best sites in B.C., and indeed across Canada, had all been developed by the 1970s. Since then, provincial hydroelectric utilities had been pushing increasingly marginal developments to satisfy their thirst for empire building.

The extent of the problems now facing Site C and the likely cost of fixing them have been the subject of a review commissioned by Mr. Horgan after BC Hydro’s July disclosure that “foundation enhancements would be required to increase the stability below the powerhouse, spillway and future dam core areas.” In other words, the worst-case scenario that geological experts had warned about from the outset had, in fact, materialized. Quelle surprise?

In October, The Narwhal published the results of a months-long investigation based on Site C documents, obtained under a Freedom of Information request. The report noted that the technical advisory board overseeing Site C warned in May, 2019, that the stability of the dam is “a significant risk and the hazards of the weak foundation have been adequately recognized.”

Mr. Horgan has insisted that he was not aware of the geotechnical issues facing Site C until BC Hydro disclosed them publicly in July, more than 14 months after the technical advisory board had shared its conclusions. It remains unclear who knew and when about Site C’s problems along the chain of command within government leading to Mr. Horgan’s office.

“We put in place significant oversight on this project and it hasn’t proven to be adequate at this point,” Mr. Horgan this month told Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer.

Frankly, that is not good enough. Only a public inquiry, similar to the one Newfoundland and Labrador conducted to get to the bottom of the Muskrat Falls boondoggle, can identify those responsible for allowing a misguided project to continue unchecked. The original $8-billion cost of Site C was revised to $10.7-billion in 2017. But foundation reinforcements alone could boost the construction price tag by another $2-billion. More cost overruns seem inevitable.

Mr. Horgan punted a decision on Site C’s fate until after last October’s provincial election by appointing Peter Milburn, a former deputy minister of finance under Ms. Clark, to recommend whether the project should be halted. Few observers are betting on Mr. Horgan to pull the plug on Site C, however. Organized labour, a major force within the NDP, has been a big supporter of the project and the construction jobs it has brought.

There are still a few optimists who believe the economic case for Site C could be salvaged if B.C. could sell power from the project to Alberta, enabling the latter province to decarbonize its electricity grid. Interprovincial electricity co-operation is, however, one of those uniquely Canadian ideas that never materializes. Besides, private electricity producers in Alberta have invested billions in natural gas-fired generating capacity that can keep the lights on at a far lower cost than power from Site C, even if the gap will shrink gradually as carbon taxes rise.

It will take a public inquiry to expose the folly that led B.C. to this very bad place.


BREAKING: Halt Site C – former Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen, dam engineer Ken Farquharson

1 December 2020


Halt Site C and launch probe into lax safety oversight of dam project, longtime dam engineer and former BC Hydro CEO urge government

The BC Government is not doing near enough to ensure that a safe dam is built at Site C, says a former CEO and president of BC Hydro and a retired engineer with more than four decades experience, including at BC Hydro’s Mica and Keenleyside dams.

“The government is knowingly taking advice on Site C from an ‘independent engineer’ with deep ties to BC Hydro. It’s also acted swiftly on one notable occasion to accept that engineer’s advice when circumstances called for extreme caution. And now we have big problems at Site C. As a former engineer and a resident of British Columbian, I am deeply concerned by the government’s attitude when it comes to the safety of this project,” says Ken Farquharson.

Farquharson, former BC Hydro CEO and president Marc Eliesen, and the Peace Valley Landowners Association are calling for an immediate halt to construction at Site C and the appointment of an independent panel of experts with no ties to BC Hydro to assess all geotechnical and safety risks at Site C as well as the government’s oversight of the project.

The call comes after new research was released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives showing that:

The provincial government office responsible for dam safety is knowingly taking advice on BC Hydro’s Site C project from Tim Little, an “independent engineer” who worked for years for BC Hydro and who continues to be paid as a consultant by the utility.
As of January, provincial dam safety officials had received 137 reports from Little, including one where he recommended a radical alteration to construction plans. The government took just hours to approve the risky change.
The change resulted in massive amounts of concrete being poured at Site C long before a critical drainage tunnel was completed first. Now, the dramatically altered building plan appears to have contributed to all of that concrete moving.
The government promised to release all of Little’s reports to the CCPA, but after a seven-week delay told the CCPA it would have to file a time-consuming Freedom of Information request instead. Only two of Little’s reports are in the public realm as part of a filing in BC Supreme Court.

“There are people living in the Peace Valley whose lives are most at risk should Site C be built and later fail,” says Ken Boon, a Peace Valley farmer and president of the Peace Valley Landowner Association. “The government owes a duty to them, and everyone else, to take its responsibilities for dam safety seriously. Given the mounting geotechnical problems at Site C, the safest most responsible thing to do would be to scrap this project all together.”


“With $5 billion to $6 billion already spent on this boondoggle of a project, the public deserves to know whether Site C can be safely completed, if at all,” Eliesen said. “Sadly, the CCPA has unearthed ample evidence that the government isn’t taking its regulatory responsibilities nearly seriously enough. Ensuring the safe design, construction and maintenance of all dams in the province is the government’s regulatory responsibility. It’s long past time that the government took that responsibility seriously.”

Media contacts:

Ken Boon
Marc Eliesen
Ken Farquharson

Media questions, call 604-313-7744

Please also see the exposé by Ben Parfitt of the BC CCPA, out today: Who’s minding the shop at Site C?

What happened to the BC NDP’s PowerBC energy plan?

1 November 2020

BC NDP graphic for their abandoned PowerBC energy plan, showing undamaged Peace River Valley

BC NDP graphic for their abandoned PowerBC energy plan, showing undamaged Peace River Valley

Have a look at the clean energy plan the BC NDP promoted while in opposition before 2017: “PowerBC.” It stands in stark contrast to the NDP’s current “CleanBC” plan, which unlike PowerBC, involves both fracking/LNG and the Site C dam, with the latter functioning to greenwash the former. PowerBC has somehow nearly been scrubbed from the internet, so we are uploading some materials from it here for the historical record.

Download the PDF: POWERBC: John Horgan’s energy and jobs plan for BC | New Democrat BC Government Caucus

In the 2017 election, it was assumed that PowerBC was the energy plan that the NDP was running on. It’s mentioned in the NDP’s long 2017 election platform, but only a meager six times. However, and chillingly, the phrase “Site C” is not mentioned ONCE in that election platform. Have a look and try it yourself.

Nevertheless, the BC electorate was under the impression that the BC NDP was running on the PowerBC plan, which excluded the Site C dam.

PowerBC explicitly excludes the Site C dam as an energy source, even using images of an undamaged Peace River Valley in some of its key graphics. It doesn’t pretend that fracking and LNG are “clean energy” but speaks instead of solar and other renewables, retrofitting buildings, increasing capacity on existing dams (Revelstoke Dam still has an empty bay for a major turbine that was never added!), and much more.

You may enjoy this page from PowerBC’s promotional materials, where an academic who then became a lobbyist for Site C, SFU’s Marv Shaffer, is on record saying that BC doesn’t need Site C. How priorities change at the drop of a hat, or election, or lobbying contract…

The section below is interesting, because for BC Hydro to pursue adding renewables like solar and wind and geothermal, Horgan and the NDP would have to have reversed some legislative changes made by Gordon Campbell and the BC Liberals which:
• restricted BC Hydro to only hydroelectricity
• forced BC Hydro to build Site C instead of cheaper renewables
• sidelined BC’s energy watchdog the BC Utilities Commission from oversight of energy and Site C
But the NDP noticeably didn’t make those absolutely key legislative reforms, when it would have had Green support to do so. Instead, it didn’t restore our watchdog so we have no oversight, and we can’t pursue far cleaner and cheaper renewables or save a key agricultural and ecologically important valley.

Then there’s this excellent idea: instead of building Site C, increase power generation at our existing dams, which we have not yet even begun to do.

People tend to get politically activated only during elections then fade away. But only organizing and activism between elections wins real change. To all those who campaigned for and/or voted NDP: now help us challenge their disastrous “CleanBC” plan. Please pressure your NDP MLA to cancel Site C, abandon the environmentally disastrous and uneconomic fracking/LNG plan, and return to the sanity of the NDP’s PowerBC plan. It was a good, modern plan. CleanBC, with its fracking and outdated, overexpensive and unnecessary mega-dam, is not.

And sign the new petition if you haven’t already, please. But it’s more important to sink your teeth into the legs of your local NDP MLA (figuratively speaking only) and don’t let go until Site C and fracking are abandoned.

34 Powerex officials earn more than $300,000 even as BC vows climate action

20 October 2020

Thirty-four officials at Powerex Corp., the energy trading subsidiary of BC Hydro, each earned more than $300,000 in the latest fiscal year as they benefited from a compensation system that critics fear is undermining British Columbia’s climate action plans.

The compensation structure that includes bonuses has become so distorted that for the fiscal year ending March 31, eight Powerex officials had remuneration greater than the $456,054 collected by Chris O’Riley, chief executive officer of BC Hydro, the province’s largest Crown corporation.

Clean Energy BC, which represents independent power producers or IPPs, said in regulatory filings that bonuses over the years at Powerex have become an integral part of incentives for importing and exporting electricity.

British Columbia is blessed with hydroelectricity, generated mostly by BC Hydro. But IPPs, which include Indigenous groups, say they are worried that their expansion plans for renewable energy will be thwarted by Powerex because the energy marketer places profit from trading ahead of whether electricity supplies are green.

The province’s energy regulator, the B.C. Utilities Commission, regulates BC Hydro’s rates that are charged to residential and business customers. Powerex, as a wholly owned subsidiary of BC Hydro, operates as an unregulated entity that is beyond the jurisdiction of the commission.

The Globe and Mail obtained information on Powerex through transcripts, financial statements and other regulatory filings.

Thomas Bechard, Powerex’s CEO, had remuneration of $903,359. His pay package included $358,800 in base salary, $540,000 in bonuses and $4,559 in other compensation.

Rob Campbell and Mark Holman, who are Powerex managing directors, earned $915,661 and $913,851, respectively. Benefits such as pension values were excluded from the totals.

Clean Energy BC and Indigenous groups are among the critics who say the BC NDP will be determined to give Powerex greater flexibility in the electricity market, if the NDP wins Saturday’s B.C. general election. In particular, that would allow B.C. energy traders to import more supplies of carbon-intensive power at cheap prices from places such as California, which used natural gas to generate almost half of its electricity in 2018.

Patrick Michell, Chief of the Kanaka Bar Indian Band near Lytton, B.C., said there is too much short-term thinking when the focus should be on renewable energy such as hydroelectricity, solar and wind power. “I think Powerex is a necessary evil but also may have gotten too big for its britches and uses complexity to justify both its existence and importance rather than helping B.C. seek a path toward sustainable and resilient energy self-sufficiency,” Mr. Michell told The Globe this week.

Kanaka Bar co-owns the Kwoiek Creek hydroelectric project with Innergex Renewable Energy Inc.

Powerex, which does not operate its own transmission system, seeks to buy surplus electricity at cheap prices or sell B.C. electricity at marked-up prices to third-party entities. The “arbitrage” strategy allows BC Hydro to reduce the rates that it would otherwise need to charge its own customers. During the five-year period ending March 31, 2019, Powerex contributed nearly $900-million in profit at BC Hydro.

BC Hydro spokeswoman Mora Scott defended Powerex’s compensation system. “Trader bonuses are an incentive and retention tool that are necessary to compete in the energy marketing industry,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.

She said B.C. exports six times more electricity to Alberta than it imports from the neighbouring province, helping to reduce Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions. Alberta, which has been gradually converting to gas-fired power plants by phasing out coal-fired ones, represents only 3 per cent of total imports of electricity into B.C.

“Despite what some may think, the majority of the power imported by Powerex to B.C. is clean,” Ms. Scott said.

Powerex said on its website that British Columbia has a competitive advantage with its clean energy. “Our hydroelectric power is very attractive to Powerex’s trading partners,” it said.

During a hearing this year at the utilities commission, BC Hydro chief financial officer David Wong described the system of bonuses at Powerex as incentive compensation.

“If it relates to the front office staff or the sales staff, marketing and sales staff, then they would get that incentive compensation,” he said in response to a question.

Mr. Wong, the second-highest-paid executive at BC Hydro, had $333,860 in remuneration but 25 Powerex officials earned more than he did in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

In sharp contrast to the lucrative payouts at Powerex, BC Hydro account managers aren’t being offered bonuses to promote electrification within British Columbia, such as signing up industrial customers currently using natural gas.

Mr. O’Riley said during the same hearing that BC Hydro’s key managers are already motivated to do a good job. “They are paid a salary which is fixed for a year and there is not a variable or a bonus component to that,” he said.

Powerex punches well above its weight. The energy marketer has about 175 employees, compared with roughly 6,800 staff at BC Hydro.

The BC NDP minority government introduced an amendment, Bill 17, in June to the province’s Clean Energy Act. The legislation would repeal the mandate that British Columbia be self-sufficient in electricity supplies in average or above-average water conditions. The NDP government, however, withdrew the bill in July amid criticisms from Clean Energy BC, Indigenous groups, the BC Liberals, the BC Green Party and Andrew Weaver, the former Green leader who sat as an independent.

Critics of Bill 17 are concerned about the prospect of an NDP majority government. They fear that the legislation will be reintroduced and reward Powerex for importing electricity from the United States, even with a surplus of B.C. power, including future supplies from BC Hydro’s problem-plagued Site C hydroelectric dam that is scheduled to open in 2024.

Gary Mason: Site C is a disaster in the making

Of the many issues awaiting the next government of British Columbia, none is more vexing and politically fraught than the Site C dam project.

On its present course, it has the potential to be the greatest financial disaster in the province’s history. And all indications are it will be John Horgan and the New Democratic Party who will have to make some enormous, financially consequential decisions related to the problem-plagued undertaking.

Before calling the current election, which concludes Saturday, Mr. Horgan ordered an investigation into the current trajectory of the project and the consequences that its myriad challenges are expected to have on final costs and timeline.

That report is expected in the next few weeks. It will almost certainly contain bad news. The question is whether it will be bad enough to cause the government to consider cancelling it, despite the billions that have already been invested – and the billions more yet that it would cost to halt it in its tracks.

Mr. Horgan had, until recently, steadfastly rejected any notion of killing the project and taking the losses. However, pressed on the campaign trail by Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, he opened the door to that possibility.

In referencing the report that is coming, Mr. Horgan said, “We’ll take a good hard look at the evidence, and if the science tells us and the economics tells us it’s the wrong way to proceed, we’ll take appropriate action.”

While that statement may have buoyed the hearts of thousands opposed to the dam, cancelling it at this juncture seems unimaginable. On the other hand, the thought of a cataclysmic failure of the dam’s wall down the road – not to mention the small army of engineers from BC Hydro that is already working, right now, to triage the dam – must keep Mr. Horgan up at night.

The problem is the soft sedimentary shale that underlies the construction site. Harvey Elwin, one of the country’s most experienced dam engineers, has observed that he’s never seen such appalling foundation conditions for a project of this scale. Documents recently obtained by Ben Parfitt of Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) have revealed that a decision to pour massive amounts of concrete to build a buttress before a critical water-drainage tunnel was completed “could cause the notoriously unstable shale rock to move even further.” Several prominent British Columbians and the former chief executive officer of BC Hydro, Marc Eliesen, have called for the project to be stopped until an independent team of professionals can assess the situation.

BC Hydro has been less than upfront (to put it mildly) about the problems the project is experiencing. The whole thing has the feel of an issue that is growing in ugly complexity every day, the ramifications of which are enormous for the provincial treasury.

Site C started out as a concept that would cost $3.5-billion. When plans became more serious, the price tag was changed to $6.9-billion. By the time the BC Liberals approved it in 2014, the estimate rose to $8.8-billion. When the NDP took over in 2017, it ordered a project review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, but by that point, almost $2-billion had already been spent. It was determined that if the project was cancelled at that point, it would cost another $2-billion – a $4-billion writeoff.

So the NDP decided to push on with the dam, at a revised estimate of $10.7-billion.

No one believes that will be the final tally – not by a long shot. Comparisons to Newfoundland and Labrador’s infamous Muskrat Falls dam fiasco suddenly seem not so far-fetched.

As is always the case in these matters, it will be future generations that will bear the brunt of the pain. In the case of Site C, hydro rates are going to have to rise precipitously in order to pay the bill.

And then there is the indelicate question of demand. By the time the dam is scheduled to be completed in 2025, there is expected to be little need for the power it produces. Demand will be there down the road, but it can be reasonably asked if that power could have been supplied far more cheaply, with less damage to the environment, via independent producers and alternative forms of energy such as solar or wind.

There is no question that the BC Liberals deserve enormous blame for this debacle, pushing the project to the point where most believe there was no turning back. But it’s the NDP’s problem now – and they are likely to wear this, no matter what happens.

Thanks for reading! PLEASE sign the petition to halt Site C!

The unnecessary Site C dam is shaping up as BC’s Muskrat Falls

The unnecessary Site C dam is shaping up as B.C.’s Muskrat Falls
By Konrad Yakabuski
October 20, 2020
The story is paywalled, so full text is below.

The Site C Clean Energy Project launching of the super structure bridge off the causeway to an island, spanning the back channel of the Peace River, in October, 2019.
The Site C Clean Energy Project launching of the super structure bridge off the causeway to an island, spanning the back channel of the Peace River, in October, 2019.


In the past decade, Canada’s provincially owned hydroelectric utilities have sold gullible politicians on more than $50-billion in unnecessary dam and transmission projects.

From the Muskrat Falls project in Newfoundland and Labrador to the Keeyask dam in Manitoba and the Romaine River development in Quebec, the Canadian landscape is now blighted by big hydro projects that would never have seen the light of day had they been subject to independent and transparent analysis.

Residential and industrial customers now face sharply higher electricity rates as these projects come onstream. Instead of the juicy export profits that their backers promised, these projects face production costs that are significantly higher than the price their energy can fetch in a U.S. market awash in cheap gas-fired, solar and wind power.

This situation was entirely foreseeable when these projects were approved by premiers touting jobs and economic development. Unfortunately, it is too late to turn back the clock. All three projects are nearing completion.

There is still time, however, to pull the plug on British Columbia’s Site C hydro project before it ends up joining this trio of white elephants.

Both the incumbent New Democrats and opposition Liberals have avoided talking about Site C in the runup to Saturday’s provincial election. That is not surprising. Both parties are complicit in pushing ahead with a development experts warned was far too risky.

The Liberals gave the green light to Site C when they were in government in 2014 and the minority NDP government decided to forge ahead with the project in 2017. Since then the projected cost of Site C has continued to rise – to about $11-billion – while consumer demand and export prices have continued to fall.

Hence, the 1,100-megawatt project was already headed for trouble before BC Hydro disclosed in July that geotechnical risks that had been played down during the project’s approval phase had come back to haunt the utility. The foundation reinforcements required to fix the problem could cost upward of $2-billion and delay completion by a year or more. The final cost could total more than $13-billion.

This further undermines the already shaky economics of Site C, which will leave B.C. with huge electricity surpluses for decades to come. BC Hydro will likely be forced to liquidate these surpluses on the U.S. spot market at a fraction of the cost of production.

Export prices have plummeted by more than half since 2014 because of an abundance of natural gas south of the border and the rapidly falling costs for solar and wind power. In 2019, Canadian electricity exports fetched an average price of $40.70 a megawatt hour, compared with $87.23 a MWh in 2014, according to Canada Energy Regulator data.

As a result, net electricity exports fell to $1.9-billion last year from $2.8-billion in 2014. Hydro-Québec accounted for the bulk of those sales, owing to its vast reserves from older dams in Quebec and the 46-year-old Churchill Falls project in Labrador.

Site C has seen its production costs follow a steep upward slope since the project was first approved. Those costs are now expected to exceed $120 a MWh, according to some estimates. Given the environmental costs involved in damming and diverting the Peace River in Northern B.C. and geotechnical problems that threaten the project’s stability, the case for proceeding with Site C has simply become untenable.

Yes, halting construction on Site C would still leave B.C. taxpayers on the hook for several billion dollars in sunk costs, without any electricity to show for it. But killing the project remains the least costly option facing the province. Borrowing billions more to complete the project would make an already bad situation worse.

Pulling the plug on Site C would take political courage. But whoever wins Saturday’s election can no longer ignore the evidence. This project is headed in the wrong direction and there is no reasonable prospect of turning it around.

The inquiry into Muskrat Falls led by Newfoundland Supreme Court Justice Richard LeBlanc should serve as a warning to B.C. politicians still defending Site C. It concluded that successive Newfoundland governments failed in their “duty to ensure that the best interests of the province’s residents were safeguarded” and improperly placed their “faith and trust” in Nalcor, the provincial Crown corporation overseeing Muskrat Falls. Nalcor, the report added, “exploited this trust by frequently concealing information about the project’s costs, schedule and risks.”

The same story appears to be unfolding at Site C. The next B.C. government has one last chance to avoid an equally disastrous ending.


Thanks to Margaret Atwood for tweeting this story! PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION!