By Roger Bryenton, P. Eng. (former), MBA, Dr. Eoin Finn, PhD. & Jef Keighley
While in opposition, the NDP party developed an energy strategy for BC, called “PowerBC”. It outlined a variety of options available and preferable to hydro-electric mega-projects such as Site C, in northeast BC, which will flood the Peace River valley, BC’s last untapped agricultural resource.
PowerBC: Almost Visionary
PowerBC was almost visionary. It used a combination of sensible electricity options rather than a single massive project, costing billions, that will not produce power for 10 years. It focussed on electricity conservation as the preferred option, using Columbia Treaty and non-treaty electricity, if and when needed, Burrard Thermal power and ongoing upgrades to existing hydro-electric infrastructure. It was a promising plan.
The BC Building Trades Union produced a report called “Jobs for Tomorrow”. It was also almost visionary. Again using sensible options, the strategy outlined how many good family-supporting jobs would be available from a variety of improved building techniques, community power systems and transportation changes and electrification. These jobs would be distributed throughout BC communities over many decades rather than simply concentrated around Ft. St. John during Site C’s single decade construction window.
Go Forward With Site C
Then what happened? The election of 2017 gave the NDP and Greens just enough seats to form a majority, with two ridings having less than 400 votes separating the NDP from Liberals!
What happened with Site C remains a mystery for the BC public. In a decision traumatic for many British Columbians, John Horgan and his caucus declared that PowerBC was dead, and that Site C would be continued, in direct contravention of his pre-election and election speeches and promises. The decision denied the evidence from the BC Utilities Commission review, and a former Joint Review Panel’s recommendation. Horgan, absent credible evidence, complained that “my hands were tied”, but has not revealed how he was held hostage, or by whom. The public has a right to know.
With the continuation of Site C, the thousands of jobs identified in the NDP’s PowerBC and the unions’ Jobs for Tomorrow vaporized. What was left were a few hundred workers moving dirt in the hinterland, and a few hundred more in BC Hydro’s headquarters moving their pencils, telling the hinterland what dirt to move and where.
Continuing with Site C effectively commits BC to pursue 20th century technology while the rest of the world outpaces us with respect to cutting edge, renewable energy technologies for the 21st century.
Mother Nature cried out. Unexpected “tension cracks” appeared in crucial dam foundation areas. More dirt was moved. More cracks developed. The cost escalated. At almost $11 Billion and climbing, Site C will require seven decades of payments to cover the costs. Maybe they won’t be covered. Ever.
Site C = Lost Jobs
And what of the jobs from PowerBC and Jobs for Tomorrow?
BC Hydro’s 2013 Integrated Resource Plan looked at hundreds of options for electricity use and generation. It showed that 44,000 person-years of work would be involved in building Site C. It also showed that a dedicated conservation strategy would create 100,000 to 115,000 person- years of work; almost three times the number of jobs, co-incidentally at less than half the cost of Site C. PowerBC and Jobs for Tomorrow also described how innovation would create thousands of additional jobs. Was a” bird in the hand” worth the three we could have had? Are we sacrificing thousands of tomorrow’s jobs for a few hundred today?
Site C = Higher Electricity Rates
Part Two. Electricity rates will increase dramatically as a result of Site C. Union workers lose again, not just long-term jobs they might have had, but now they will have to pay for the electricity that was not needed, with higher prices!
Site C adds only 7% to BC’s power supply, but will add 40% to Hydro’s debt. That is NOT a good financial deal. And it is the union members who will be hurt by these rate increases! Rates have risen by 70% over the past 10 years with no increase in domestic power sales! Rates must continue to increase to pay for Site C. And as rates increase, we (industrial customers especially) use less power, so not only do we not need new projects like Site C, but rates inevitably spiral up, while use spirals down. This is the utility death-spiral which ratepayers will pay dearly for!
Electricity rates represent substantive costs for all businesses, costs that must be reflected in the prices of the goods and services produced. Very large industrial users are able to avail themselves of bulk electricity purchase rates, which end up being subsidized by all other hydro rate payers. However smaller and medium sized employers, which employ the bulk of BC’s workforce, do not have the leverage to negotiate the favourable rates available to only the biggest players. Those higher electricity rates put pressure on smaller to medium sized employers to shave costs elsewhere, whether that is in wages, benefits or other working conditions as well as higher prices. Higher electrical rates act as an impediment to starting new business enterprises and maintaining existing ones.
Have the union workers been betrayed on both the jobs and electricity rates? Were union members sacrificed to get the NDP elected? How many thousand more jobs will be lost because of high power prices? How many thousand good, family supporting jobs will not be created due to the abandonment of Power BC?
There are far too many questions remaining, with too few answers. One thing is certain, that the union and non-union workers lost, big time, when Site C was not terminated.
It’s Not Too Late To Choose PowerBC
Part Three. The good news is that it’s NOT too late. We can stop Site C now, before we go over the economic and employment precipice. We can still create thousands of good jobs across the province with the unspent $8 billion we will waste on finishing Site C, a project we do not need and cannot afford.
If I were a union worker and did not want to see another 50%+ rate increase in electricity in the next few years, more job losses in the small to medium sized businesses, and instead help a prosperous economic future across BC, I’d contact my union leadership and demand a campaign to Stop Site C, now, including returning ot the vision of PowerBC to build a vibrant, green and prosperous economy for all British Columbians
And I’d call BC Hydro and sign up for all the power savings programs, too.
Top Photo credit: BCNDP Leader John Horgan during the 2017 election – courtesy BC NDP via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)