Site C not necessarily a slam dunk: Bennett

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett says he is still torn on whether his government should give the green light to BC Hydro’s $7.9 billion Site C hydroelectric dam, or let independent power producers provide for B.C. future energy needs 

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett says he is still torn on whether his government should give the green light to BC Hydro’s $7.9 billion Site C hydroelectric dam, or let independent power producers provide for B.C. future energy needs.

In a press conference Wednesday, October 15 – the day after both provincial and federal environmental agencies approved environmental certificates for the dam – Bennett said the project was “the most difficult piece of public policy I have had to deal with.”

Bennett’s government is widely viewed as being already committed to building Site C, which would provide a single source of electricity to power all the new mines, liquefied natural gas plants and gas wells the government hopes to see developed.

“Despite rumours to the contrary, the government has not made a final decision on Site C,” Bennett said.

Bennett will make a final recommendation to cabinet in November. In the interim, he is being lobbied hard by Clean Energy BC, which claims private power producers can provide all the electricity that Site C would provide at a competitive cost, but without the environmental damage the dam would cause and without the same level of friction with First Nations.

Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nation has told Bennett that, if his government pushes ahead with Site C dam, it can expect no cooperation on another key piece of energy policy that B.C. is pushing: a new liquefied natural gas industry.

Bennett said there is no question that B.C. will need additional power in the coming years. Site C is one of three options for getting it. One of the other options would be to burn natural gas for thermal power.  

Bennett said his government has given serious consideration to that option, which would be “marginally cheaper” to build than a new hydroelectric dam. But it would require scrapping the Clean Energy Act, which requires 93% of new power generation in B.C. to be carbon neutral.

“It’s not totally off the table, but it isn’t something I think that has legs,” Bennett said.

The other alternative is renewable energy built by independent power producers, which already provide 20% of all the power generated in B.C.

Bennett said he is giving serious consideration to the independent power sector, but said that the producers will have to come up with costs to government that is “all-in.”

By that he means their bids to build new power generation would need to include the cost of transmission lines, as well as the cost of backstopping. (Wind power is intermittent, for example, so it would need to be backstopped by existing hydro electric dams.)

Bennett is scheduled to speak at the Clean Energy BC’s Generate 2014 conference tomorrow morning (October 16.)

nbennett@biv.com

@nbennett_biv