Site C dam

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Site C
Site C dam is located in British Columbia
Site C dam
Location of Site C in British Columbia
Official name Site C Project
Location British Columbia, Canada
Coordinates 56°11′41″N 120°54′51″W / 56.19472°N 120.91417°W / 56.19472; -120.91417Coordinates: 56°11′41″N 120°54′51″W / 56.19472°N 120.91417°W / 56.19472; -120.91417
Opening date 2024 (planned)
Construction cost C$9 billion, est.
Owner(s) BC Hydro
Dam and spillways
Type of dam Earth fill[1]
Impounds Peace River
Height 60m[1]
Length 1,050m[1]
Surface area 9,330 ha[1]
Power station
Installed capacity 1,100 MW[1] (max); Average - 580 MW
Annual generation 5,100 GWh[1]

The Site C Dam is an early-stage project of BC Hydro for a large-scale earth fill hydroelectric dam on the Peace River near Fort St. John in northeastern British Columbia, Canada.[1] The site is downstream from the existing W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon dams. Designs call for an estimated peak capacity of approximately 1,100 MW, average output of 680 MW, and an annual output of 5,100 GWh of electricity.[2] If completed, Site C would be the first large dam built in BC since 1984 and BC's fourth largest producer of electricity. However, the project has drawn considerable opposition from several quarters due to its planned major flooding of fertile agricultural land, lack of support from First Nations groups and local landowners, high cost of the project vs. projected revenues, uncertainty of future demand and future electricity prices, possible alternatives, and cost to the environment.

BC Hydro has stated that it is building the Site C project to meet the future energy and capacity needs of its three customer groups.

Two Treaty 8 First Nations, and local landowners have initiated legal challenges to the dam though these were dismissed by the federal court of appeal.[3][4] In addition, over 200 scholars, and the Royal Society of Canada, have expressed their concerns to the federal Liberal government, citing perceived weaknesses in the regulatory review process and the environmental assessment for the project.[5][6] In May 2016 the federal government stated it is "not revisiting projects that have been reviewed and approved".[7]


If completed, Site C would be the third of four major dams on the Peace River that were initially proposed in the mid-twentieth century. The first project is the flagship W. A. C. Bennett Dam 19 kilometres west of Hudson's Hope. The Bennett Dam began operation in 1968 and formed Williston Reservoir, which is 95% larger than the Site C reservoir.[8] Construction of the Peace Canyon Dam was completed in 1980 at a point 23 km downstream of the W. A. C. Bennett dam. The third dam,"Site C," was also proposed at the time for a site 83 km downriver of the Peace Canyon dam, or approximately 7 km southwest of Fort St. John. Site C would flood an 83 km length of the Peace River valley, widening the river by up to 3 times, as well as a 10 km length of the Moberly River valley and 14 km of the Halfway River valley. The fourth proposed dam on the BC segment of the Peace River, Site E, near the BC/Alberta border was taken off the planning process during hearings in 1982.

The Site C dam was turned down after BC Utilities Commission hearings between 1981 and 1983.[9] The commission was critical of BC Hydro's forecasting methods, as it "neither explicitly [took] energy prices into account nor rely on statistically significant past patterns of behaviour".[9] BC Hydro then chose to purchase electricity under contract from independent power producers and continues to do so today. By 2017 these annual purchases are about four times the capacity of Site C. Once the initial contracts with BC Hydro expire, these independent producers may be free to export their electricity.[10]

In April 2010, passage of the Clean Energy Act exempted the project from further BC Utilities Commission review.[11] Site C was being reconsidered by BC Hydro for two years prior as the utility reconsidered expansion of its dam capacity on the Peace.[2] Also in April 2010, the provincial government announced it would move forward on planning for the project, moving it to the regulatory review phase.[2] The review was mandated under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) and the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Act (BCEAA). To avoid duplication, the governments of Canada and British Columbia, set up a cooperative federal-provincial environmental assessment, including a joint review panel (JRP) process.[12]

In October 2014, Site C received environmental assessment approvals from the federal and provincial governments after a three-year environmental review, including a federal/provincial Joint Review Panel process.[13] In December 2014, the provincial government announced a final investment decision, approving the construction of the hydroelectric project at a cost of $8.335 billion, as well as a project reserve of $440 million. A notice of Site C construction commencing in 2015 was issued in July 2015.[14] By March 2016, construction of the dam was well under way. BC Premier Christy Clark's stated intention was to get dam construction “to the point of no return” by May 2017.[13]

The project has sparked controversy for a number of reasons: First Nations treaty rights are at issue,[15] the dam is thought by many to be economically unviable, and there are concerns about the loss of agriculturally productive land and the overall environmental impact.[16] The federal/provincial Joint Review Panel found that the need for the electricity had not been clearly demonstrated, nor were alternatives to the project evaluated.[12]


A cost estimate produced during the 2007 feasibility study placed the financial cost at a maximum of C$6.6 billion based on the 1981 design, safety, and engineering standards.[17][18] An updated cost projection was released in May 2011 placing the estimated cost at $7.9 billion,[19] which was revised to $8.3 billion in 2014.[18] This does not include the cost of a transmission line to major population centres, estimated to be in the range of $743 million additional, bringing the total estimated cost to approximately $9 billion.[20] Some experts have stated that the costs may reach as high as $11 to 12 billion.[21]

Economic estimates in 2016 by Harry Swain, former chair of the Joint Review Panel and former BC deputy minister of Industry, projected that if all the power was sold to the US spot market, as little as $1.8 billion would be returned, and the rest ($7 billion) of the cost would be covered by taxpayers. Power consumption has not been increasing despite increasing population.[22] Swain also stated that power roughly equivalent to that produced by Site C could be reclaimed from American producers under the Columbia River Treaty at no capital cost to the province; the power is currently sold to American utilities at about half the projected cost of Site C power.[13] British Columbia Utilities Commission has stated that the Canadian Entitlement is not a suitable source of dependable capacity. [23]

Legal challenges[edit]

Members of the Treaty 8 First Nations boycotted the official Site C announcement ceremony at the Bennett Dam in April 2010,[15] and the West Moberly First Nation publicly stated that it was considering legal action to oppose the dam.[15] In April, 2016, a group of landowners and farmers from BC’s Peace River Valley launched a legal challenge to the project. The landowners' case states that the Provincial government ignored concerns about the project raised by the Joint Review Panel, including its cost, failure to demonstrate the need for the project, and lack of evaluation of alternatives.[3] Also in April 2016, BC Treaty 8 First Nations filed a legal challenge in the Supreme Court of BC. The Peace Valley Landowners’ Association, BC Treaty 8 First Nations, Alberta Treaty 8 First Nations, and Blueberry River First Nation were pursuing actions in federal court.[3]

As of December 2016, five judicial reviews of Site C’s environmental approvals have been dismissed. These include two challenges from the Peace Valley Landowner Association in the B.C. Supreme and Federal Court, as well as a pair of challenges against the project’s federal and provincial environmental approvals from the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations. On January 23 2017, the sixth legal challenge was dismissed, involving Treaty 8 First Nations, which was in the federal court.[24]

Scholars' concerns[edit]

In May, 2016 a group of over 200 Canadian scholars signed a letter raising serious concerns about the process used to approve the Site C dam. The Royal Society of Canada took the "unusual step" of writing a separate supporting letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.[25] The letter from "Concerned Scholars" summarized their concerns in the following statement: "Our assessment is that this process did not accord with the commitments of both the provincial and federal governments to reconciliation with and legal obligations to First Nations, protection of the environment, and evidence-based decision-making with scientific integrity."[5] Scientists argue that the environment impacts of the dam and the lack of First Nations consent, make the dam a "'bellwether' of the Trudeau government's commitment to develop resources in a more science-based, sustainable and socially responsible way."[6] The federal government rejected the scholars' call to halt construction. Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna's office indicated that the government had no intention to revisit the Site C environmental assessment.[7]

Opposition party's position[edit]

BC's opposition New Democratic Party promised a review of the project should they win the 2017 general election. Hydro critic Adrian Dix called the B.C. Liberal government “reckless” for not having already done a review, as was recommended by the Joint Review Panel led by Harry Swain.[13]

Agricultural land impacts[edit]

Annual flooding has deposited rich sediments along the low bank portions of the Peace River. The creation of the Williston Lake reservoir has improved agricultural use on the former floodplain. Since 1967, the annual spring flood measured at Hudson's Hope has been reduced by two-thirds, along with a reduction in ice jams and ice scouring above the riverbank.[26] The Site C project will result in the largest exclusion of land in the 40-year history of BC's Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). Of the land to be flooded, there are 2,601 hectares (6,430 acres) of Class 2 ALR land within the project activity zone. Permanent losses are estimated at 541 ha (1,340 acres) of currently cultivated land and 1,183 ha (2,920 acres) of land under grazing licence or lease areas. In all, 2,775 ha (6,860 acres) of land will be removed from the ALR for the project. The Joint Review Panel accepted BC Hydro’s assessment that "production from the Peace River bottomlands is small and is certainly not important in the context of B.C." The Panel’s assessment of earning potential in the next several decades led them to conclude that, "the highest and best use of the Peace River valley would appear to be as a reservoir."[12]

Professional agrologist Wendy Holm, past president of the B.C. Institute of Agrologists, noted that flooding agricultural land in the Peace River valley is a bad idea, because it is "the only large tract of land for future horticultural expansion in the province." She notes that much of B.C.'s produce is imported from California, and growing food locally would increase food security for the province.[27]

According to David Suzuki, flooding valuable farmland to build the dam will undermine Canada's international commitments under the Paris Agreement. Suzuki considers the farmland essential to reduce B.C.'s dependence on imported foods and minimize the carbon fuels needed to transport those foods: "It seems to me crazy to put farmland in the north underwater," Suzuki said. "We live in a food chain now in which food grows on average 3,000 kilometres from where it's consumed. The transport of all that food is dependent on fossil fuels. Food has got to be grown much closer to where it's going to be consumed."[28]


In April 2015, the federal and provincial governments named a Joint Review Panel to hold a public hearing on Site C.[29]

In addition to a long list of recommended changes, their assessment stated: "The benefits are clear. Despite high initial costs, and some uncertainty about when the power would be needed, the Project would provide a large and long-term increment of firm energy and capacity at a price that would benefit future generations. It would do this in a way that would produce a vastly smaller burden of greenhouse gases than any alternative save nuclear power, which B.C. has prohibited."[30] At the time the report was released the panel added, "Site C would be the least expensive of the alternatives, and its cost advantages would increase with the passing decades as inflation makes alternatives more costly."[31]

In reference to the Paris climate accord, Site C is predicted to prevent approximately 30 to 70 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from being generated in the atmosphere.[32]

Ottawa has discussed a new electricity inter-tie to move Site C power between BC and Alberta. Justin Trudeau commented “I think anything we can work together inter-provincially or nationally on (to get) emissions down, you know, emphasizing hydroelectricity, creating opportunities to get off coal, to get off natural gas, where possible, this is good for the country, it’s good for our emissions profile, it’s good for the economy we need to build,” [33]


When BC Hydro buys power from Independent Power Producers they set a price as low as $76.20 per megawatt hour for intermittent power from wind farms, and as high as $133.80 for firm hydropower. The average price paid, as of 2010 was $100 per megawatt hour.[34] Site C is expected to cost $83 per megawatt hour for firm hydropower.[35]

BC has committed to reducing greenhouse gases to 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020, however the province is far short of that goal, only achieving a 6.5% reduction as of 2015.[36] Although the Site C dam is expected to have a large initial electricity surplus, the province has proposed to sell this power rather than choosing to reduce fossil fuel consumption in BC.[37][33]

See also[edit]

New hydro projects in Canada


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Backgrounder: About Site C" (PDF). BC Hydro. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 June 2016. Retrieved 4 Feb 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c "Province announces Site C Clean Energy Project". BC Hydro. 19 April 2010. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c Gillis, Damien (April 22, 2015). "Landowners launch Site C Dam court challenge, First Nations next". Common Sense Canadian. Retrieved June 26, 2015. 
  4. ^ "Federal Court of Appeal dismisses First Nations’ challenge of B.C.’s Site C dam". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2017-04-21. 
  5. ^ a b Site C: Statement by Concerned Scholars, Program of Water Governance, University of British Columbia, Retrieved: 2016-06-22
  6. ^ a b Cheadle, Bruce (May 24, 2016). "Royal Society of Canada, academics, call Site C dam a test for Trudeau Liberals". The Canadian Press. CTV News. Retrieved 2016-06-22. 
  7. ^ a b McCarthy, Shawn (May 24, 2016). "Ottawa pushes ahead with Site C dam amid opposition from academics". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2016-06-22. 
  8. ^ The Times Colonist newspaper October 7, 2016 pg a15
  9. ^ a b H, M. "BC Hydro Energy Project Certificate Application for Site C - British Columbia Utilities Commission". Retrieved 2016-07-07. 
  10. ^ "Independent Power Producer (IPP) Projects in British Columbia" (PDF). West Coast Environmental Law. May 2009. Retrieved 2017-06-11. 
  11. ^ "Clean Energy Act". Retrieved 2016-07-07. 
  12. ^ a b c Swain, Harry; Beaudet, Jocelyne; Mattison, James (May 2014), Site C Clean Energy Project (PDF), Minister of the Environment, Government of Canada and Minister of Environment, Government of British Columbia, retrieved 2016-07-11 
  13. ^ a b c d "Site C not the best choice for B.C.’s energy needs, report author says"". 
  14. ^ "Notice of Site C Construction Activities" (PDF) (Press release). BC Hydro. July 8, 2015. Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  15. ^ a b c Burrows, Matthew (22 April 2010). "Natives plan to fight Site C dam planned for Peace River". The Georgia Straight. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  16. ^ McElroy, Justin (December 16, 2014). "Everything you need to know about the Site C dam". Global News. British Columbia. Retrieved June 22, 2016. 
  17. ^ "Tab for Site C dam could hit $6.6 billion". Vancouver Sun. 5 December 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2011. 
  18. ^ a b "Frequently Asked Questions". Site C Clean Energy Project. BC Hydro. Retrieved 2016-06-25. 
  19. ^ Garstin, Michaela (26 May 2011). "Total projected cost of Site C dam to be $7.9 billion". Northeast News. Fort St. John, British Columbia. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  20. ^ Bennett, Nelson (2015-12-01). "Editorial: Cost uncertainty a Site C certainty | Mining & Energy | Business in Vancouver". Retrieved 2017-06-11. 
  21. ^ Gilchrist, Emma (August 5, 2015). "EXCLUSIVE: Site C Dam ‘Devastating’ for British Columbians, Says Former CEO of BC Hydro". DeSmogCanada. Victoria, British Columbia. Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  22. ^ "Opinion: Site C: Truly awful economics". 2016-06-16. Retrieved 2016-06-25. 
  23. ^ "Q&A: Fourteen questions for BC Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald". 2016-01-22. Retrieved 2017-06-11. 
  24. ^ Wakefield, Jonny. "Court dismisses Site C First Nations’ legal challenge". Dawson Creek Mirror. Retrieved 2017-04-21. 
  25. ^ Over 200 leading scholars call on government to suspend Site C dam
  26. ^ The Regulation of Peace River: A Case Study for River Management - Michael Church - Google Books. 2014-10-14. Retrieved 2017-06-11. 
  27. ^ Holm, Wendy (July 2, 2016). "Why all the fuss over the Site C dam?". The Georgia Straight. Vancouver, British Columbia. Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  28. ^ Suzuki, David (July 2, 2016). "Site C Is a Climate-Change Disaster, Says Suzuki". The Tyee. Vancouver, British Columbia. Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  29. ^ Hume, Mark (20 April 2015). "Lawyer argues in B.C. Supreme Court that Site C decision was illegal". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 11 June 2017. 
  30. ^ "Site C Clean Energy Project Joint Review Panel Report" (PDF). Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Retrieved 2017-06-11. 
  31. ^ Mike Laanela (2014-05-09). "Site C dam review says benefits outweigh costs - British Columbia - CBC News". Retrieved 2017-06-11. 
  32. ^
  33. ^ a b Peter O'Neil (2016-06-20). "Justin Trudeau ‘open’ to $1-billion B.C. power line into Alberta". Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 2017-06-11. 
  34. ^ Simpson, Scott (August 4, 2010). "Hydro paying average $100 per megawatt hour for new IPP power". Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  35. ^ "BC Hydro responds to environmental approval of Site C". 2014-10-14. Retrieved 2017-06-11. 
  36. ^ Kazi Stastna (2015-04-14). "How Canada's provinces are tackling greenhouse gas emissions - Canada - CBC News". Retrieved 2017-06-11. 
  37. ^ Harry Swain (2016-06-16). "Opinion: Site C: Truly awful economics". Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 2017-06-11. 

External links[edit]