The Canadian Press

It’s not too late to pull the plug on Site C: expert

Former civil servant says Newfoundland and Labrador’s dam experience is a warning

A hydroelectric venture in central Labrador should serve as a cautionary tale for B.C. and its own ambitions to build a multibillion-dollar dam in the province’s northeast, the former head of Newfoundland and Labrador’s public utilities regulator says.

David Vardy, a former economics professor and retired civil servant in that province, published a letter Tuesday addressed to the B.C. Utilities Commission containing more than a dozen recommendations based on lessons learned from Muskrat Falls.

READ MORE: Protestors stand for Site C during Clark’s visit

READ MORE: Supreme Court dismisses two Site C lawsuits from B.C. First Nations

The utilities regulator was tasked earlier this month by B.C.’s new NDP government to review the economic viability of Site C, an $8.8-billion energy project under construction on the Peace River.

“B.C. has the luxury of being able to stop this now without going any further,” Vardy said in an interview. “In terms of the take-away from Muskrat Falls: It’s not too late to stop it.”

Vardy’s letter outlined the similarities between the two provinces’ megaprojects: Both are backed by powerful Crown corporations, both were exempt from the usual regulatory oversight process, at least initially, and both have experienced ballooning costs over time.

The price tag for Muskrat Falls has more than doubled from original estimates, swelling to $12.7 billion in the province of only about 525,000 people. Vardy said the project’s cost of about $24,000 per person would double the province’s per capita net debt and pose a major threat to its solvency.

Vardy encouraged B.C.’s Utilities Commission to ensure Site C is built according to current energy needs and is made as adaptable as possible, warning that the rapid pace of technological advances could make the project obsolete before long.

He also emphasized the importance of independent public oversight and a rigorous public review process, lauding the analysis being conducted by the utilities commission.

The review began Aug. 9, with interim findings due six weeks later and a final report expected by Nov. 1.

The commission’s review process in B.C. was once standard before the previous Liberal government’s clean-energy laws permitted some projects, including Site C, to circumvent the regulatory process.

An email from B.C.’s Energy Ministry said the government would consider the results of the report, as well as environmental and First Nations considerations, before making a timely decision on the future of Site C.

Energy Minister Michelle Mungall declined further comment “out of respect for the independence of the review process.”

BC Hydro could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association told the utilities commission in a statement released Tuesday that BC Hydro must complete Site C.

“The Site C dam has been the subject of a robust, nearly three year, independent review and its business case is solid,” president Chris Gardner said. “We cannot produce this kind of high quality, reasonably priced, clean energy anywhere.”

There are about 2,400 people working on Site C.

Gardner described Site C as an “all-important backbone” that would allow B.C. to transition to other renewable energy sources, adding that ratepayers cannot be expected to spend billions of dollars and get nothing in return.

But Vardy dismissed the logic of chasing money already spent, which he called sunk costs.

“The key consideration must be future costs,” he said.

“We may find it very difficult to walk away from an investment … but what really counts is how much money you’re going to have to spend before you get something that’s worth anything.”

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

WATCH: CP Holiday Train supports Lacombe Food Bank

Madeline Merlo and JUNO Award nominee Scott Helman both performed

WATCH: Lacombe Community Health Centre officially opens its doors

17,000 sq. ft. building combines multiple Lacombe AHS services under one roof

Lacombe Composite Ecovision students closer to opening goat sanctuary

Ecovision students also selling beeswax wraps at Lacombe markets

Lacombe BBBS celebrates 30 years with Great Big Christmas Dinner

Holiday season also welcomes return of the Festival of Wreaths

WATCH: Lacombe Community Health Centre officially opens its doors

17,000 sq. ft. building combines multiple Lacombe AHS services under one roof

Conservative urge Morneau to deliver ‘urgent’ fall economic update

Morneau says the first thing the Liberals plan to do is bring in their promised tax cut for the middle class

Kovrig clings to humour as ‘two Michaels’ near one year in Chinese prison

Their detention is widely viewed as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou

Proposed health care changes would be “devastating” to rural family practice: president of AMA

AHS, AMA and MLA Ron Orr chime in on recent health care announcements

Man accused in toddler son’s death inept parent, not murderer: defence

Toddler’s body was found outside Good Shepherd Anglican Church in April 2017

Job numbers disappointing, but oil and gas growth expected in 2020: Kenney

Unemployment rate in Alberta rose to 7.2 per cent from 6.7 per cent last month

‘Things haven’t changed enough:’ Ecole Polytechnique anniversary prompts reflection

Fourteen women were fatally shot by a gunman at the Montreal school on Dec. 6, 1989

Feds approve Alberta’s carbon tax on big industrial emitters

Tax will be applied on 10 per cent of emissions produced by the province’s biggest polluters

Appeal denied: Alberta’s top court upholds conviction of triple-murderer

Douglas Garland was convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of a couple and their grandson

Most Read