Hydroelectric dam approved despite ‘negative impacts’

Construction of the Peace River dam is scheduled to begin next year

British Columbia energy minister Bill Bennett said the need for low cost, reliable electricity outweighed the negative impacts in the province’s decision to approve a controversial hydroelectric dam on the Peace River.

“This was a decision the government had to make that was in the best interest of the majority of British Columbians over the next 100 years. It will provide cheap electricity to the whole province for 100 years,” Bennett said after the government announced it would build the Site C dam, which is expected to cost $8.8 billion.

Construction of the dam near Fort St. John is scheduled to begin next summer and be completed by 2024, although legal challenges could delay that.

The dam will be the third hydroelectric dam on the Peace River. It is located downstream from the W.A.C Bennett and Peace Canyon dams.

The project is estimated to generate 1,100 megawatts of capacity, enough to power the equivalent of 450,000 homes, or eight percent of the province’s electricity needs.

Five lawsuits have been launched opposing the dam’s construction, which would flood prime agricultural land and land belonging to First Nations in the region.

Critics have also raised concerns about the cost estimates.

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Ken and Darlene Boon will lose their home in the Peace River Valley if the dam is built. It would raise the water level of the river to just below their home and flood their fields.

The dam would raise the water level 50 metres and increase the width of the Peace River to two to three times its current size. The project would flood 12,000 acres and force the relocation of 34 families along 83 kilometres of river.

“We were hoping for the best, but more or less expected this decision,” Ken Boon said after the announcement.

“It’s mind boggling in this day and age there is no vision in the government and that they should proceed with a proposal like this.”

He hopes to stop or slow the project through court cases against the provincial and federal governments.

First Nations groups in Alberta and B.C. have also launched court cases because of the impact the dam will have on their land.

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Bennett said the government knows there will be negative impacts on landowners and First Nations, but it needs to move forward with the project.

“We’re very sensitive to the reality there will be negative impacts to some people. We still got a lot of work to do to mitigate those impacts.”

The federal and provincial governments granted environmental certificates to the projects in October, along with a list of 80 conditions that must be met before the project can go ahead.

The conditions include establishing a $20 million fund to compensate for lost agricultural land, developing a wetland mitigation and compensation plan, developing an aboriginal business participation strategy and using construction methods that would mitigate adverse effects on wildlife and the habitat.

Bennett said he hopes First Nations communities can be convinced to come on side through employment and training opportunities offered by the project.

B.C. premier Christy Clark said the hydroelectric dam would be the cheapest option for the province’s growing energy demands.

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“Affordable, reliable, clean electricity is the backbone of British Columbia’s economy.… Site C will support our quality of life for decades to come and will enable continued investment and a growing economy.”