By Anna Guy

As the population of British Columbia grows, so does the need for more electricity. Statistics Canada predicts an additional 1 million people will call BC home in the next 20 years who will all need electricity to power their lives.

To meet this demand and economic expansion, BC Hydro is currently building a third dam and hydroelectric generating station on the Peace River in northeast B.C. For generations, British Columbians has relied on hydroelectricity for a clean and reliable source, and this latest project is slated to provide renewable and affordable electricity for the next century. With a $10.7 billion price tag, it is one of the largest infrastructure projects in the country.

“Site C will meet the electricity needs in BC brought on by population growth, and commercial and industrial development, and emerging Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) sector, and potential growth in the use of electric vehicles,” explains David Conway, Community Relations Manager, Site C Clean Energy Project at BC Hydro.

Started in July 2015, Site C will be on-line by 2024, and will deliver British Columbia with 1,100 megawatts of dependable capacity and generate about 5,100 gigawatt hours of energy each year. That is an additional eight percent capacity—enough to power the equivalent of 450,000 homes.
“Site C will meet our energy needs while having a reduced impact on the surrounding environment,” says Conway. Erosion and Sediment Control are major factors on a dam of this size, something BC Hydro has taken into account with careful project planning, thorough environmental mitigation programs, and continual monitoring during construction. Approval for Site C was only given after a three-year, cooperative federal-provincial environmental assessment process by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEA Agency) and the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office (BCEAO). The process started in August 2011 and took approximately three years to complete.

“The environmental assessment process for Site C was thorough, independent, and included multiple opportunities for timely and meaningful participation by the public, Indigenous groups, all levels of government, and other interested stakeholders,” says BC Hydro.

A number of First Nations affected by the project have been consulted by BC Hydro. While specific agreements are confidential, compensations have been made for the intrusion into their lands, and offering employment and business opportunities to First Nations members is prioritized—in November 2018, there were 254 Indigenous workers on the Site C project.

“Our commitment to lasting economic and social benefits for Northern and Indigenous communities is very strong,” says Conway. “We are committed, but are also expected, to provide opportunities for Indigenous communities to participate in the project. To date, approximately $230 million in Site C procurement opportunities have been committed to Indigenous companies.”

Conway also says a 70-year Regional Legacy Benefits Agreement has also been signed with the Peace River Regional District and its member communities that will provide $2.4 million annually to these communities, indexed for inflation.

The overall economic impact of the project is profound. The project has created close to 4,000 jobs, with 79 per cent of the work force coming from within the province. Indirect jobs will also ripple along the project’s lifespan, and from sustaining investments in the projects such as maintenance. All told, Site C will contribute $3.2 billion to provincial gross domestic product (GDP), including a $130 million increase in regional GDP during construction.

At 60 meters high from the riverbed, and 1,050 metres across, the Site C dam is an engineering feat, one that will positively impact the future for the province. “We are 3.5 years into an eight- to nine-year construction window,” says Conway. “Our last procurement is in the tendering process, and there have been major achievements completed so far, and we look forward to a successful completion in 2025.”