VICTORIA — The future of the Site C hydroelectric dam is the subject of pointed questions from labour unions, environmental groups, Indigenous Peoples and high-ranking civil servants with the British Columbia government who want answers about the projected costs of scrapping the $8.3-billion project.
The New Democrats are poised to decide Site C's fate by the end of the year after a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, the province's independent energy regulator, concluded the dam is over budget and behind schedule.
But one Site C opponent said Friday he already senses the government will complete the megaproject.
Green Leader Andrew Weaver said he does not have inside information, but he is convinced the NDP will decide to keep building the dam, already under construction for more than two years.
"I can't see them giving pink slips to thousands of people on Christmas Eve," he said.
B.C. Hydro, the province's public utility, says more than 2,000 people are working on Site C, which is near Fort St. John.
Weaver said he began to feel the government moving towards supporting the project this week after a group of labour unions said the utilities commission report did not properly calculate the cost of stopping Site C. An estimated $4 billion has been spent on Site C so far.
The project also faced tough questions from senior officials in the Finance and Energy ministries who wrote to the utilities commission wanting more answers about the costs of killing Site C. The two deputy ministers also asked for clarification about the impact on future hydro rates if the project was stopped.
"If the Site C project were terminated, the $4 billion sunk and remediation costs would need to be recovered, and the amortization period of that recovery would affect B.C. Hydro rates," the letter states. "Could the commission clarify whether it assumed that these costs would be recovered over 10, 30 or 70 years?"
Energy experts representing residents in the Peace River area, where the dam is under construction, said the utilities commission report answered the questions about the $4 billion.
"The BCUC treatment of these costs is consistent with economic theory and practice and concludes that there is no cost advantage to proceeding with Site C," U.S. energy expert Robert McCullough says in a letter on behalf of the Peace Valley Landowner Association.
Energy Minister Michelle Mungall said in a statement she travelled to the northeast this week with Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser to meet with local Indigenous communities and others, including business leaders, about Site C.
She gave no indication the government has already made up its mind on the project's future.
"We attended meetings to listen, and to discuss issues as they relate to Site C," said Mungall. "We will bring First Nations perspectives back to the provincial cabinet over the next few weeks."
Weaver said the Greens, who have an agreement to back the minority government in the legislature, will remind the NDP at every opportunity about its change of position if it keeps the project going.
"We'll add that to the collection of things we find really irritating that you've done," he said.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press