Site C op­tions few

T

The Prince George Citizen - - FRONT PAGE -

his week, the B.C. Util­ity Com­mis­sion will be re­leas­ing its re­port on Site C.

They es­sen­tially have three op­tions – keep go­ing, sus­pend the con­struc­tion, or can­cel the project. Their work is to es­ti­mate the costs of do­ing each both in terms of present dol­lars and fu­ture dol­lars. That is, they are to look at the cost to com­plete the project as it presently stands with the present con­struc­tion plans and weigh that against the cost of can­celling the project or sus­pend­ing con­struc­tion for a pe­riod of time. Each op­tion is ex­pen­sive.

We al­ready know the project will be over-bud­get. Some key steps have been de­layed and B.C. Hy­dro has given its cost es­ti­mates for th­ese de­lays. Es­sen­tially, the con­tin­gency in the bud­get has al­ready been al­lo­cated but we know there will be more down the road.

On the other hand, can­celling the project is not free. If the project is can­celled, con­tracts will need to be paid out and work­ers will need to be let go. Then a whole new project will need to start to re­me­di­ate the site which will be ex­pen­sive – likely more so than the costs so far.

Even sus­pend­ing the project for an un­lim­ited pe­riod of time has costs. Equip­ment would need to be idled, sites will start to de­grade, op­por­tu­ni­ties will be lost and restart­ing would re­quire re­plac­ing ex­ist­ing work­ers and con­trac­tors.

None of the op­tions are go­ing to be cheap.

But the BCUC must also weigh the cost of fu­ture en­ergy projects which will be re­quired to re­place the ca­pac­ity Site C will gen­er­ate. We are go­ing to need the en­ergy to grow the econ­omy. The ques­tion is where are we go­ing to get it from?

The lat­ter is the tricky part of the equa­tion. Just how much en­ergy are we go­ing to need? And when? And in what form? Pre­dict­ing the fu­ture is fraught with dif­fi­cul­ties as so much is ed­u­cated guess­work.

I say “ed­u­cated guess­work” be­cause there are some things which can rea­son­ably be mod­eled or con­trolled. For ex­am­ple, the pop­u­la­tion of the prov­ince will in­crease over the next 50 years. By how much is a ques­tion of im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, eco­nomic growth, in­creases in the world pop­u­la­tion, etcetera. Gen­er­ally, th­ese sort of vari­ables can be rea­son­ably es­ti­mated. For ex­am­ple, over the past 10 years, our pop­u­la­tion has grown by 46,800 peo­ple per year, give or take. As­sum­ing this growth rate go­ing for­ward, and given our cur­rent pop­u­la­tion is 4,817,150, it is rea­son­able to as­sume the prov- ince will grow to about 7.1 mil­lion peo­ple in size in the next 50 years.

Of course, if we take the 10 years the NDP was in power from 1990 to 2000, the aver­age in­crease in pop­u­la­tion was 71,900 and at that rate, our pop­u­la­tion will in­crease to 8.4 mil­lion in the same time span. Tak­ing th­ese as the ex­tremes, over the next few decades we will see the pop­u­la­tion of the prov­ince con­tinue to grow and en­ergy de­mands in­crease. By 2070, our pop­u­la­tion will be be­tween seven and eight mil­lion peo­ple. But how much en­ergy will we need then? Over the last 100 years, the per capita en­ergy de­mands have dou­bled to around 244,000 kwh per capita (that is all en­ergy and not just elec­tri­cal). If we con­tinue with our growth rate, we will have sur­passed 300,000 kwh per capita by 2070.

How much of this will be elec­tri­cal ver­sus fos­sil fu­els? Right now, B.C. Hy­dro is a mi­nor com­po­nent of our en­ergy mix – about 18 per cent. If we are go­ing to elec­trify our econ­omy – from cars to homes to busi­nesses – we are go­ing to have to in­crease the share of en­ergy gen­er­ated by B.C. Hy­dro. De­mand will in­crease.

How do we meet the de­mand? Ar­guably, through re­new­able sources. As ad­vo­cates for wind and so­lar power point out, the cost of pro­duc­ing a kwh is de­creas­ing and al­most in reach of hy­dro­elec­tric projects. In the­ory, we can go a whole new route and not have a grid at all. We could have in­di­vid­ual houses and busi­nesses re­spon­si­ble for their own on­site elec­tri­cal pro­duc­tion. But at what cost?

I don’t just mean the price of pho­to­voltaics or build­ing a tur­bine. We need to con­sider the cost of min­ing for rare earths, the wa­ter used in man­u­fac­tur­ing, and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of re­me­di­at­ing sites. Build­ing any­thing of the size needed to meet the fu­ture power re­quire­ments of this prov­ince is go­ing to have a sig­nif­i­cant en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact.

How do we es­ti­mate the im­pacts of any en­ergy project when too many of the vari­ables are un­known? It will take a lot of “ed­u­cated guess­work” by the BCUC. It will need to work on ex­ist­ing data and the best knowl­edge we have.

In the end, none of this may mat­ter. The de­ci­sion to con­tinue, sus­pend, or stop will ul­ti­mately be a po­lit­i­cal equa­tion.

TODD WHITCOMBE

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