Site C: Opening up clean energy opportunities in British Columbia

Jeanee Dudley

The energy sector has been a major component of British Columbia’s economy for more than 50 years. While oil and gas have a growing presence in the market, the province strives to provide clean energy for its residents and for the nationwide grid. British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority (BC Hydro) has a long history of providing efficient hydro-electricity to residents, building investments with local governments for decades. The company serves more than 1.9 million customers throughout British Columbia, including families, businesses and governments.

For more than 30 years, the company has been working on proposals and plans for a major facility along the Peace River. In 1982, the provincial BC Utilities Commission put plans on hold, rejecting a proposal from the power giant. The proposal was up for review again in 1989 and was again rejected. More than 20 years later in 2010, the proposal returned stronger and the provincial government advanced the planning process. Known and the Site C project, this massive hydroelectric project is set for completion and operation in 2020.

The project

Site C is slated to cost $7.9 billion, a huge sum, but also a major investment in clean affordable energy for a growing grid. This hydroelectric dam will be the third of its kind along the Peace River. Downstream from two dams and two reservoirs, the project will benefit from the existing efficiencies and water load of previous projects, meaning that when complete, Site C will generate 35 percent of the energy produced by the WAC Bennett Dam upstream, while only creating a reservoir area five percent the size of the Williston Reservoir that feeds the existing dam.

The project includes several components to increase efficiency and safety. A 1,050-meter long earth-fill dam, rising 60 meters above the riverbed will contain water. An attached generator station will house six 183-megawatt generating units. The generators will connect to the existing Peace Canyon Substation via two new 500-kilovolt A/C transmission lines.

Other accommodations will have to be made for the project. Two temporary cofferdams will allow construction of the main dam across the river. Site C will require a large workforce, for which BC Hydro has proposed housing onsite and offsite. The project will also require a temporary access bridge and access roads to move workers and materials to, from and around the site.

A healthy dose of controversy

While Site C is guaranteed to boost production of clean, efficient local energy, many in the community have voiced concern over the impact on the river and its surrounding areas. Construction of the dam will create a new reservoir, set to double or triple the width of the river in some places. The reservoir will flood more than 5,000 hectares of land and more than 100 kilometers of river valley. The affected land includes agricultural land, wildlife habitats and several heritage sites.

The largest opponent of the project is the Treaty 8 First Nations, including the West Moberly First Nations. This tribal group recognizes and affirms several risks for the ecosystem and native culture, particularly after the construction of two additional dams along the Peace River. The affected tribes have voiced concerns over environmental impact as well as how ongoing work will impact current land use.


Despite the concerns of Treaty 8, BC Hydro is unlikely to back down. Instead, the business has made a commitment to provide economic opportunity for First Nations people. The company has constructed a strong policy of allocating resources to training facilities, business opportunities and other objective to help tribes increase commerce. The company also regularly works with aboriginal contractors and suppliers. BC Hydro has also built a directory that promotes native-owned businesses throughout British Columbia. The company strives to create connections between First Nations partners and prime contractors for business deals that benefit both parties.

Cultural implications aside, a growing power grid demands additional supply. As populations grow along with technology, residents of the province demand more electricity year after year. Current resources are not enough to meet the rising demand. Hydropower is clean, renewable energy and a better alternative than less sustainable options. The project guarantees low emissions and high output, allowing BC Hydro to fulfill consumer needs while keeping environmental impact low.

Site C will also create thousands of jobs within the region. Throughout development and construction, the project is estimated to put 33,000 people to work. This initiative will also contribute more than $3 billion to the province’s GDP as well as around $40 million in tax revenue.

In development for decades, BC is ready to move forward with the Site C Project. By weighing the options, the Peace River will provide the best output of power at the lowest environmental cost. Within the next decade, British Columbia will be able to catch up and surpass regional power demand.



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