Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Big dams mistake for BC

The on-again, off-again Site C hydro dam project in Northern BC should – pardon the pun – have the lights turned off permanently. Small hydro projects, built with private funds, have less impact on the environment and on taxpayers’ wallets than large dams built with taxpayers’ dollars. Building the Site C dam undermines the BC government's policy of developing a competitive energy sector to keep energy prices low, and sets the taxpayer up for another mega-cost overrun.

If you thought big dams would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, think again. A BC Hydro report states that some BC reservoirs might increase and others decrease GHGs. Because emissions are thought to be small, they are not included in BC Hydro’s estimate of the net impact BC’s reservoirs may have on the global climate.

The impact on taxpayers meanwhile is less controversial. In the past, large hydro was cheaper to build than small hydro. That has changed. BC Hydro estimates the 900 megawatt Site C dam will cost about $5 billion to build, or about $5 million dollars per megawatt. Small hydro now costs between $2-3 million per megawatt to build.

BC now has 35 operating run-of-river hydro projects supplying electricity to BC Hydro, and the price of energy has remained competitive. The construction of another mega-dam might sound good, but it won't solve GHG concerns, will be more expensive, and reduce the competitiveness of the sector. Taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for more government funded mega-projects.

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