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Pilings, pandemic push up unexpected costs for B.C.’s Site C dam

BC Hydro still implements small cut to electricity rates today
With the Peace River diverted through tunnels, the powerhouse for the Site C dam takes shape, Nov. 28, 2021. (B.C. Hydro photo)

By the end of 2021, contractors had driven 27 of 96 custom-designed steel piles to stabilize the right bank of the Site C dam on B.C.’s Peace River, a geotechnical problem that was one of the main causes of to cost overruns and a one-year delay in completion of the project.

Despite soaring costs and delays for Site C, B.C. Hydro has announced it will reduce electricity rates by an average of 1.4 per cent as of April 1. The decrease is part of a three-year revenue application to the B.C. Utilities Commission, with average increases to follow of two per cent in 2023 and 2.7 per cent in 2024.

Site C is now more than half complete, with the COVID-19 pandemic and further unforeseen construction issues still a risk of increasing costs further before it it is ready to fill its reservoir and produce power, B.C. Hydro said in its 2021 progress report, released this week. One of those risks is a July 2021 decision by the B.C. Supreme Court that oil and gas, forestry and hydro development in northeast B.C. violated the Blueberry River First Nations’ hunting and fishing rights under Treaty 8, signed in 1899.

“B.C. Hydro also continues to actively monitor other significant risks such as commercial negotiations with contractors; design finalization for the right bank foundation enhancements and related procurements; aggregate supply; the ability of the project’s contractors to attract and retain sufficient skilled craft workers; and the possibility that the Blueberry River decision could affect the timing of the issuance of provincial permits required for the completion of the project,” the report says. “Despite these challenges and risks, the project advanced construction throughout the year and achieved significant construction milestones, including the completion of the upstream and downstream cofferdams before the spring freshet, full completion of the project’s roller-compacted concrete buttress, and significant progress on the earthfill dam.”

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After bitterly opposing the Site C dam project on the Peace River while in opposition, since 2017 Premier John Horgan has continued it and watched its budget balloon from less than $10 billion to $16 billion for power that will soon need buyers. The 2021 progress report says despite the continued uncertainties, B.C. Hydro expects to complete the dam within the current budget and timelines.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Site C was on track for completion by fall 2023 and full service to the B.C. Hydro grid by 2024. By the end of 2021, the project was more than 55 per cent complete, and targeted to go into service in 2025, with a capacity of 1,100 megawatts, enough power for 450,000 homes.

The progress report notes that the Site C work camp dealt with two COVID-19 outbreaks in 2021, and Northern Health is monitoring the project as the latest virus variants continue to circulate. Outbreaks in the spring and summer forced the project to reduce its workforce, but construction continued throughout the year.


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