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B.C. Hydro Site C dam project decision a political Sophie’s Choice for John Horgan

By Bill Tieleman, News, Views, and Attitude – 24 hours

Environmentalists have said they have concerns with British Columbia Hydro's Site C Dam project. The Town of Peace River could potentially see flooding in the winter because of increased ice jams along the Peace River, pictured on Thursday January 16, 2014. (LOGAN CLOW/PEACE RIVER RECORD-GAZETTE/Postmedia Network)

Environmentalists have said they have concerns with British Columbia Hydro's Site C Dam project. The Town of Peace River could potentially see flooding in the winter because of increased ice jams along the Peace River, pictured on Thursday January 16, 2014. (LOGAN CLOW/PEACE RIVER RECORD-GAZETTE/Postmedia Network)

"Sophie’s Choice: A choice where every alternative has significant negative consequences.”

- Wiktionary definition

Politics is always about making choices but what if you are faced with three choices and all of them are bad?

And billions of dollars will be spent – or wasted – and many of your supporters will be angry with you, no matter which choice you make.

That’s the uncomfortable position Premier John Horgan will be in after he receives a report Wednesday on whether to complete, scrap or pause construction on B.C. Hydro’s controversial Site C dam project on the Peace River.

Site C will cost $8.8 billion or potentially much more – but cancelling it would cost about $3.3 billion – without producing a night light’s worth of electricity, says the independent B.C. Utilities Commission.

And energy alternatives for future needs would cost between $1.8 and $3.4 billion more.

The third choice? Pausing Site C to possibly restart construction in 2025 would cost $1.4 billion on top of existing “sunk costs” of $2 billion, says auditing firm Deloitte LLP.

Most importantly, every option means significantly increasing your B.C. Hydro electricity bills– potentially between 10.5% and 28%.

“Site C is a genuine and profound dilemma,” energy expert Jim Quail told 175 attendees at a politics and policy conference Friday held by Composite Public Affairs. “And don’t expect that the BCUC will give an easy answer.”

There are good arguments both for and against Site C.

Opponents say it’s way too expensive; the power isn’t needed; and alternatives like wind, solar and conservation are more cost effective, while 5,500 hectares of land, including agricultural areas, would be flooded.

But dam supporters say Site C will provide clean, green, renewable energy for over a century – power for 450,000 homes; with replacement of fossil fuels by clean energy, there’s no way B.C. won’t need that power; and Site C power is year-round reliable and can be stored – unlike solar and wind.

The B.C. NDP’s likely decision will be to hit the pause button, despite the costs, because B.C. Hydro’s recently released faulty cost estimates mean continuing the project without further review is simply too financially risky.

Whether Site C is a white knight or a white elephant will remain a question, one not likely answered until after the next provincial election.

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist. Read his blog at billtieleman.blogspot.com. Twitter: @BillTieleman