Site C decision wrong for costs, environment, B.C.
Dear Premier Horgan:
CC. NDP cabinet members, Green Party, distribution Lists
Your explanation for continuing Site C was quite inadequate. How can terminating a project that has cost $2.1 billion plus remediation at $1.8 billion be more costly than completing it for a total of 10.7 billion? The $2.1 billion has already been spent. Your ability to carry out social programs should be aided by not needing to spend another $8 billion (or more) to complete another mega dam that is not needed.
You argue that cancelling construction would immediately add to the provincial debt. Jan Slomp (2017) of the National Farmer’s Union writes: “BC Hydro is a provincially owned Crown Corporation, with net earnings that contribute to the annual provincial budget. If the Horgan government wanted to shut down Site C, BC Hydro’s net earnings, debt and equity would allow for an internal schedule to recover the costs already incurred on Site C. These payments would affect B.C.’s budget very marginally and it would definitely save B.C. residents in the long term, whether in taxes or hydro rates. From a strict financial perspective, cancelling a project with a $2.1 billion sunk cost would be more prudent than locking B.C. residents into an open-ended juggernaut, with a budget exceeding $10 billion and more unforeseen construction costs down the road.”
Continuing the project, even though it is not fully justified, requires a certain degree of stubbornness and inability to recognize when continuing is irrational. It’s a phenomenon in which people stick with something because they’ve already invested so much time, money or energy, even if it’s not the best decision. “Just because you’ve lost money on something or spent some money on something doesn’t mean you should keep doing it.” The financial term for this is the ‘sunk cost fallacy’ (Azpiri 2017).
The estimated debt of $1.8 billion for remediation is an estimate in the mid-range of a wide range of guesses. There is no existing remediation plan, so the reasonable thing to do would be to form a land planning group consisting of Peace Valley residents, First Nations, and government. There would be basic remediation such as bank stabilization, trees, shrubs and ground cover. A certain amount of fill-in would be accomplished by natural regeneration. The cost would certainly be less than $1.8 billion, perhaps between $0.3 to $0.5 billion. This could be covered by the same internal schedule as the sunk costs.
Unfortunately, you ignored all the good economic advice you got, and you followed Christy Clark’s decision, based primarily on BC Hydro recommendations with no second expert review by BCUC. You ignored the recent BCUC review and Deloitte’s review, and expert opinions by Harry Swain, Marc Eliesen, Robert McCullouch, and others, and you gave greatest weight to economic elites, business and labor organizations, entrenched civil servants, and a Crown Corporation whose main objective is maintenance of its authority and control of B.C. electricity.
You did not take account of other economic factors, environmental impacts and social impacts by the dam: loss of thousands of hectares of highly productive agricultural land and economic potential for increased agriculture and food supply; loss of land and livelihoods of landowners and farmers; loss of ecosystem services from the Peace River watershed, vegetation and wildlife diversity; lost carbon capture and sequestration by destroyed vegetation; migrations of mammals and birds with international implications, and fish movements in the river; impacts on the downstream water supply for wetlands in Wood Buffalo Park in Alberta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Nikiforuk 2017); and critically, infringement on the Treaty 8 rights of the First Nations on the Peace River — hunting, fishing, trapping, protection of grave and sacred sites, etc.
How are you going to establish good relations, nation-to-nation, and an accord on Indigenous rights, if you and developers keep unilaterally taking away or degrading the land and water? And more philosophically, is it morally right to destroy a river passage that is like none other in western Canada, cutting deeply through low mountains and plains, with unique microclimates and innumerable ecosystems and species such as exist nowhere else? This land and water is the birth-right of the First Nations who have lived here for millennia. When are we going to develop an honest land ethic in which we honor and respect the rights of nature? (Leopold 1949; David Boyd 2017).
The most important thing you forgot, in my view, is the impact this mega-dam will have on climate change. The news now regularly contains items on climate change, and we know the big changes in climate and weather patterns — temperature, glacier and ice cap melting, ocean rise, increasing ocean acidity, increases in storm strengths (hurricanes, typhoons), extreme precipitation and drought, increasing incidence of wildfires — the impacts go on and on. This means that in all our development actions, we must consider the impacts of each action on climate. And we need to save ecosystems for their carbon capture and sequestration abilities, and forest and agricultural production.
Why did you not consider what climate impacts the damming of a large river and creation of a large reservoir would have on the environment and climate? What would its carbon footprint be? Several decades of study have shown that mega-dams are not clean energy — they release both CO2 and methane (CH4) from soil disturbance and flooded decomposing vegetation. Further, a high amount of CO2 is produced in the manufacture of cement, steel and other components (Schindler 2017). And the scores of excavators and trucks give rise to tonnes of CO2, NOx, and black carbon. In the present crisis of climate change, any development activity must take into account the carbon footprint (impact of GHGs causing heating of the atmosphere).
I understand that you will soon travel to the far east to visit Japan, Korea and China. A major topic will be LNG. So again you follow the path of Christy Clark. I suspect that extracting LNG and fracked natural gas was a big factor in your decision to complete Site C, and also those who influenced you. Perhaps you were thinking to complete the dam to give the possibility for supplying more water and electricity to support fracking and LNG plants?
Fracked natural gas and LNG is the wrong path for B.C., and for the world. Fracked natural gas, predominantly composed of methane (CH4) is not a bridge to a cleaner atmosphere. CH4 is a full-fledge fossil fuel! Experts peg fracked natural gas with a global warming potential higher than oil or petrol, and similar to that of coal, sometimes depending on coal grade even greater (Howarth 2014). Fracked natural gas loses considerable CH4 during its extraction, processing, pipeline transportation, LNG liquefaction, shipping, regasification, distribution, and final burning. Christy and her ‘clean energy’ was only talking about the final burning of the gas at the end of the life cycle. LNG liquefaction also has significant emissions. Liquefaction is usually done by burning incoming natural gas; electricity can be used in combination with gas.
In fracking, huge volumes of water containing a wide range of possible chemicals, sand and other agents are forced under great pressure down vertical, then horizontal bore pipes, emerge from exploded holes in the horizontal pipe, and are forced into a system of cracks in adjacent geologic layers. After a period of time fracking is stopped and gases and wet organics flow back into the pipe and upwards to the surface, where the gases and organics are collected and separated, and wastewater held in containment ponds.
It is well documented that not all of the ‘slickwater’ containing the gases moves back into the bore pipes. Some escapes and travels outside of the pipes, some reaching the ground surface. Cement caps and encasements around the vertical bores are supposed to stop this upward flow, but cracks develop over time in the cement, maybe from earthquakes. Some of the fracked gas-liquid may even move considerable distances away from the drilling site in natural faults, and pollute aquifers and surface waters. It is documented that escape of gasses and organics have tainted water wells of houses and farmsteads, rendering the water undrinkable. The most spectacular effect is tap water that can be ignited! As well, studies in the U.S. have shown that proximity to fracking operations, has influenced adult health and birth defects in infants.
The Pembina Institute and Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions published a report in 2014 on the use of LNG in B.C. (Horne & MacNab 2014). The Clark government’s claim that LNG exports offer the “greatest single step British Columbia can take to fight climate change” is inaccurate (actually wrong!) in the absence of stronger global climate policies. The report states that “Natural gas does have a role to play in a world that avoids two degrees Celsius in global warming, but only if strong emissions reduction policies are put in place in the jurisdictions that produce and consume the gas.”
By going the natural gas route we simply slow down the rate of adoption of truly clean alternative energies. Even if we manage to get CAPP and oil companies to act responsibly to reduce the fugitive losses of CH4 (they say by 2025, but this is doubtful; they will not do this until the U.S.-EPA mandates it, which is highly unlikely under Trump and Pruitt) we may only achieve a reduction of 40 to 45 per cent of the present losses of CH4. CH4 is 108 times more powerful in global warming potential than CO2 over a time-frame of 10 years; 86 times over 20 years; and 34 times over 100 years (Howarth 2014). We are so far along in climate change, with air temperature increase over 1 C (since ca. 1900), that we must work for much faster reductions of green house gas (GHG) emissions, and much sooner.
The UN climate program and the world’s top climate scientists and activists urge levelling off and reduction of GHG emissions in the next three years (Figueres et al. 2017). In my reading, fracked natural gas will not provide a bridge to zero-carbon clean energy before we reach 2 C. Canadian and provincial government actions to reduce fugitive emissions are dreadfully slow.
Carbon capture and storage is a possibility, but so far no fully effective techniques have been developed (Hawken 2017). The only fully effective CCS so far seems to be the natural CO2 capture by green plants, especially forests and grasslands, transfer and storage as underground carbon. Agricultural land, if managed correctly, can be quite effective for CCS in soil.
If you have dreams for natural gas and LNG, I think you should abandon them, and leave the gas in the ground. If we can stabilize at 2 C or less, we can always come back to natural gas, it will still be there. It seems to me that the Asian countries will be buying LNG and natural gas cheaper from producers closer to them than Canada. Besides, China and India are moving rapidly along paths of alternative clean energies, and other countries know they should move away from fossil fuels, including natural gas. If you try to play the LNG export game, you will be hindered by the tax- and subsidy-favorable deals that Clark cut with Petronas, which is embedded in B.C. legislation for years. So we would end up selling the LNG at bargain basement prices. (This would be comparable to selling electricity from Site C at far less than its cost to generate.) And we will be wasting our time and money on the fossil fuel energies of the previous industrial revolution, when we should be transitioning rapidly into the clean energies industrial revolution.
We should be moving toward a sustainable economy based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) enunciated by the UN. It is essential to rapidly switch off the fossil fuels with high GHG emissions, and move to affordable clean energy, SDG 7. This can be done developing local grids and distributed energy, which can be linked to the existing hydro grid of B.C. Hydro. First Nations and local communities have much interest in local clean energy systems (mostly run-of-river, solar, wind). Several have already built or are interested in community energy systems, and these could be promoted.
B.C. already has plenty of electricity to last for decades. Any shortfalls can be supplemented by several sources we already own — Columbia River entitlement, Burrard Inlet natural gas plant, adding generation capacity to dams already in the B.C. system, and actually using existing run of river facilities. Wind and solar prices are falling rapidly, and are comparable to hydro, even cheaper. Geothermal, although more expensive, could readily be geared up, drawing on existing expertise in fracking. Low periods of production by solar and wind can be augmented by storage in our hydro reservoirs, pumped storage, and developing big battery storage technology (e.g. Elon Musk, European battery systems). There are numerous potential jobs in clean renewable energy, as well as immediate jobs in energy conservation programs, new housing and energy retrofits.
I urge you to abandon the LNG idea, and to focus on clean energy. I hate the idea that my children and grandchildren, and B.C. citizens, will be paying for un-needed hydro from Site C for generations, especially since we don’t need it AND because hydro is not the cleanest of energies. You should stop Site C now, it was Christy Clark’s project and you and your party should not have to assume the blame for it. You should get with the new age of sustainable development, first by whole-heartedly adopting clean energy alternatives, then working on your progressive, socially-orientated programs that would make Tommy Douglas, and David Lewis and Jack Layton proud.
Please reverse your decision on Site C, it will drag you and the NDP down. But worse, it will unnecessarily burden all of us, the rate and tax payers, the Greens, and the Liberals, and slow up the inevitable conversion to clean energy and sustainable development. Adopt sustainable development and establish yourself as a champion of climate action and clean energy! Then of course, work on critically needed social and sustainability programs — Indigenous rights, housing, efficient mass transportation, electric vehicles, child care, health care, poverty and living wages, bikes-ridesharing, education, and so on. Lots of jobs will be produced by clean energies, new housing, energy conservation in new and retrofit building, sustainable forestry and agriculture, etc.
I believe the majority of people of B.C. are ready and anxious for these changes. Your government should help to make these changes happen!
1) Op Ed_Renegades Rewarded at Public Expense in Site C Dam Decision—Jan Slomp, Natl. Farmer’s Union, 24Dec2017;
2) Site C didn’t need to be approved just because money was already spent_ critics— Jon Azpiri Global News 12Dec2017
3)A Sand County Almanac—Aldo Leopold, Oxford 1949;
4) The Rights of Nature—David Boyd, ECW Press 2017;
5) A bridge to nowhere—methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas—Robert Howarth-Energy Science & Engineering (Society of Chemical Industry and JohnWiley&SonsLtd.) 15May2014;
6) Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming—Paul Hawken Penguin Books 2017;
7) LNG and Climate Change: The Global Context— Matt Horne & Josha MacNab, Pembina Inst and Pacific Inst Climate Solutions;
8) United Nations Says Canada’s Largest Park Under Threat, Calls for Site C Review—Andrew Nikiforuk, TheTyee.ca 13 Mar 2017;
9) Opinion_ Decision to approve Site C undermines reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and long-term action on climate change—David Schindler & Faisal Moola, Van Sun 20Dec2017; 10) Three years to safeguard our climate—Christiana Figueres et al. nature.com 28June2017;
11) Comment_ Reverse direction on Site C, or pay the price—Vicky Husband Times Colonist 21Dec2017;
12) Past time to take First Nation consent on developments seriously—Judith Sayers, First Nations in BC Knowledge Network, December 21, 2017.
P.S. I supported the NDP and Green coalition before your announcement, and would like to continue to do so. But if you go ahead with the highly unjust, un-needed and destructive Site C, I must withdraw my support for you and the NDP, and go full bore with the Greens or wherever climate change, clean energy, and sustainability actions can be achieved.
John K. Jeglum