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B.C. government should follow panel recommendation, send Site C to review: mayor

VANCOUVER - With a provincial decision on BC Hydro's proposed Site C hydroelectric dam expected in September, the mayor of Hudson's Hope appealed to the province Wednesday for a review by the independent utilities regulator.

Gwen Johansson said there is still time for the B.C. Utilities Commission to examine the multibillion-dollar dam proposed in the Peace River Valley, as recommended by a federal environmental review panel.

"We want to get to truth on this project. We want to see if, indeed, it is the best project," Johansson said at a news conference in Vancouver.

A Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency panel recommended in May that the proposal be referred to the province's commission for a detailed examination of project costs. The B.C. government had exempted Site C from review by the regulator, which rejected a previous incarnation.

The $8-billion dam would be the largest provincial expenditure in the next two decades and could increase provincial debt by as much as 10 per cent, Johansson said.

"They seem to be pushing it through as quickly as they can," she said.

Alternatives like solar, geothermal and natural gas-cogeneration should be examined more closely before the province makes a commitment, said a review of the federal panel report commissioned by the district of Hudson's Hope, a community of 1,100 people that would see some of its land flooded should Site C go ahead.

Committing to the project before the utilities commission undertakes a cost review would be premature, the review said.

Specifically, the commission should look at unit energy costs of the project, the long-term pricing scenario, load forecasts and demand-side management plans, it said.

The dam — the third on the Peace River in northeastern B.C. — would flood 5,550 hectares of land over an 83-kilometre stretch of the valley.

It would generate an estimated 100 megawatts of capacity, or enough to power the equivalent of 450,000 homes a year.

Johansson had the support of Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver.

The Nobel-winning climate scientist was with former premier Gordon Campbell when he announced plans to reprise the dam proposal four years ago.

"I supported it," Weaver said.

"Since that time I've learned an awful lot more both about the region and about other alternatives and I felt I had a responsibility, because I had spoken in favour of this, to admit I was wrong."

There are cleaner alternatives that are not being discussed, he said, but at the very least the utilities commission should have a role.

The last tract of pristine Peace River Valley will be destroyed to keep the lights on in Vancouver, he said.

"It is their backyard. It's not our backyard," Weaver said.

Johansson, whose community has not taken a definitive position on the project but whose own home will be flooded should it go ahead, said ultimately the huge financial risk will be borne by the province's taxpayers.

"The only people who can make the province change its mind on that are the people, the ratepayers and taxpayers of B.C.," she said.

A spokesman for Energy Minister Bill Bennett declined a request for comment.

BC Hydro spokesman Dave Conway said the dam proposal has undergone significant review as part of the environmental review process, which included multiple opportunities for public input.

"The process has been underway for three years, including public hearings in the region," Conway said.

If approved, the dam would go into operation around 2024.

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