The British Columbia construction industry is adopting a wait and see attitude about the future of the Site C project in northeastern British Columbia.
A report released recently by the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) found the Site C project will likely not be able to meet its projected November 2024 completion date and will exceed its proposed budget of approximately $8.3 billion. The report also estimated completion costs could exceed $10 billion.
Termination and remediation costs would be $1.8 billion, in addition to finding alternative energy sources to meet demand, but the BCUC panel found the "least attractive option" would be to suspend the project and restart it in 2024. That scenario, the report said, would cost an estimated $3.6 billion.
In response to the report, provincial Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Minister Michelle Mungall said the government anticipates a decision by the end of the year.
"It’s a very difficult decision for the government to make," said BC Building Trades executive director Tom Sigurdson. "But the project has gone forward and when it gets to the ‘shovels in the ground’ stage, we want to build it.
"We wanted to build under the Allied Hydro Council agreement," Sigurdson added. "The government chose not to do that and 20 to 25 per cent of the workers on the project aren’t from B.C. That’s not in the best interest of ratepayers."
The Allied Hydro Council agreement is a framework created by W.A.C. Bennett that brought all trade unions together to sign a single contract with no strikes or lockouts. Bennett created the agreement because the scope of the ambitious hydro projects of the time could not weather labour disruption. The Site C project is being built under an open-shop model.
British Columbia Construction Association president Chris Atchison also voiced support for the project but a willingness to adapt to circumstances as they present themselves.
"The BCUC has presented their findings, and now the provincial government has a crucial and pivotal decision to make," he said.
Atchison said while the construction industry will be affected by whatever decision is made, "the decision the government makes transcends the construction industry alone."
He also voiced optimism regarding employment in the sector, should the provincial government decide to shut down or delay Site C.
"We know that whatever the energy solution of choice is, be it solar, wind or smaller hydro projects, construction will be involved. If Site C does go ahead, it will be built to world class standards and will have the support of industry," Atchison stated.
The Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA) stated in a press release that despite the report’s findings it saw no reason to stop or delay the Site C project and that the report did not offer a "clear way forward."
"The report lacks the clarity that workers, their employers, the investment community and taxpayers have been waiting for. If anything, the report raises further concerns about the value of this regulatory review," said PCA BC regional director Rieghardt van Enter.
"With billions already invested in Site C, stopping now would be the most damaging option possible for taxpayers. We’re urging the B.C. government to make the right decision on behalf of workers, their communities and all British Columbians by completing the project."
Independent Contractors and Businesses Association president Chris Gardner also highlighted the importance of completing the project.
"We’ve been advocating that the project should continue and there’s nothing in the final BCUC report that indicates the province should make a different decision," Gardner said.
Suspension of the project, given the costs it would entail, is not a viable option for taxpayers, Gardner said, adding the BCUC report made clear that while it was possible to cancel the project and generate an equivalent level of energy through renewables, "there are significant risks to doing so."
"Once completed, Site C is a real advantage to B.C. as it moves towards a green economy," he added. Jean-Francois Nolet, vice-president of policy and communications at the Canadian Wind Energy Association, issued a statement saying it was pleased to see the BCUC’s report "concluded that a mix of alternative energy sources, like wind energy, can provide similar benefits to ratepayers as the Site C hydroelectric project with an equal or lower Unit Energy Cost."
Mungall, however, pointed out that no decisions have been made either way.
"This will be an extremely difficult decision. We inherited a project that was advanced by the previous government without proper regulatory oversight, is now more than two years into construction, employs more than 2,000 people, and on which about $2 billion has already been spent," Mungall stated. "We are going to take the time we need to make a decision on Site C that works for B.C. families, businesses and the sustainability of our environment and economy."