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Site C status report: $16B project continues despite major setbacks

Grant Cameron
Site C status report: $16B project continues despite major setbacks
BC HYDRO — Construction progresses at the spillway headworks east low-level outlet gate at the Site C dam project in Fort St. John, B.C. The spillway will allow the passage of large volumes of water from the reservoir into the river channel downstream.

While the $16-billion Site C hydroelectric project continues to face challenges, BC Hydro’s latest update on the venture indicates progress is being made.

The impact of COVID-19 and added costs for foundation enhancement measures have contributed significantly to the price tag of the project, but upstream and downstream cofferdams have been completed and significant progress has been made on a second 75-kilometre-long, 500-kilovolt (KV) transmission line.

The two cofferdams at the massive dam in northeastern B.C. had to be completed to create a dry area so that excavation work in core trench areas for the earth-fill dam could continue.

All 205 foundations for the second transmission line were completed and towers were assembled and installed by the end of the quarter, which ran from Jan. 1 to March 31. All in, 405 towers will support the two new transmission lines.

The first two of six turbine runners, meanwhile, also arrived at the Port of Prince Rupert from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and were shipped to the site.

The 147-page update notes the overall project health remained “red” or “at risk” because a new budget and schedule that was approved by the Treasury Board in February had not yet been reflected in the report. The project health will be reassessed in the next quarterly progress report scheduled in September.


Crews install scaffolding at the spillway headworks low-level outlet at the Site C project in B.C. in July.
BC HYDRO — Crews install scaffolding at the spillway headworks low-level outlet at the Site C project in B.C. in July.


However, the scope status of the project improved from red to amber during the quarter, as independent experts confirmed that proposed enhancements to address geo-technical issues were appropriate and sound, and will make right bank structures safe and serviceable over the operating life of Site C.

The experts and a technical advisory board will continue to monitor the design and construction of the right bank foundation enhancements and earth-fill dam as the work evolves.

BC Hydro had determined that significant foundation enhancements were required to increase the stability under the structures on the right bank, including the powerhouse, spillways and future dam core area. The experts were retained to provide oversight while the foundation enhancements are completed.

David Conway, community relations manager for the Site C project, said the new cost estimate for the project wasn’t approved by government until after the reporting period, so it’s not reflected in the recent report.

“Our next progress report to the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) will reassess the project health based on the newly approved budget and revised project schedule.”

The next quarterly progress report to the BCUC will be filed in the fall and will cover the period from April 1 to June 30, 2021.

The scope status improved a notch as a result of the foundation enhancements solution being deemed solid, Conway explained. Geotechnical issues came to light in early 2020. A report released in March found changes to the foundation on the right bank will ensure Site C meets safety standards.

Completion of both the upstream and downstream cofferdams was a significant achievement for a few reasons, he noted.


Pictured is an east-facing view of five of six penstock units in varying stages of construction at the Site C project.
BC HYDRO — Pictured is an east-facing view of five of six penstock units in varying stages of construction at the Site C project.


“This work needed to be finished before the spring freshet season occurred when the river levels are usually at their highest. Also, now that the cofferdams are complete, we have a dry area to build the earth-fill dam across the river valley.”

Crews completed and energized the first 500-KV transmission line last fall, along with the Site C substation.

“On the second transmission line, all the foundations and structures are complete and we are now in the process of stringing the lines,” said Conway. “The second line is scheduled to be finished by next spring. Once complete, the two 500-KV transmission lines will become part of the overall B.C. Hydro transmission system.”

In February, the cost of the project was revised upwards to $16 billion from $10.7 billion when B.C. Premier John Horgan said completing Site C was in the best interests of residents. Cancelling the project would have meant the layoff of 4,500 workers.

At the time, the province said COVID-19 and the geotechnical issues represent about half of the additional costs, but it did not elaborate on the other factors or provide a detailed breakdown, citing commercial interests.

The recent report indicates the project was “already managing significant financial pressures” before the onset of COVID-19 and the need for foundation enhancements.

Some of those financial pressures included amendments to the main civil works contract, additional labour resource requirements, First Nations treaty infringement claims, increased costs associated with reservoir clearing, transmission line construction and highway realignment work.

Continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential impacts to onsite construction activities remain a risk, according to the report.

However, it cited many other risks to the project, including commercial negotiations with contractors, design finalization for the foundation enhancements and related procurements, procurements for the balance of plant contracts, and the ability to attract and retain sufficient skilled workers.

The reserve fund for the project has also been cut in half. The contingency reserve under the previous budget was $1.566 billion but it is now reduced to $737 million.

Completion date for the project was also moved back a year.

Conway said construction on Site C is more than 50 per cent complete.

“Our objective is to complete the project within the newly approved budget and we’re managing the project to that cost.”

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