Site C Dam

Clean, Renewable and Cost Effective Energy

The colossal Site C dam project in northeastern British Columbia represents a massive $8.335 billion project spearheaded by B.C. Hydro that will produce a large-scale earth fill hydroelectric dam on the Peace River and contribute $3.2 billion to the provincial gross domestic product (GDP) and $130 million to the local communities.

This enormous piece of energy infrastructure will be the third dam on the Peace River that was initially proposed in the mid-20th Century. The first project is the flagship W.A.C. Bennett Dam, which was completed in 1967 and began operation in 1968. Construction of the Peace Canyon Dam was completed in 1980 at a point 23 km downstream of the W. A. C. Bennett dam.

The contract’s duration is expected to take eight years, with the dam expected to be in production by the year 2024. About 1,500 people will be working on the main projects at the peak of construction and will create about 8,000 person-years of man-hour employment. Once completed, Site C will provide clean, reliable and affordable electricity for more than 100 years. It will provide enough electricity to power the equivalent of about 450,000 homes per year.

Site C is an earth-fill dam about 1,050 metres across and 60 metres high. It’s also perfectly located from a geographic standpoint. The Canadian Business Journal spoke with David Conway, Community Relations Manager, B.C. Hydro to get an update on this ambitious project.

“The reason we’re looking at Site C is because of the efficiencies. Projects like this have impacts in many ways, but they are substantially reduced for a large hydro project because you don’t have to build for water storage. All the water storage is behind the W.A.C. Bennett Dam in the Williston Reservoir,” Conway says.

The Williston Reservoir has about two to three years of water supply. Peace Canyon with the Dinosaur Lake Reservoir has about 10 hours and Site C, when completed, with have a capacity of two to three days. There is an efficiency in using the same water three times and with Site C there is a reservoir that is 1/20th the size of Williston but with one-third of the capacity in the energy – 1,100 megawatts and 5,100 gigawatt-hours of energy.

In reaching out to local communities, including Aboriginals, B.C. Hydro has conducted several job fairs. The main communities around the project are Fort St. John, Dawson Creek and Chetwynd, but the job fairs will be expanded to include the likes of Tumbler Ridge, Prince George, Quesnel, Mackenzie and Fort Nelson. The population within the Peace River region is about 63,000 but the addition of northcentral British Columbia brings that number up substantially to about 330,000. The preference would be to hire as many local people as possible for the simple reason that it’s quicker to mobilize. However, it’s already known there will be instances where workers with specialized skillsets will need to come in from other regions and be part of the project to ensure everything is done correctly and on budget. For many tasks, the requirement will be for workers to have prior knowledge as opposed it being a training outlet.

“We have been doing business information sessions and we’ve been doing those since 2011, trying to connect to local, regional, provincial businesses with preferred proponents and preferred selected contractors as we go along,” Conway says. “We conducted job fairs last October primarily focused on the worker accommodation group, Two Rivers Lodging Group, which is Atco and Byrd Construction.”

Workers coming on site now may be there for a significant amount of time but this is the first burst of employment for the main civil works contract. As different requirements come up that Peace River Partners will be hiring for, B.C. Hydro plans on holding more job fairs to connect businesses with potential employees. It’s anticipated that worker numbers at peak will be during the fourth and fifth years.

“We’re expecting between 1,800 and 2,000 workers needed at that time,” Conway tells us. “Over the life of the construction period there are about 10,000 direct jobs, although they are not jobs that run from start to finish. Overall there are about 33,000 direct and indirect jobs, lasting varying degrees of time.”

B.C. Hydro selected Peace River Hydro Partners as the preferred proponent for the Site C main civil works contract in a deal worth $1.75 billion. Peace River Hydro Partners include ACCIONA Infrastructure Canada, Petrowest Corporation and Samsung C&T Canada. Main civil works is the largest single contract for the construction of the Site C project, and includes the construction of the earth-fill dam, two diversion tunnels and a concrete foundation for the generating station and spillways.

“The Site C project is creating thousands of jobs for our province, as well as significant opportunities for apprenticeships, skills training, and business contracts,” B.C. Premier Christy Clark says. “As B.C.’s diverse economy continues to grow, Site C is part of our vision to meet long-term energy needs, providing clean, renewable and affordable electricity for generations.”

With so much interest shown in the mega project, Conway spends a lot of time conducting presentations and providing updates. The question he gets asked most often is where all the required skilled workers will come from. As it happens, the recent economic downturn, particularly related to the oil and gas activities and mining and to a lesser extent forestry, has created a substantial opportunity for B.C. Hydro and the Site C project with a number of those skilled workers suddenly out of work and looking for other means of employment, at least until the oil and gas sector posts a turnaround, which could still be quite a ways away. Nevertheless, it’s a talent pool the project can tap into that hadn’t previously been taken into account.

Site C was initiated in 2007 and the messaging then was that the project was being built for a projected load growth of 20 to 40% over the next 20 years and that in turn was primarily being driven by a projected population increase of over a million people during that time period. The figures came from Statistics Canada and economic development primarily focused on forestry and mining and natural gas exploration.

“About three years after we initiated the engagement and consultation the provincial government moved towards developing liquid natural gas and looking to develop it in a foreign market. We updated our load forecasts and moved from saying 20-40% to a potential load increase of 40% and now when I talk about potential economic development I also mention liquid natural gas. So it’s not being built for it but it’s one of the things that could end up using it,” Conway reveals.

Energy generated from Site C will go directly onto the provincial grid. Conway says B.C. Hydro presently trades energy with Alberta and the United States and so it’s possible some of it could be sold to other jurisdictions.

“We generally swap energy,” he says. “We will buy energy out of the U.S. low back off the generators in B.C. and sell them back energy when the market is higher the next day with the water we stored and we make the difference on that. We do that all the time to maximize the system for the B.C. ratepayer. The Site C project would add additional capability to do that.”

Site C is the first hydroelectric dam built in British Columbia in over 30 years. The last one B.C. Hydro built was the Revelstoke Dam in 1984. About $2.4 billion a year is being spent on additional infrastructure and upgrading existing infrastructure for the next 10 years, with a substantial spend allocated for the decade beyond that. B.C. Hydro has been upgrading the Peace Canyon Dam turbines and the W.A.C. Bennett Dam’s generators and turbines.

“Because of the new designs for the turbines and generators we’re getting substantive efficiency increases in regards to the amount of energy we’re pulling off of them. My understanding is that it’s the neighbourhood of 1-4% and a water gain as well,” Conway says.

There are substantive Aboriginal interests in the Site C project, which is being built within a region of British Columbia where there is a treaty, called Treaty Eight. Conway says B.C. Hydro has been doing its utmost to consult with each tribe and direct communication and collaboration will continue during and after project completion.

“We have been working on impact benefit agreements with about a dozen or Aboriginal First Nations around the project. Many agreements are either completed or getting near completed but B.C. Hydro has made offers to them all, even those that are unwilling to hold a dialogue at this time,” Conway says.

Accommodation could include land, financial payment, employment opportunities or skills training.

“We have a number of Aboriginal companies working on the site from member First Nations within the region and we will continue to look for procurement opportunities as the project moves forward,” Conway says.

All the required environmental certifications from the federal and provincial governments have been secured to carry out the present work that is happening at the dam site. Part of the mandate includes fisheries and navigable waters authorizations.

Legal challenges against the dam have been launched by several groups and First Nations over concerns about flooding and the impact a new lake created by the dam will have on the Peace River area. At one point there were seven court cases filed against B.C. Hydro relating to the project. Three in federal court and four in B.C. provincial court. On a positive note, out of the seven, they’ve either been withdrawn or they have been dismissed with three appeals still to be determined.

“We’re just trying to do the best possible job we can.”