BC Hydro Ratepayers Challenge Federal Fisheries Minister's Approval of Site C Authorization
by BC Hydro Ratepayers Association
November 21, 2016
The Site C mystery - No need, no market, no meaningful review and many alternatives that save fish, honour Treaty 8 rights, keep hydro rates from skyrocketing.
“Hydro’s demand forecasts are persistently and systematically wrong. There is no reason to believe that much new power, if any, will be required in the next 20 to 30 years [in BC]. But if there is, there are several alternatives available which are markedly less expensive and less damaging to Aboriginal interests, fisheries and the environment generally, than Site C,” says Dr. Harry Swain, former chair of the Joint Review Panel in an affidavit filed in Federal Court.
A group of concerned BC residents—the BC Hydro Ratepayers Association (RPA)—is challenging the decision of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to issue a permit authorizing destruction of fish, fish habitat and fisheries for the construction and operation of the massive and ill-conceived and unnecessary damning of the Peace River by the Site C project.
The RPA (incorporated as the Pacific Electricity Ratepayers Association) contends that the Minister, though required to do so, neglected to properly consider and assess the absence of justification for the project, the social, economic and environmental costs and alternative means of energy production that would serve the public interest by avoiding harm to fish, fish habitat and fisheries, violation of the rights of Treaty 8 Nations and associated cumulative consequential damage.
The Fisheries Act requires the Minister to consider a number of important factors prior to authorizing such damage, including: the contribution of the impacted fish to Aboriginal fisheries; fisheries management objectives; alternatives that would avoid harm; and the public interest. The Joint Review Panel concluded that.
“justification must rest on an unambiguous need for the power, and analyses showing its financial costs being sufficiently attractive as to make tolerable the bearing of substantial environmental, social, and other costs.”
The Panel was prevented by its terms of reference from assessing key factors like Treaty 8 rights, public interest and less harmful alternatives to Site C. Dr. Swain states,
“The Panel’s Terms of Reference and subsequent Ministerial directives required the acceptance of all formally stated public policy … and restricted the JRP from considering issues of … relevance to assessing the public interest.”
According to Dr. Swain, neither the federal nor the provincial government contacted the panel for clarifications.
Issuance of the Fisheries Act permit to allow Site C construction ignores the findings of the Joint Review Panel and critical information available since May 2014, and violates environmental and indigenous rights guaranteed by Canadian law.
Dr. Swain, noted that falling market prices since the Joint Review Panel’s 2014 report, have significantly reduced the business case for Site C, stating,
“BC Hydro can be expected to lose vast sums of money on the project for many years.”
The cost of Site C power is estimated at $63 to $100 per MWh but California currently pays only $22.26 per MWh and domestic demand has not increased since 2005. The financial burden risks being increased even further by liability for the destruction of an irreplaceable fisheries resource.
The court action was made necessary because building and operating the proposed dam does not serve the public interest, violates Treaty rights and will cause direct and indirect fish mortality, greatly reducing fish populations in the Peace River and other affected waterways. Arctic grayling, mountain whitefish and bull (Dolly Varden) trout— all preferred food species of the local indigenous communities, will be lost.
The application for Judicial Review is of interest to all B.C. Hydro customers who care about the environment, honouring Treaty rights, increases in their bills and the future.
For more information, please contact Dr. Eoin Finn, RPA Director.