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The Great Green Shakedown

Why your hydro rates are going up, and who's responsible

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Page 7 of 10

Only one participant at the session stood up to ask about the projects that have been granted exemptions from commission oversight.

Gwen Johansson, a soft-spoken councillor from the District of Hudson's Hope, a small northern community that hosts power projects such as the WAC Bennett and Peace Canyon Dams, pointed out that her town would soon play host to Site C, a project that will back up an 83-kilometre long reservoir behind it, stretching a section of the Peace River to two or three times its width.

Johansson's own home is located within the project's impoundment area, where water will be stored to generate the dam's electricity. If the project goes ahead, her home will be flooded.

The province expects that Site C will provide it with 4,600 GWh of electricity every year - more than enough to meet electricity supply obligations by 2020. Pegged at a preliminary cost of $5 billion to $6.6 billion, it too is exempted from commission oversight.

Johansson said at the workshop that her community already plays host to facilities that don't produce any tax revenue for the municipality and Site C would do the same thing. It would flood land, generate electricity and, with the Clean Energy Act in place, deny residents the chance to offer input in a process to determine whether the project was in the public interest.

"The BCUC, I haven't always agreed with it," Johansson told the workshop. "I haven't always agreed with their decisions, but I don't think there was any doubt that they had the expertise, the mandate and the resources, and the commitment to making decisions that were in the public interest.

"I would urge the provincial government to place some of those projects back under the BCUC for scrutiny. I think that was an error, to take that scrutiny away."

Bennett responded that the Site C project would not be exempt from all scrutiny - just the Utilities Commission. It would still have to pass an Environmental Assessment, which has a public comment period in which residents of communities such as Hudson's Hope can offer feedback about a project.

"When I think back to WAC Bennett, and that cabinet's decision to build various things in this province, there's a really good chance, had there been a kind of scrutiny or oversight that there is today, they would have been told not to," Bennett said. "They didn't necessarily have a market for that electricity, it was visionary. Our desire to be self-sufficient and develop an export market is visionary."

For Johansson, exempting the projects will be costly for the communities that host them.