Site C and the Future of Energy in British Columbia

by Chris Aikman

Note: This is a discussion of a position paper posted at:

The proposed Site C project on the Peace River is all about providing secure capacity in British Columbia's sustainable energy supply. For a transition to a blend of sustainable sources from solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, wind, run-of-river and tidal sources, we face the severe problem that all of these are intermittent. The development of Site C on the Peace would create three sequential reservoirs to offer an as-needed supply of power, manageable on all time scales from minutes to months. Only the Columbia River system, which already consists of a comparable sequence of reservoirs, offers this degree of freedom to top up intermittent sources with hydro power. If we truly envision a future in which all of our energy comes from sustainable sources, Site C is an essential element to that goal. Without a reliable backup supply, the green energy revolution will be stillborn. It's really that simple.

So the position recently taken by the BC Sustainable Energy Association's calling for the BC government to postpone a final decision on the Site C project comes as a complete shock and a bitter disappointment. It seems startling that the BCSEA is adopting a position that asks for a delay in the development of sustainable energy!?

First, let's take an overview of the energy situation we are facing.:

We have to remember what made fossil power so wonderful in the first place:

  1. It's energy-dense

  2. It's easily transportable

  3. It's there whenever you need it.

Now consider hydroelectric power:

  1. It's not energy-dense, but the supply is vast

  2. Even easier to transport than fuel, because it travel over wires

  3. It's almost carbon emissions-free, and generally environmentally neutral

  4. If it's always available when you need it, and cheap enough, it will naturally displace fossil energy on its merits.

The following comments relate to the BCSEA's recent webinar, and more specifically, to the points raised in BCSEA's position paper as posted at

and at

The numbering refers to the sections as given in the pdf document.

Section I. B. Reasons:

However, there are significant reasons for the government not to approve Site C”. But all the reasons as given are either erroneous or incomplete, as detailed in these points:

II. A. Sustainable energy criteria to assess Site C and alternatives:

II.C. Cost effectiveness:

Demand-side Management:

Wind Power:

Solar power:

Geothermal electrical generation:

D. Energy system benefits – capacity:

E. Energy system benefits – firming intermittent energy:

F. Economic benefits from employment:

G. Environmental effects – GHG and climate change:

H. Environmental effects – other effects, including agricultural land:

In Summary:

If we take the figure given in Appendix I for solar photovoltaic energy produced in 2014 in Germany, and if BC adapted the same area density of photovoltaic generation that Germany already (in this early stage) has achieved, we would have 100,000 Gwh of energy annually from this source alone. British Columbians presently use about 57,000 Gwh of electricity per year. There is zero doubt we have the capacity to replace fossil energy with solar plus hydro. Isn't that what we're trying to do? Site C will bring that goal closer!

It has often been stated (and I have heard this in BCSEA circles) that in order to address the real and present dangers of climate change from CO2, that we need to react in much the same way as did the Allies at the outbreak of World War II. That is, we need to mobilize all our efforts towards achieving a necessary goal, in that case the preservation of freedom and democracy. Then as now there wasn't a prefect master plan of how that goal might be achieved. It just requires a total commitment to get it done.

It is surprising then, that after decades of debate about climate change, that BCSEA is advocating that we just wait until we have the perfect master plan for sustainable energy. What we need to do is simple enough: stop burning carbon, and find alternative energy sources. And we need to proceed as expeditiously as possible on all fronts. In time, the market and technology will sort out which mix of energy sources is best for our part of the world. We do know there will be huge intermittency problems as we eliminate fossil fuels, and the only large scale solution to intermittency of supply will be water stored at elevation (that is to say hydro reservoirs). In short we very much will need Site C in any plausible scenario.

Chris Aikman

Twitter: @ChrisAikman2