The first in a series of public input sessions over the controversial Site C dam project drew a standing room only crowd in Vancouver on Saturday.
The public consultation is a part of the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) review process initiated by B.C.’s NDP government in August.
LISTEN: Dissecting the BC Utilities Commission Report on Site C with Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer
Last week, the BCUC released a preliminary report on the project, which provided few answers to pressing questions about the project’s budget and future.
Saturday’s Vancouver input session drew enough interest that officials were forced to set up an overflow viewing area, where dozens of people watched the proceedings via live stream.
Before proceedings began, about 100 protesters gathered to voice concerns with the $8.3-billion mega project.
Peter McCartney with the Wilderness Committee was among the speakers.
“BC Hydro has been politically told to focus only on Site C, so their projections for alternative energy are grossly wrong. And we know that the price of wind and solar power has plummeted in the last eight years,” he said.
“It’s expected to get cheaper, and by the time this dam comes on line there will be better technologies.”
Galen Armstrong with the Sierra Club B.C. said he believes the BCUC’s 205-page preliminary report bodes well for those hoping to stop the project.
“There are many reasons to be concerned about Site C, but a big one is cost,” he said.
“If you live in Vancouver, if you live pretty much anywhere in B.C., you’re going to have to pay for the Site C dam. And it doesn’t make sense to pay for 1950s technology, this big mega dam, it’s flooding the beautiful Peace River Valley for electricity we don’t need.”
More public input sessions are scheduled for communities around the province over the next two weeks.
WATCH: First Nations communities protest Site C dam
The BCUC report, released on Thursday, found that construction is on track for a 2024 completion, but that regulators didn’t have enough information to assess whether it was on budget.
It also said it had insufficient information to report on a number of other key questions, including the cost to the province of pausing the project, or the cost to ratepayers of pausing or cancelling the dam.
It did agree with BC Hydro’s assessment that if the dam is scrapped, it will cost the province about $3.2 billion — $2.1 billion in sunk construction costs, and $1.1 billion to wind down the project, plus added costs associated with finding alternative sources of power.
However, the panel also rejected BC Hydro’s argument that alternative energy sources such as biomass, geothermal, and battery storage were unsuitable sources of energy for the province.
The panel has requested further detailed information from the Crown corporation ahead of its final report, due Nov. 1.
BC Hydro says it won’t attend the community input sessions out of respect for the independent review process.
During this year’s election campaign, the NDP pledged to send the project to the BCUC, a practice that was once standard, before the previous Liberal government’s clean energy laws allowed some major projects to bypass the regulatory agency.
READ MORE: Does B.C. really need the Site C dam?
Construction on the dam is now two years underway, and the project employs more than 2,200 people in the province’s northeast.
Site C would be the third dam on the Peace River, and would flood an 83-kilometre stretch of valley.
Landowners, First Nations, and environmentalists have strongly opposed its construction.