Premier John Horgan visited Site C on Wednesday and despite it being his first visit since the New Democrats took over the $16-billion megaproject, he didn’t seek assurances it will be done on time and on budget.
“We didn’t talk about price or time,” Horgan told Postmedia News.
That’s mystifying opposition leaders who said Horgan should be asking more questions about the multi-billion dollar hydroelectric dam that has been plagued by cost overruns and delays.
Horgan toured the site with Energy Minister Bruce Ralston, BC Hydro board members and members of the project assurance board set up in 2017 after a BC Utilities Commission review.
The hydroelectric project on the Peace River, the largest public infrastructure undertaking in BC, started in 2015 and is now 55 per cent complete.
Horgan said it was his first chance to go to Fort St. John since he became premier. Two years of the pandemic and three years of having a minority government “kept me close to the legislature,” he explained.
Horgan was pressed by Postmedia News about whether he can assure taxpayers that the price tag, already almost double initial estimates, won’t balloon even higher.
“If we’re dealing with the objective of me visiting the site (Wednesday), I can’t answer that question. Because that wasn’t the intention of the trip,” he said.
“But I can say that we’re doing everything we can within government to contain costs, to deliver what will be clean energy to meet our needs now and well into the future.”
Horgan said the purpose of the trip “wasn’t for updates on status. It wasn’t for any news other than I wanted to talk to people.”
BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon said “it is absolutely shocking … that, for a project that’s already 100 per cent over budget, (Horgan) hasn’t got the curiosity to determine just how much more behind schedule and how much more over budget it is .”
Sonia Furstenau, leader of the BC Greens, said it’s a “failure” of the premier’s responsibility to taxpayers that he didn’t get assurances that the project would be on time or on budget.
“It should be the first question that’s asked and it should be asked until the answers are provided,” Furstenau said.
Horgan said the appropriate place to discuss the project’s budget and schedule is when BC Hydro makes submissions to the Treasury Board.
But Ralston, who was at Site C again on Thursday, told the Alaska Highway News that the $16-billion budget was still “tracking.”
“The full six turbines are scheduled to be in operation by the end of November 2025. First power would be a year before,” Ralston said, “and there’s a very high probability we will be on time.”
BC Hydro spokesperson Simi Heer also said Thursday the project is on track for the $16-billion budget.
Horgan revealed last year that the budget for the dam had ballooned and the completion date would be pushed back a year to 2025 because of geotechnical problems, delays and the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, Horgan said canceling the project, with $6 billion already spent, would be too big a hit to taxpayers.
Horgan said he met with “inspiring” workers and spoke to engineers about the fixes deployed to deal with some of the geotechnical problems. That’s why an on-the-ground tour, he said, is more valuable than looking at aerial photos or getting a briefing in his office from him.
Nearly 100 specially designed steel pilings will be used in the right bank foundation to shore up the spillways, powerhouse and the earth-fill dam itself.
“It’s an engineering marvel, quite frankly. It was just massive and to be there to see the progress that has been made was very impressive,” Horgan said. “It’s a massive project that was steeped in controversy for decades. And now it’s underground. It’s 55 per cent complete and will be completed soon providing clean, firm, dispatchable energy for British Columbians.”
Horgan said the historic fire season, floods, heat dome and atmospheric rivers underscore the importance of the dam’s eventual capacity to provide 1,100 megawatts a year of “firm, dispatchable” power to BC That will allow the province to build out more alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power to meet BC’s climate change targets, he said.
Last month, BC Hydro said it awarded four contracts worth $181 million for most of the remaining plant work including the dam’s generating station and spillways. All four of those contracts have a completion date of 2024, said BC Hydro.
The project, started in 2015, was given the green light by Christy Clark’s government.
As opposition leader and energy critic, Horgan slammed the Liberal government’s decision to exempt the project from scrutiny by the BC Utilities Commission.
“I’m not convinced we’re at the final figure today,” Horgan said in 2016, which proved to be prophetic. “I think we’ve got a couple of billion dollars more to go before we’re done.”