BC Chamber Op-Ed: Site C would build on a legacy of leadership

In the News, Op-eds & Commentary

The following op-ed was published November 24, 2014, in the Vancouver Sun.

By: Michael McPhie, John Winter, Darby Kreitz, Andrew Purdy, Jeff Stibbard and Gavin Dirom

Then-premier W.A.C. Bennett addressed the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in 1962 and made the case that: “We must build on the solid rock of sound economic policies and balanced budgets. But we must be prepared, as a nation, to step from the solid rock onto new ground.”

This statement captured Bennett’s vision of building the economy of B.C. by capitalizing on our endowment of natural resources and investing in critical infrastructure.

Nowhere is this vision demonstrated more than in B.C’s hydroelectric developments.

The showpiece is the W.A.C. Bennett Dam that generates about one-quarter of the province’s energy supply at a cost to consumers of one cent per kilowatt hour. For comparison purposes, the average consumer in the province pays seven cents a kilowatt hour for electricity because newer power sources produce electricity that is more expensive. The province has entered into contracts with independent power producers that are worth about $53 billion and those now form a significant part of the province’s electrical supply.

Despite higher costs for new supply, B.C. ranks, along with Quebec and Manitoba, as among the lowest cost jurisdictions for electricity in North America. This is because each of these provinces has large-scale hydroelectric power as its primary energy source. These low electricity costs allow families to inexpensively power their homes and the myriad energy-using gadgets we all enjoy. Low-cost electricity also allows businesses, including heavy industry, to remain competitive globally, employ thousands of workers in B.C., and contribute tax revenues to all levels of government.

With this in mind, we believe the B.C. government has the environmental science and economic based facts to approve and build the Site C hydroelectric project.

This project is critical to the province’s energy future. It would deliver clean, reliable and cost-effective power to homes and businesses for generations. It will continue to encourage and support investment and help maintain our competitive advantage. This government has shown it understands the importance of leadership and determination on natural resource development, and it should continue with Site C.

Site C has cleared a rigorous multi-year environmental review, including a joint review panel process. If construction started today, power would not flow from Site C until 2023. Once operational, this facility would produce clean, zero-emission electricity at a low cost for more than 100 years. The review panel that assessed Site C concluded that the project would “lock in low rates for many decades” while providing the “least-expensive” electricity compared to alternatives.

We believe the First Nations and regional communities affected by the project deserve to have their legitimate interests and concerns addressed. A resolution must be found that both respects the views of all sides and finds a path forward. Generating the electricity we all need cannot be possible without causing some effects. The key is to minimize those effects as much as possible without losing sight of the bigger picture and our future as a province.

We as business owners and representatives of developers and operators of natural resource projects that employ thousands of people throughout B.C., believe the positive legacy associated with an investment in Site C would go a long way toward ensuring and preserving the competitive advantage we enjoy today. This will allow us and others to continue to invest, build and create jobs for decades to come.

We are not necessarily talking about stepping on to new ground with Site C, as we already enjoy the benefits associated with visionary investments made more than 50 years ago. However, we are talking about real leadership and courage that builds on a solid foundation of making the right decisions today so we can continue to build B.C. for tomorrow.

Michael McPhie is executive chairman, IDM Mining Ltd.; John Winter is CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce; Darby Kreitz is CEO of Allnorth Consultants; Andrew Purdy is CEO of Ruskin Construction; Jeff Stibbard is CEO of JDS Energy and Mining; Gavin Dirom is CEO of the Association for Mineral Exploration B.C.