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Site C – Adding Capacity to BC’s Storage Advantage

Today, the Province of BC announced plans to build a 900 MW hydro-electric dam on the Peace River in northern BC, the project known as Site C. It will be a public project and its development is subject to permitting, and first nations and community consultation. Here is a link to the Vancouver Sun’s story

This is a bold but necessary move by a government looking to build more clean renewable power in the Province. Hydro-electric power is a reliable and preferred form of electricity generation in British Columbia with a great history. Premier W.A.C Bennett’s hydro-electric vision in the 1960’s helped the Province develop to what it is today. The incredible legacy dam system he provided now allows British Columbians to enjoy the fruits – inexpensive, domestically generated, clean electricity.

There are many reasons to build Site C but for the renewable energy industry in British Columbia, one of the most important aspects is the Province moving to increase its electricity storage capacity.

The backbone of any electricity system is the ability to generate electricity at will, from its reserves. Electricity in its basic form (electrons) does not keep for very long. Fortunately, it can be stored in other forms. Commonly, it is coal or natural gas, but each of those has its own set of undesirable CO2 emission attributes. Due to some fortunate topography and the vision of Premier Bennett, British Columbia has considerable clean storage capacity located in its heritage dams. 

In addition to providing enough electricity to power approximately 410,000 homes, Site C and its potential 900 MW of capacity will also be used for its storage capacity to support the massive development of new renewable power, such as wind, run-of-river hydro and solar . These renewable power sources are intermittent in nature and require additional resources to shape and make the power generated from those fuel sources more firm and acceptable to transmission grid operators.

Using BC Hydro’s network of dams to firm or shape intermittent renewable power generated in British Columbia is smart policy. If the goal is to sell into the export market, it then makes economic sense to ensure that the BC electrons are firm and nicely shaped, and would command premium prices. In addition, BC firmed and shaped electrons become that much more valuable and have significant advantage over jurisdictions which use coal or natural gas to shape power from intermittent sources. Bottom line – you simply cannot expect to have strong domestic wind, run-of-river or solar energy industries in British Columbia without the complementary storage capacity.

So, after years of speculation, we now know that Site C will finally proceed to the permitting stage. There is much work yet to be done, but if successful, the massive storage capacity of Site C and BC’s heritage dam system will provide valuable battery-like capability to the great benefit of the Province’s renewable energy industry and to the Province as a whole. With the existing heritage dams and eventually Site C, BC is well positioned to harness the power and maximize economic value from its clean energy natural resources.