Eggs, Baskets and Site C

In the last century, BC built dams to produce electricity. Currently we are considering building another one, the Site C dam. With a dam you build basically one big generating machine at some suitable site and transmit the power through many miles of wires to where it is needed.

I wonder if this is the right course to take? The dam is expected to cost eight billion dollars assuming no cost overruns. It will flood over 5300 hectares of land. There are costs to building and maintaining the transmission lines, and losses inherent in running electricity through wire. There is also the question of putting all your eggs in one basket. A dam gives a single point of failure for at least its share, and possibly more, of the electrical system.

“But dams are robust and contain multiple generators. It’s not going to fail!” one might say. True, dams rarely fail in any catastrophic way on their own. It does happen though. I’m sure the sink-holes in the WAC Bennet dam (an earth-fill dam like the Site C one is to be) have caused some people some uneasy sleep.

That unlikelihood aside, what of terrorist or foreign attack? Look at the security on the Hoover dam in the United States. A tourist going to see the dam crosses through a border-like checkpoint. The dam has its own police force. This is because if an enemy did manage to knock out the dam in one way or another the result could be truly disasterous.

“But we’re Canada!” one might say. Well, yes. We like to think of ourselves in terms of blue helmets bettering the lives of people in foreign lands. Everybody likes Canadians. That doesn’t seem to be as true as it once was however. We aren’t buying 65 F-35 jets to do northern search and rescue or to deliver food aid.

Take Libya for example. A rather one-sided civil war broke out. We and several others jumped in with responsibility to protect civilians. A laudable goal that there was and is a need for. Since then we, the partners in protecting Libyan civilians, have made it clear that only the removal of Qaddafi will suffice and we’re going to keep bombing till that happens. Then through the International Criminal Court we issue an arrest warrant for Qaddafi. Can you say “cornered animal”? The African Union says this “seriously complicates” efforts to find a political solution to the problem.

As Canada behaves more hawkishly in imposing our will in the world we can expect more enemies. What will be our place in the world when the Site C dam is ready to run in ten years or so?

I wonder if we might be smarter to take our eight billion dollars and build something more diversified? Build geothermal, solar and wind generating capability all over the province. Generate the power where it will be used. Start generating power today, not ten years from now. Build using technology that is only going to get cheaper in the next ten years as improvements come to market. No single point of failure in the system. No need to flood a valley. No need for new transmission lines. No huge project with potential for huge cost overruns. Clean, renewable, local power! Doesn’t that sound like a solution for this century?

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