"While many large infrastructure projects . . . experience public opinion resistance, this has not been the case for Site C. The majority of people believe there is a collective responsibility to ensure energy supplies for future generations . . . and that [with provisos] this project makes sense for the province ."
Harris Decima Research report, August 2012
THE Harris Decima province-wide survey commissioned by BC Hydro found that 49 per cent of British Columbians "have heard nothing about the project so far" and that another 25 per cent "have heard only a little" about it.
Maybe that accounts for the lack of "public opinion resistance" to the proposed Site C dam project?
Because the most important revelation to come out of the report is that, after deducting 605 respondents from the pollsters' sample of 807, you're left with only one in four survey participants whose selfreported knowledge of the subject qualified them to offer an informed opinion as to whether or not it "makes sense for the province" to proceed with Hydro's $6-8 billion project in the Peace River Valley near Hudson's Hope.
The report fails to disclose whether the data derived from the remaining answers were calculated on the entire sample of 807 or only on answers provided by the "qualified" group of 202 survey participants.
Given a few rushed "Get the call over with, our dinner's burning on the BBQ," the telephone pollsters were likely happy to take whatever they could get by way of an answer, "regardless of (a participant's) level of understanding" - to use a Harris-Decima phrase.
But even when participants considered they were informed on an issue, their level of understanding was grounded in information provided by Hydro itself and only to the extent the data had been filtered through the voices of journalists, online social media and personal beliefs.
Bearing that in mind, let's look at some of the other findings.
Fourteen per cent of respondents think there is a shortfall of electricity production over demand but, in any event, 52 per cent believe that "over the next ten years, major changes will be needed to cope with rising demand."
Those results have no value, of course, if we cannot trust that Hydro's demand-projections are based on industry-valid calculations and not just estimates massaged to fit the political exigencies of the provincial government.
Hydro-watcher and retired economist Erik Andersen maintains the utility "consistently ignores its own forecasting history - that is, the discrepancies between its previous demand-projections and the actual domestic demand recorded."
Andersen is convinced that the utility's record of serial exaggeration is then "exploited by the B.C. Liberals as justification for Hydro to obligate itself and, by extension, British Columbians to unnecessary, expensive contracts with independent power producers (IPPs)."
With the caveat that survey questions about conservation encouraged motherhood answers, it was no surprise that 77 per cent of respondents made their support for the project conditional upon a thorough environmental review.
Good for them, because the report gave no indication that researchers had provided participants with details of the widespread flooding and population displacement that will happen should the project go ahead.
Now we come to the area where researchers found the strongest expressions of support - as defined by respondents' answers to questions about the potential long-term effects of the project.
The knowledge that 62 to 91 per cent agree that a Site C dam is "one of the best ways to ensure the province meets the power and infrastructure needs of future generations," is of little significance unless Hydro took care to inform respondents about the projected lifespan of the dam itself.
What details? Well, little things like the 1983 B.C. Utilities Commission Profile of the Peace River .
"It very much illustrates the dependence of the Peace Canyon Dam and the proposed Site C on the well-being of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam," said Sandra Hoffmann, a resident of the area.
By "well-being," Hoffmann is referring to the fact that Site C, at an elevation of 462 metres in a slump-and slide-prone region, must rely on the continued integrity of the Bennett Dam (elevation 672 m).
"W.A.C. Bennett would need to survive to 153, about 70 years longer than any large earth-filled dam on the planet! There is definitely a potential for a domino effect, should anything happen upstream," Hoffmann said.
Lastly, when it comes to energy costs and self-sufficiency, it's a good thing respondents placed those low on their list of priorities because Andersen needs barely a nudge to tackle the issue.
"BC Hydro is meant to serve B.C.'s residential and commercial customers. The intent behind demand-exaggeration, over-buying and over-contracting, is to create a surplus-of-power situation to support new industry," he said.
"But there's a dark side - new generation capacity costs nearly triple what new industrial customers expect to pay. The unsustainable need for residential and commercial customers to subsidize new industry will be just another way of exporting jobs overseas."
The volume of knowledge I don't have about the politics, projects and operation of BC Hydro would fill a small encyclopedia.
What I do know, is that it's misleading to report that people believe Site C dam "makes sense for the province" if they haven't been given information enough to support an informed answer.