BC Hydro has forecast a $610 million cost increase to its Site C dam project, pushing the total to almost $9 billion, according to a letter posted on the Site C Inquiry website on Wednesday.

​Former BC Hydro CEO and president Marc Eliesen predicted Thursday that the project will be terminated, given this cost overrun early in the project and opposition.

In the letter to the BC Utilities Commission, BC Hydro CEO Chris O'Reiley wrote that "development in the project is expected to increase its cost by 7.3 per cent or $610 million, for a total forecast project cost of $8.945 billion."

The project is currently under review by an independent panel appointed by the BC New Democratic Party government, even as it's being constructed, with around 2,200 people currently working at the site in northeastern B.C. The province will decide after review whether it makes sense to finish building the $8.8-billion project, or scrap it and look to alternative power sources. The company says the project's construction will create hundreds of jobs in B.C.

The project, which was strongly supported by the previous BC Liberal government, has met some strong opposition in the Peace River Valley region, notably from farmers and Indigenous groups who argue the project proponents failed to get informed consent before starting to build the dam.

Eliesen commented that this was an early sign that the project would run over its promised budget. He is among a number of people scheduled to address the inquiry panel next week.

"This is just a start," he told National Observer by phone on Thursday. "I'd estimated this project would run over budget significantly from its scheduled $9 billion to nearly $12 billion, recognizing that this is only in the second year of a nine-year construction schedule. This is significantly over budget.

"This is a sign of things to come. The entire project has been mismanaged. BC Hydro has not been transparent with the public and it's been running into all these difficulties."

Eliesen said B.C. doesn't need the extra electricity, especially now that large-scale LNG projects have been cancelled.

"If the economics are terrible, the other aspects which are equally important — I'm referring to Indigenous rights and loss of agricultural land — will also be taken into account. I think they will terminate the project," Eliesen said.

B.C. Energy Minister Michelle Mungall told National Observer the BCUC will use the information provided by BC Hydro as it continues through the review process and in completing its final report, which is due November 1.

"This is an independent review by the BCUC. I want to respect that process, so I will not make any further comment at this time," Minister Mungall said in an email. “Once we have the final report, government will consider the advice from the BCUC, along with other environmental and First Nations considerations, and make a final decision on the future of Site C in a timely manner.”

BC Hydro spokeswoman Mora Scott said the company submitted the letter as part of responses to a number of the questions raised by the BC Utilities Commission in their Sept. 20 preliminary report.

"Out of respect for the independent review process, BC Hydro will not be commenting," she said.

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