The Site C dam is one of the biggest energy infrastructure projects in Canada. When it’s completed, it will be able to generate about 5,100 gigawatt hours of electricity each year and power more than 400,000 homes. And Kamloops, B.C., Local 993 is set to begin work on it.

“It’s a great opportunity for our members,” said International Representative Laird Cronk. “This project is going to supply us with clean energy for the next 100 years.”  

Site C, a $9 billion project, is the third and last planned project in the province, reported, a provincial publication. All three reside on the Peace River located in northeastern British Columbia, a one-river design proposed in the 1950s that allows for increased efficiency. As such, Site C will use water already stored behind Bennet Dam which was constructed during the first project in 1967, or Site A, BC Hydro said.

The B.C. dam is on the same scale as another massive hydroelectric dam project on the East Coast at Muskrat Falls, also being built by IBEW members. According to Top 100, a list of Canadian infrastructure projects, Site C comes in at a higher price tag than its Atlantic counterpart, making it the second-largest infrastructure project in the country. Muskrat Falls ranks third.

“Site C and Muskrat Falls, two of the largest infrastructure projects in the country, are a testament to the skill and talent of IBEW working men and women,” said First District Vice President William Daniels. 

Portions of the massive project are being awarded over time. The piece that Local 993 will work on is estimated to cost $470 million and will involve transformer, generator and powerhouse work, Cronk said. The contract went to Voith Hydro, a German-based engineering company, that will design, supply and install six 183-megawatt, vertical axis turbines and generators.

Each turbine will have an output of 250,000 horsepower, equivalent to driving about 600 Ford Mustang GTs at maximum power, said the office of the BC premier in a news release. They’re so large that the fuselage of a Boeing 747 could fit through the penstock, a channel used to carry water. At maximum discharge, the turbine-generator units combined could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in one second, the release said.

The turbine contract will employ about 140 members at peak for approximately four years, said Local 993 Business Manager Glen Hilton. Work is set to begin in 2018. Additionally, about 25 members are at the worksite running power and hooking up trailers.

Voith negotiated a labour agreement with the Bargaining Council of British Columbia Building Trades Unions, which represents construction craft unions. The agreement includes participation from 10 B.C. unions. Voith CEO Bill Malus said the company will have local training opportunities in the Peace region and that it would rely on local subcontractors as much as possible, reported Business Vancouver.

But the project isn’t all union, something that differentiates Site C from its older, companion dams. The rest of the project is an open shop, reported Global News. Hilton says they lost a contract to do temporary power and maintenance to a nonunion bidder. If they had got it, the project would have employed about 60 electricians now and 100 more for the next three to four years.

Voith, along with the rest of the generator construction industry in North America, are IBEW signatories, Hilton said.

Historically, the B.C. government has been union-friendly. BC Hydro, a Crown corporation, adhered to an allied hydro agreement dating back to the 1960s. All such work would be union and in return, unions pledged to not strike. This is the first time it’s not being used on a hydro project.  

“The independent contractors had too much say,” Hilton said. “They convinced the government to go open shop.”

Hilton says that the province has been suffering from a “brain drain” in the building trades and construction industry.

“They aren’t cultivating their engineering staff,” he said of the provincial government’s hiring. “They don’t know union construction.”

Environmental concerns and First Nation land disputes have dogged Site C. Some protestors even camped outside the BC Hydro headquarters. But they appear to be having little influence on the project, reported Global News

“While this project has seen its share of controversy, the announcement that local, unionized workers will be utilized on this portion of the project was welcome news to IBEW B.C. local unions,” said the IBEW Canada website.

Construction of the Site C Dam began in the summer of 2015 and will finish in 2024.   

Photo credit: Andres M. Panti via a Creative Commons license.