FORT ST. JOHN -- The Site C dam is set to be filled this fall but the project is still two years away from completion, according to B.C. Hydro.

The dam will power about 450,000 homes or 1.7 million electric vehicles per year to meet the province’s future electricity needs. It will generate 1,100 megawatts of capacity to meet customer demand by 2030.

It’s the third energy management project on the Peace River after the W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon dams. It will generate about 35 per cent of the energy of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam with five per cent of the area.

The construction began in July 2015. It’s currently about 80 per cent done. The tunnel conversion to restrict the flow of water during the initial phase of the reservoir filling was completed this month.

“Over the past few months, we've had the completion of the Highway 29 realignment. We've had the completion of the Earthfill dam, and most recently we just completed the tunnel conversion process,” says Greg Alexis, the manager of public affairs and community relations for the Site C Project at B.C. Hydro.

COVID-19 is to blame for creating major challenges for construction crews. The pandemic stopped work for months due to health regulations. While the fill date for the reservoir is a year earlier that scheduled, the in-service date was pushed to a year later to 2025.

“COVID-19 definitely had a significant impact on the project. Before COVID, we were scheduled to go into service of all six units into service in the fall of 2024. As a result of COVID, we did lose some months of construction which pushed our schedule to 2025, and that's the schedule we're currently on right now and we're on track to meet it,” says Alexis.

The revised schedule caused risks and uncertainty for construction, noted B.C. Hydro in its annual report. It rearranged some of the tasks so crews could move the fill date to earlier. It also impacted the cost as the initial budget for the project increased from $10.7 billion to $16 billion.

“The overall project budget for the Site C is $16 billion. That budget was readjusted in 2021, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We continue to manage the project within that budget,” he said.

While COVID-19 was one of the reasons for the increase, Alexis points out that there were other contributing factors.

The reservoir will be filled this fall after the completion of the approach channels, dam intake structures and spillways. It will take four months to fill the dam with water rising around 30 cm to 2.5 metres a day. The site expects all six generating units to produce clean electricity by fall 2025.