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VICTORIA — British Columbia’s government has given the green light for construction of the massive Site C hydroelectric dam on the Peace River in the province’s northeast.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett says the decision to go ahead with the $8.5-billion project is what’s best for ratepayers and what’s best for B.C.

The dam would be the third on the river, flooding 5,550 hectares of land over an 83-kilometre stretch of valley.

Crown-owned utility BC Hydro says Site C would generate an estimated 1,100 megawatts of capacity, or enough to power the equivalent of 450,000 homes a year.

A joint federal-provincial environmental assessment panel made no clear recommendation for or against the project last May, but First Nations and environmental groups vow to fight the proposal in the courts and through public protests.

Bennett said earlier if the government approves the dam, construction could start as early as this January, with a completion date of 2024.

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