The B.C. government is boasting of a clean, green and visionary solution to the province's energy needs by announcing it will move forward with a massive hydroelectric project on the Peace River.

The Site C dam could be up and running by 2020, providing about 900 megawatts of power and 4,600 gigawatt hours of electricity every year, Premier Gordon Campbell said Monday.

Campbell made the announcement at the W.A.C. Bennett dam, in the northeast corner of the province, the first dam on the Peace River to generate power for the province, starting in 1968.

Campbell told politicians, B.C. Hydro employees and those who worked on the Bennett dam decades ago, that the government will follow the footsteps of visionary politicians who pushed forward with the Bennett dam.

"As we travel around the world on behalf of British Columbia and tell the world that 90 per cent of our power is clean power, they are in awe," Campbell said. "They're incredulous that we were able to think that far ahead."

The premier said power is the single most important competitive advantage for B.C. industries.

But construction of the Site C dam, which was estimated years ago to cost about $6 billion, is far from guaranteed.

Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom said there are many hoops to jump through before the construction moves on to the next stage.

The project will have to undergo environmental assessment, and the government is required by law to consult with local First Nations.

Area residents and governments will need to be consulted and design work will have to be completed, Lekstrom said.

Premier Campbell said there's an urgent need for clean power and this project is the "critical lynch pin for building a clean environment."

The reservoir created behind the dam would be 83 kilometres long, but the premier pointed out that that's just one-fifth the size of the reservoir created by the Bennett dam five decades ago, which flooded out entire First Nations communities.

Critics say the dam is anything but environmentally friendly.

The Sierra Club of B.C. called the decision to move ahead with the project "misguided," and said the project fails to meet minimum international standards for large dam construction.

Sierra director George Heyman said the construction could substantially increase B.C.'s carbon emissions.

The government can also expect stiff opposition from some local First Nations, who say they're "outraged" by the decision.

"Treaty 8 First Nations continue to be frustrated with British Columbia's disregard of their treaty rights when it comes to cumulative impacts of resource development," said Chief Liz Logan in a news release.

She said the government is moving forward without even addressing past infringements of their rights in the construction of the two other dams on the Peace River.

Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nation called the entire process a "farce," and said the government hadn't finished the second stage of the development process, so he doesn't know how it can go ahead to the third.

Willson said First Nations in the area haven't seen studies on land use, wildlife, the fishery or the cultural significance of the region, and the process can't move on to environmental assessments without that work.

"The Peace River is one of the biggest known archeological sites in Canada. The whole river system was the corridor and highways for First Nations around here," he said.

In January, four decades after the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation was flooded out by the nearby W.A.C. Bennett dam, the band received compensation.

The Liberal government and B.C. Hydro agreed to pay the Tsay Keh Dene a one-time payment of $20.9 million and annual payments of $2 million for as long as power is produced at the facility.

The premier and his entourage were also greeted by about 50 protesters at the airport in Hudson's Hope.

The protesters chanted "No Site C," and carried signs reading "Site C is an unnecessary evil" and "Site C Sucks."

Local resident David Blaney said people in the region don't support the project because it will waste energy and destroy land.

Andrew Weaver, the Canada research chair in atmospheric science, said while farmers may have complaints about losing the land, hydro one of the lease obtrusive ways to generate power.

Weaver said it fits the definition of a green project.

"Clean energy is historically defined as energy that does not produce greenhouse gases, so hydro power is an example of a non-emitting energy system."

Campbell said construction would create about 7,600 direct jobs and many thousands more in indirect jobs.