COLUMN: Wounds suffered in B.C.’s climate war
Debate on the B.C. government’s climate change strategy has started to heat up, no pun intended. While both parties are foursquare in favour of conservation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the NDP is opposing the B.C. Liberal government’s plans.
Smart electricity meters in every home? Not worth the nearly $1 billion cost, since people don’t have that much choice about setting their thermostats and drying their clothes.
Requiring five per cent biofuel in diesel and gasoline? Though NDP MLAs have touted biofuels in the past, they’re opposing this one too, citing concerns about rising food prices and the uncertain benefits of growing crops to process into fuel.
Cap-and-trade legislation to make industry pay for emissions? The NDP favours the concept but voted against the government’s legislation because it’s too vague and secretive.
Environment Minister Barry Penner could hardly contain his glee: “The NDP is now closer to the Greens than they are to us in the polls, and I think it shows that the public gets that the NDP has vacated the field when it comes to environmental matters.”
Penner says the opposition’s biggest mistake is opposing green energy projects like wind farms and run-of-river power. The NDP called for a moratorium on river projects after a storm of protest over a plan for the Upper Pitt River.
Looking further into that one and river plans in general, I’d say the NDP has a stronger case there than it does on some of its other objections.
In an earlier column I said concerns about a power line through the nearby park were “balderdash.” I was wrong. It’s true that another big power line already runs through the same park, but this proposed route turns out to go through a haven for grizzlies, wolverines and mountain goats. Environment staff set up motion-sensor cameras that showed the animals, convincing Penner to refuse the route.
Gwen Barlee of the Wilderness Committee said this demonstrates what environmentalists have been saying. Run-of-river makes sense for some places, but to build them all over in the name of climate change is to underplay their other environmental impacts.
Pseudo-grassroots lobby groups have sprung up on both sides of the issue. The BC Hydro union is financing much of the opposition, playing on the privatization of rivers. Now another outfit called B.C. Citizens for Green Energy has emerged to promote independent power producers.
Its spokesman Bruce Sanderson attacks what he calls “the 500 rivers myth,” based on the nearly 500 water licence applications made since 1990. Indeed, only a few dozen have survived to the final approval stage.
Barlee counters with an engineering study commissioned by BC Hydro that identified one million potential hydro sites in the province, and estimated the development costs for the best 8,200.
Last year Hydro’s union hired SFU economist Marvin Shaffer to examine the B.C. Energy Plan, the document that’s driving all this independent power interest. The plan mandates energy self-sufficiency, and restricts BC Hydro to private, low-carbon power sources. He found that demand is exaggerated, and small hydro is a costly intermittent source painted green as a fix for climate change.
BC Hydro should upgrade the gas-powered Burrard Thermal plant instead of retiring it as planned, and use it for peak load periods, Shaffer says.
So why would the B.C. government want to dig up mountainsides and run power lines all over the province for a vast network of wind and small hydro?
One reason is that this network would subsidize industrial development, especially in remote areas.
If that’s what the B.C. Liberals are really up to, they should say so.