Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

BC’s Clashing Shades of Green

with 2 comments

Colleen Kimmett in the Tyee looks at the clash between  two groups whom ought to be allies, but who are fighting. And as usual with infighting, the intensity seems greater and the impact is  nastier. If you are already following all this in the list serves you probably do not need all this rehearsed, but the reason this article is being reviewed here today is that Powerup Canada is holding a conference is Vancouver today – and the conventional media are going to be all over this issue.

“There’s a new divide, with concern to environment voters, between those more traditional, who are concerned about wilderness preservation and wildlife, and those who are more urgently concerned about climate change,” [George Hoberg, a political scientist and forestry professor at the University of British Columbia] says.

On the one side are people like Rafe Mair, the Save Our Rivers Society, the Wilderness Committee and the Council of Canadians. On the other side are Tzeporah Berman, Mark Jaccard and others pushing the line that building green power sources quickly to replace fossil fuel is essential to reduce our carbon dioxide output. (Note too the corporate spin in the Sun piece as opposed to the Tyee’s even handed approach.)

In general, my sympathies lie in the “replace fossil fuel” side as it is true that in Canada we are not doing nearly enough to reduce our carbon footprint. Unfortunately, whatever we do with electricity generation in BC is going to look like a drop in the bucket compared with the production of the Alberta tar sands. But that is not an excuse for not doing anything.

On the other hand the current rush to put “run of the river” IPP projects on BC’s rivers shows only too clearly the lesson that the devil lies in the details. In theory, run of the river means the least environmental impact. In practice in BC many of the schemes being proposed require dams and large scale stream diversions – as well as construction roads and new power lines. Which is one reason why the public were so outraged at the proposals for the Upper Pitt River in a provincial park that even the BC Liberals blinked – and cancelled the project before it had really got started. About the only recent victory for public protest in BC and I cheered for!

Possibly the most offensive part of the current BC initiative is the way the process has been “streamlined” to ensure that as many projects get built as quickly as possible. People who have concerns rightly feel that they are being ignored in a process that cannot (on the whole) say “No”.  (The Pitt River was an exception.)  There is no cumulative impact assessment – each scheme goes forward on its own merits, and the best that can happen is that some of the impacts are mitigated.

The other thing that worries people is what happens once the private sector gets control of the water resources. Because the track record of the private sector and its use of NAFTA to override Canadian’s concerns about their environment is not encouraging. (The one that comes to my mind is Ethyl Corp and MMT but I am sure others can cite recent and more apposite cases.)

I find Rafe has most of the good arguments locally: there is no shortage of power in BC, the “run of the river” schemes mostly aren’t, and only produce power part of the year – during the spring runoff when BC Hydro’s reservoirs are already full. But the killer has been the recent California decision that most of the BC projects are too large to qualify as “green power” – because it was the prospect of selling to the California market and the juicy rates offered for green power that got the private sector involved in the first place. If there is no market for this power, why do we need to be persuaded to allow these projects?

And of course the other thing that the Green Power proponents miss is that there is still a great deal that can be done by reducing our power consumption – conservation, more energy efficiency, better planning, more transit – that will have a much bigger and more profound impact than a few more generating stations. And much more of that approach is needed across North America before any coal fired power stations will be shut down.

And if that last sentence grabs your attention I suggest you head on over to the Energy Bulletin and read Bill Henderson on “The Green Power Illusion”

Written by Stephen Rees

April 8, 2009 at 9:23 am

Posted in energy, Environment

2 Responses

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  1. I am somewhat skepitical about the motives of our current corporate goverment,with the recent revelation that Patrick KinSELLA is working on behalf of Plutonic power,everything that Kinsella has been involved with has been pretty smelly(ie BC RAIL-ALCAN giveaway-1.4 billion hydro privitization to Accenture-Pay Day loans-BC Gaming-Translink-now Plutonic)

    And what is even more bothersome is hoh many once senior Liberal goverment members are now employed as directers for Plutonic power.
    And some of the most experienced BC Hydro managers and engineers have been wooed and have received directerships and mangerial positions with Plutonic Power.
    And considering the broken promises about not selling BC Rail,and they have privitized many once crown operations,such as BC Ferries/Senios care/1/3 of BC Hydro-Translink,the final death blow to BC Hydro could be next.

    I have 2 links to articles–One is some research from Scott Simpson about the debate whether we are a exporter of power or a importer of power.The other link is the names of the high profile BC Liberal and BC Hydro staff that now have directerships at Plutonic Power.

    Grant g

    April 8, 2009 at 11:35 am

  2. Thanks Stephen for a timely article..I am not sure if I mentioned it already on your blog or..but the French government and the French National Hydro company helps homeowners who live too far from a village but close to a river install a run-of-river power plant (also solar panels and other energy saving devices.The income tax rebates are sizable). This is not new as my college science teacher did that in the 1960s and sold extra power back to EDF (Electricite de France). There are real estate companies specializing in old water mills (some go back to the Middle-Ages)that either already have a turbine or can be easily fitted with a small new one. No dams needed and the weir is already there. Other run-of-river power plants are owned by a “private” company that is actually a small town or village. In all cases the power is utilized as close to the production source as possible, without the need for huge transmission lines etc. This is done all over Europe, in Asia etc. Check and
    We have the same problem with power production in BC as with transit. Our politicians are clueless. California objections may be a wake-up call!

    Red frog

    April 8, 2009 at 12:05 pm

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