Stephen Rees's blog

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Posts Tagged ‘run of the river hydro

Save our Rivers

with 4 comments

UPDATED 11:24 September 7, 2008

The following is a letter written by Damien Gillis which responds to a recent article in the Globe and Mail. While I could not find the article in the Globe archive one of my readers did (see comments below) so I have now put the link in where it should have been in the first place.

It is such a well written letter that I am passing it along in its entirety.

My name is Damien Gillis and I’m a Vancouver filmmaker producing the POWERPLAY documentary series for Save Our Rivers Society on the attempted give-away of BC’s rivers and historic public power system by the Campbell Government to multinational private power companies and global capital.  I strongly urge you to visit saveourrivers.ca to check out POWERPLAY, articles by our official spokesperson Rafe Mair, and other detailed information about private river power licenses and this private power agenda, which represents the greatest threat to our environment, economy, society, and ultimately, sovereignty.

Your recent article on attrition rates in BC Hydro’s “clean” power call tells only a small piece of this important story and almost leaves the impression that British Columbians should sympathize with poor little companies like General Electric-backed Plutonic Power, the largest player in the private power gold rush secretively initiated by the Campbell Government with neither the knowledge or consent of the public or indigenous peoples of BC who rightfully own these watersheds – the lifeblood of our ecosystems and foundation of our future energy security.  I assure you that Donald MacInnes and General Electric are the last people we need to feel sorry for in this story.

Since I can observe from your article that you have been under-informed about what is really going on with our energy policy in British Columbia, I’d like to take a moment to precis it for you – for future reference.

Under Gordon Campbell’s private energy plan, BC’s historic public power utility, BC Hydro, is banned from developing any new public power of its own and forced instead to buy ever increasing quantities of costly and needless private electricity – mostly from disastrous private river power projects that will destroy our invaluable watersheds, killing our fish and wildlife and releasing huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.  We are told these projects are green, while few utilities, neighbouring states or provinces recognize “run of river” power as green.  Note: this list includes PG&E, California’s largest utility and would-be buyer of BC electricity exports.  No cumulative studies have been done on what the overall ecological impacts would be to our province if anywhere near the over 600 rivers with private power licenses or applications on them were blown apart for private power. Nor have any eco-footprint studies been done to show that these projects would result in a net reduction in GHG emissions, as each project involves thousands of hectares of logging for elaborate road systems, transmission lines, the pipe that diverts up to 90% of a river’s flow for between 5 and 20 KM, the “headpond” are, which in some cases approaches a full-on dam, the power station, and more. Plutonic Power is one of the worst offenders in this category, with close to 100 km of transmission lines through an old growth management area just for one project on the East Toba and Montrose rivers.

Another myth used to justify what is ultimately the greatest resource theft in Canadian history is that we somehow /need/ this new “green” private power.  According to SFU economist Dr. Marvin Shaffer and other experts on BC Hydro like Dr. John Calvert , we do not: BC is already self-sufficient and only imports and exports power to make a profit for BC and keep our taxes and rates low.  And if we were in a panic to develop new power, why on earth would we /forbid/ our own public power utility from at least competing with private industry to develop new renewable public power?!  This is the same tactic – the manufactured crisis – that has been used all around the world to break totally viable and beneficial public power utilities and opening the door to a takeover by private power (note: California and Enron, for a recent example).

Another aspect of this heinous plan the public is not sufficiently aware of is the drastic way that it will effect their pocket books. Dr. Shaffer has termed BC’s private energy plan as “buy high, sell low” economics, because this new private river power comes at up to 20 times the cost of the public power we develop today from our historic dams – and is much more expensive than the rates Hydro sells power for today to consumers, industry and our neighbours. This can have only two results: one is much higher power bills for consumers and businesses, equaling job losses and tough times on the homefront; the other is the ultimate bankrupting of BC Hydro, our most important crown corporation – and the last public power utility in North America to be exempt from NAFTA and its “proportionality clause.” Private power boosters will say, “Yeah, but it’s no fair comparing new private power to our old dams – of course it’s more expensive today, just look at the budget for Site C – blah, blah…” The fact is is an entirely fair comparison if we don’t /need/ any of this new private power – theirs becomes a moot argument! But the key issue here is that we pay for the infrastructure and power, but we own nothing.  We are going from landlords of our own energy and destiny, to tenants – at the mercy of corporations for whom the public’s interests run exactly contrary to their own strict profit imperative…and all this for no good reason!  You must at some point ask yourself, “Why, for God’s sake would a people ever go along with such a thing?” They would and they are – only because they don’t know about it.  And that’;s where you come in.

In addition to ultimately bankrupting our last profitable crown corporation, BC Hydro, these new private river power contracts will deprive us of control over our water and energy – the very things wars will increasingly be fought over around the world. The ultimate irony with this disastrous, secretive scheme, is that while British Columbians fund the new private power infrastructure, we will wind up owning nothing, being in serious debt, losing our prized public power assets, and being stuck with crushing electricity rates like Californians – more than four times higher than the rates we enjoyed up until Gordon Campbell got ahold of our province and public energy system.

When you write of attrition, you neglect the fact that many – perhaps /all – /of these projects are simply not environmentally viable to begin with and should be rejected with any level of environmental assessment (which we don’t have), not to mention the fact that these companies got ahold of our rivers virtually for free (the initial license application fee was $168.50, eventually rising as high as a whopping $10,000 – for a potential multi-million, even billion dollar asset!!! I paid more than $168.50 to obtain a deck permit from the City of Vancouver; by comparison, the right to control and profit exclusively from an invaluable natural asset seems like, well, a /steal/, wouldn’t you say?).  As for the relatively minor investment (and I include in that the several million dollars in deposits and initial investments you refer to, /relative /to a multi-million dollar project), just how little risk do you think it’s reasonable for these folks to have – /zero?  /Are you are aware that the infrastructure costs for these projects are either born directly by the BC taxpayer/Hydro rate payer (as in the case of transmission lines) or indirectly, as the lucrative 40-year contracts that successful projects garner underwrite the financing needed for them? In the end, a few million dollars is about all these companies will ever go out of pocket – again, /chump change/ relative to lucrative annuities these private projects on our public rivers provide.

I hope that today’s article was the last sob story for the poor old private power industry that I read from you – and I sincerely hope that you look into this story a little – or /a lot -/ deeper in the future. British Columbians and Canadians alike desperately need to know that their watersheds are being given away for bogus reasons right under their noses…and apparently under your nose too.

I look forward to your next article on the subject.  Thank you for your time, Patrick.

Damien Gillis
producer, POWERPLAY series

Written by Stephen Rees

September 7, 2008 at 7:49 am