On October 8th I appeared on a panel in Portland, Oregon to discuss BC's renewable electricity future. The event was hosted by the Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee, an organization of private and public electricity utilities in the U.S. Pacific Northwest states, bringing together officials who wanted to learn about the renewable electricity "scene" in neighbouring BC.
In addition to me, as the only representative of BC’s environmental community, the panel was made up of:
- Les Maclaren, BC's Assistant Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources;
- Rohan Soulsby, BC Hydro's director of export market development;
- Paul Kariya, Executive Director of Clean Energy BC (the association of Independent Power Producers); and
- Mike MacDougall, director of trade policy for Powerex, BC Hydro's electricity export marketing subsidiary.
They were invited to tell the gathered executives about the Clean Energy Act, and BC's plans for ramped-up (perhaps the better electricity term would be "amped-up") renewable electricity generation and potential long-term exports to the United States.
I was invited to bring the US utilities up to speed on the significant environmental challenges that these plans pose for BC rivers and communities. In the few minutes I had, I attempted the feat of conveying the wide range of objections and critiques of the environmental community in relation to the Clean Energy Act (see West Coast’s backgrounder critiquing the Act), the proposed Integrated Resource Planning process to be conducted by BC Hydro under the Act, including the general lack of a serious and credible evaluation of the environmental impacts of building and operating heaps of new generation projects province-wide.
Sounds like a breeze, eh? The dynamic was interesting as there were government panelists extolling the virtues of their legislation and their proposed planning process (of which there are some, as West Coast has consistently said), and then I got to rain on the parade.
One interesting thing about all this is that the audience, electricity producers themselves, are not necessarily disposed in favour of BC muscling into their markets in a big way - so the virtually all-business audience (save for a small number of US conservation people who came out such as Trout Unlimited) appeared very interested to hear about the significant controversy over renewable electricity exports north of the border. There were also questions to BC Hydro as to whether it might not be better to take a more regional view of electricity supply, with a balanced role for imports from the US, rather than an emphasis on generating giant surpluses in BC to send south. Overall, though, the atmosphere was very cordial and the US utilities were just genuinely interested in hearing different perspectives on what is happening in BC.
Among other things, I pointed out West Coast’s concern, and those of our allies, that, if the government continues in the direction in which they appear to be headed, the Clean Energy Act, and the proposed Integrated Resource Plan will:
- result in unnecessary and unjustifiable environmental impacts.
- not ensure a transparent, inclusive and comprehensive planning process.
- not involve First Nations as decision-makers in their territories.
- commit us to generate a massive electricity surplus to likely be exported, with all the environmental impacts that that added generation entails, without any independent assessment of BC's true need for electricity.
At present it seems that the Clean Energy Act and integrated resource plan will not ensure that BC’s growing renewable electricity industry achieves social license let alone broad public support (social licence refers to society’s willingness to see an industry operate). I say "at present" because our meetings with a number of government various officials convince us that the planning process currently being considered will fail to address deep and longstanding concerns about the way renewable electricity projects are planned and developed in BC. Unless government planning addresses the critical environmental and social issues raised by these developments, and their cumulative effects of numerous potential developments at a regional scale, the public will remain deeply skeptical of the growing power industry.
Of course, West Coast and its allies will continue to push government to correct the course of its planning process and to improve environmental assessment for renewable electricity developments, and we'll keep you posted.
By Josh Paterson, Staff Counsel