Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Some thoughts about Site C

Original version published in 24 hours on April 22nd

Recently the government announced the go ahead for the Site C dam on the Peace River. This is the first new major dam in North America in a generation, large scale dam building is something from the time when cars had fins and TV was black and white..

Site C is put forward as the great answer for power self sufficiency in BC. Certainly 4600 GWh per year is good, enough to provide power to over 400,000 houses. But there are downsides, the biggest of which is the flooding of close to 14000 acres of land along the Peace River. How big is that? Imagine 14 Stanley Parks. Site C also means the citizens of BC will be on the hook for at least $6.6 billion in new BC Hydro debt.

Site C is not the only option we have in BC, there are better private sector answers available. How does Site C compare to a private green energy project?

The Plutonic Power Bute Inlet project will produce 2900 GWh per year, about 2/3s the capacity of the Site C. This project will directly impact less than 50 acres of land, which is good because more flooded land means more CO2 from a reservoir. The roads needed are already there because of logging, though they will need new transmission lines. The Plutonic project will cost $3.5 billion and citizens will not be on the hook for a penny of it.

Site C is not the best option for BC, but will it even manage to go forward?

The first hurdle is the environmental assessment. This process is rigorous and demands a lot from proponents but is is a process misunderstood by the public. Of the roughly 200 projects that have entered the EA process it is true only one was refused a certification, but that does not mean every other project was approved. The reality is that proponents either withdraw from the process or stop if the environmental requirements become too expensive. About 40% of projects that enter the EA process do not get approval. The process is certainly not a rubber stamp.

The EA process assesses environmental impacts and then sets goals to mitigate the impact of the project. The Achilles heel of the Site C dam is the loss of close to 14,000 acres of land in the Peace River area, of which 8000 is some of the best farmland in BC. How do you mitigate that damage? What action can BC Hydro take to remove this one huge impact on the environment? The loss of this land would be the biggest loss of agricultural land since 2000.  Would the Agricultural Land Commission North Panel even allow the land to be removed from the agricultural land reserve?

Even if through some improbable miracle Site C were to manage to get EA certification, I am not sure how any government would be able to weather the political storm that would come from North America wide opposition to building the dam. It will end up costings us hundred of millions to plan and consult about a dam that will never be built.. The time to stop this waste of money is now.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Green Energy Taskforce Report

I have to say underwhelmed is the best I can muster for the Green Energy Taskforce Report.   They had a mandate to provide recommendations on all aspects of green energy production in BC and they produced a document that is more platitudes and motherhood statements than any sort of detailed recommendations.

Here is one of the recommendations:

2. Increase Clean Electricity Demand in B.C.
Growing a low-carbon economy means attracting new investment to B.C. that can be supplied by B.C.’s clean electricity. Clean technology industries, like data centers, could be incented to locate in B.C. to take advantage of data networks.
Recommendation 4: Bring the load/business/jobs to the electrons–actively recruit and attract new low-carbon industry (such as server farms for the Interior).

Where does one start with this?   First of all the recommendation is "Increase Clean Electricity Demand in BC" and not attract greener industries.   The two parts do not connect.   The only way to increase the demand for clean electricity is to remove the BC Hydro monopoly of sales of power so that consumers can choose where they get the power from.    The short paragraph and recommendation there make no sense in the context of green energy.  They do not say who should attract these business to locate in the interior BC or the other impediments to being there.

There are very few clear concrete recommendations within the taskforce report.  A number of the ones verging on having a clear direction are things that are already going on.

 Here is a list of the somewhat more clear recommendations I could find are:

  • Complete Revelstoke and Mica dam capacity for power generation
  • Move forward on Site C and Site E
  • Move procurement, generation operations, and export outside of BCUC regulation.
  • Develop a Lowe Carbon Transition Plan (though dates for when)
  • By September 30, 2010, and using existing data and information layers, develop a renewable energy zoning map for the Province that identifies where development of renewable energy and transmission is appropriate and inappropriate.
  • Direct BC Hydro to amend bioenergy electricity purchase agreements (EPAs) to transfer the biomass fuel price risk through to BC Hydro so that if biomass fuel prices increase, BC Hydro will correspondingly adjust the purchase price of electricity. (I do not like this one)
  • Establish a B.C.-owned Biomass Fuel Aggregator to access and aggregate woody biomass from provincial forest land, and supply fuel to bioenergy project developers.
  • Increase the Innovative Clean Energy (ICE) Fund from $25 million to $50 million with a commitment to review funding levels every two years. Restructure the ICE Fund with an expanded team of investment professionals and consider moving it outside of government as a separate, stand-alone organization.
  • Implement a royalty credit and/or tax credit program to provide the necessary incentives to industry to use clean energy technologies at remote installations in B.C., such as mining, natural gas operations and communities.
  • The Province should develop a regional green energy planning process
  • The Province should expand the current revenue sharing model to include the sharing of revenue collected by the Province with First Nations on all types of green energy.

Even this list find is full of statements that are really not offering much.   What I was looking for was something with a lot more specifics.   I was looking for detailed background on each recommendation including deadlines and how the recommendation should be implemented.  All in all, the report is short enough on details that it could be used to justify almost any action in relation to green energy in BC.

There are other recommendations that many will say have specific actions for government, but I would argue they are too vague or they are not realistic in BC.

The submission I made to the taskforce had some very specific recommendations with details of what should be achieved and by when.  It also contained a lot more details with respect to scope and scale of power production now and in the future, prices for power here and elsewhere, specific issues with the grid, and where new green power could accessed without building any significant infrastructure.   I am only one person and working on that on the side of my desk.  They taskfroce report does not impress me.