Posted by: jmtoriel | May 26, 2008

IPPs in BC – a shift away from green power

BC is following a seemingly “responsible” and harmless path that turns out to have an expensive and unsustainable destination. An attempt to backtrack and find out just where we went wrong may be an unsettling reality we could face in the near future if we continue down the current path. The drive to promote biofuels has shown this to be true in a very short time frame.

This is how I foresee the current ‘Independent Power Producer’ scenario with BC Hydro and the BC Government. 
Having worked on a research project for BC Hydro’s Power Smart Green Power Certificates, I could not figure out why we imported so much energy from thermal coal while taking so much pride in producing and selling clean, “green” hydro to our neighbours down south. Keeping cheap prices has been their number one mantra over the years, the result from saving expenses by shutting down dams over night and buying cheap, subsidized coal power from Alberta and the US to cover the peak hours has tarnished its “green” public image and caused a tremendous backlog of power generation. IPPs are only concerned with generating a profit and that means selling power to the US market at a cheap rate.
The panic button seems to have been pressed by shifting the “responsibility” to private producers that are out to make a quick buck by generating quick-fix small hydro and run-of-river in a rush to fulfill the energy demand (with no more feasible rivers in close proximity to urban centers) and make BC self-reliant. The need to build Site C (and it will be 10 years too late, over budget, and ecologically destructive) becomes a must-build option that the public will find hard to swallow. So, the question really is: what is the cost of cutting costs, allowing private companies to capitalize on selling BC power and saving for a rainy day?
Well, in my opinion it’s pouring. There are 44 operating IPPs and dozens more signed on to produce for 20 years. Licenses are being granted to dozens of IPP micro and small hydro projects as if the land was free and the amount of rivers to be tapped is seemingly endless. Speculation reigns as the new determinant of price. It is a gold rush. The environmental assessments measure the projects individually without accounting for the cumulative affect. Glacial melt, salmon runs, damage to transmission lines from forest fires and other ecological determinants are unmentioned. Much like the tar sands in Alberta, we suffer the impacts at home while the energy goes elsewhere in a very unsustainable fashion. Is this “responsible” and “accountable”? Do all British Columbians and grid power recipients benefit? No, and it certainly isn’t “sustainable”.
Here is the real crisis: Cheap energy dependency alongside the Climate Crisis. 
BC should produce more green energy (less micro, more wind, tidal, wave and solar – creating a model similar to Germany’s which has established thousands of green collar jobs in this shift to green power), sell less abroad, buy none from abroad (another important step), and conserve more at home. `Net metering’ is a fantastic step forward. The carbon tax as well. We need to focus on these demand-side energy reduction mechanisms with incentives. On the supply-side, we should support renewable energy projects that are publicly owned and operated for greater accountability, supporting elimination of all existing oil and gas subsidies to shift towards developing infrastructure in proven renewable energy infrastructure (not just research grants).
BC could and should be a leader here and it has tremendous potential to make this a reality. Even in times of crisis, opportunities abound. 



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