Community Comment, By Michael Watson
Now that the dust has settled from May’s surprising election we must continue to question the government’s currently flawed provincial energy plan. It is mismanaged, unregulated environmentally, and continues to not be in the best interest for British Columbians. Since its windfall start in the early 2000’s under the BC Liberals BC Hydro has acquired $54 billion in debt to Independent Power Producer (IPP) contracts. As a result it is leading the provincial Crown corporation directly into bankruptcy. For the first time ever, BC Hydro is forecast to run at a loss of one billion dollars over the next four years.
Prior to this the public hydroelectric utility provided funding for public infrastructure, produced reliable low carbon power, and maintained long-term energy security.
Aside from the sub-par environment regulations particularly associated with run-of-river IPP’s, these projects continue to be rampant province wide with over 800 applications to date. They have no long-term cumulative impact planning, require no local and First Nations input, and are simply not required for B.C.’s long-term energy needs.
The election promise of liquefied natural gas terminals in the north, which would be supplied with ‘green’ IPP energy, shows the current government’s complete lack of foresight. Not only is IPP run-of-river unreliable and intermittent, it is also far too expensive to run the LNG plants.
BC Hydro is left holding the bag, so to speak, and is contractual obligated to buy this expensive IPP energy. According to BC Hydro, IPPs produce less than 20 per cent of the total provincial electricity supply, yet BC Hydro owes over $54 billion in private energy contracts. The economics don’t add up and is congruent with the government’s financial inaptitude by benefiting private and not public interests.
Previously, BC Hydro could take advantage of ‘negative pricing’ during times like now where there is abundance of electricity in B.C. Due to the private contract obligations BC Hydro it is unable to take advantage of this cheap energy.
On a local scale, the Revelstoke area is far from exempt of run-of-river development. Currently two projects are underway with a third one close to approval. As reported a few weeks ago in the Times Review, McKay Creek is expected to start construction this month. I had an opportunity to tour the lower section of the proposal a year ago and couldn’t help but notice the sheer beauty of the canyon and the numerous large cedars that dotted the landscape.
Once built, the canyon will be a lot more silent and the cumulative impacts from the project on the surrounding landscape won’t be known for years to come.
To the south of Revelstoke lies the once-pristine watershed of Cranberry Creek.
In 2005 the landscape was changed forever when Advanced Energy Systems constructed their 6.6-megawatt run-of-river project. The facility diverts 2.1-kilometres of the creek just below the old Walter Hardman dam and has successfully scarred the landscape forever. Recently on a hike into the area, which contains cedars measuring upwards of two meters in diameter, I discovered that construction has commenced on a 3.3 MW addition to the existing facility. The new addition that was essentially approved in 2008 and will divert about three kilometres of Cranberry Creek, removing a large portion of the water from that stretch. The addition (along with the original project) went through no public consultation process and letters from me to the company have fallen on deaf ears. The company has started to construct a road on the south side of the pristine Cranberry Creek and stockpile construction materials without any media attention. This addition is a prime example of the potential for these ‘spider-web’ networks to run rampant in B.C. going deeper and deeper into the shrinking pristine wilderness.
The fact of the matter is these IPPs that supposedly promise long-term energy security do anything but. The electricity coming from run-of-river facilities comes at a time when BC Hydro’s reservoirs are at capacity and there is an excessive amount of power. The regulation process behind these projects is despicable, putting private interests before the public good and the commons. The BC Energy Plan is purely not in the best interest of British Columbians because it continues to bankrupt the once profitable BC Hydro.
So write the Provincial government urging them to terminate the IPP program and write the companies building run-of-river projects asking them to participate in local meaningful community consultation – even if your letter will probably fall on deaf ears.
Revelstoke resident Michael Watson has been active in lobbying against IPPs since 2009.
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