How much energy does BC need to be electricity self-sufficient in five years? Ten years? Twenty years? Predicting how much electricity BC will need is based on many things like population growth, consumption needs, increase of business and industries that consume large amounts of power. Not only do you have to predict how much power BC needs, but how you are going to produce that power taking into consideration many factors like the length of time to build a project, global warming and its effect on water and wind.

Why does BC need to be electricity self-sufficient? Simply, to meet the electricity needs in BC without having to rely on other jurisdictions that may or not have electricity for sale at reasonable prices when BC needs it. Also, to keep jobs and investment in BC and wisely use the resources we have. And most importantly, to produce electricity based on the values that have been established ie. 93% Clean energy and reduce greenhouse gases. If BC has to import power, it is usually from Alberta or Washington and is coal or natural gas generation-which is not clean energy and produces greenhouse gases.

On Friday, the government of BC decided to change the definition of Electricity Self Sufficiency to using “average” water years, not critical years as it has been for years.  They also decided to do away with “insurance electricity” or “just in case electricity”. In order to achieve this, they will need to bring amendments to the Clean Energy Act, but since the Liberals have a majority and according to media reports, the NDP are on side and the only opposition being the Conservatives who at this point don’t have a seat in the legislature, this could be a done deal unless there is more opposition from the public.-w

On September 4, 2011, I wrote a blog on the Review of BC Hydro: Could be Loss of Opportunity for First Nation in the Clean Energy Industry. I warned First Nations and others that if the government moved to a definition of Energy Self Sufficiency to average water years, there would be little or no opportunity for First Nations in the industry and the Business Opportunity Clean Energy Fund would be a symbol of another broken promise of the Government. Now, five months later, the government has made a decision that really is like a double-edged sword. First Nations and others still need to be concerned with this change in definition for many reasons.

The BC Government’s short-sighted decision in my opinion is one that will hurt the people of BC in the long run and create uncertainty for BC to meet the electricity needs of people and business in BC. This is a critical decision and they chose to try and hide the importance of this decision by releasing their Natural Gas Strategy to try and overshadow the issue of electricity self sufficiency. In their press release, the issue is a “backgrounder”, an after thought to their strategy on Natural Gas. Everyone can see through their tactics and most of the news reports I read determined that the main issue was electricity self-sufficiency with Natural gas as a secondary issue.

Sometimes governments react quickly to situations, make statements that they later regret and then feel they have to maintain that course because they defended that course of action so vociferously and unthinkingly. Such is the case in this instance with the BC government’s gut reaction to keeping hydro prices low for BC residents.

All of a sudden the proposed increase price of power proposed by BC Hydro becomes a political hot potato, so the BC government decides to do a Review of BC Hydro, for surely it is BC Hydro’s fault that they want to increase the price of power. It couldn’t be the framework of laws and policies the government makes BC Hydro operate in. So they appoint 3 people who are not experts on energy and have them do more of a red pencil review of BC Hydro, where can they make cuts so the cost of power does not increase. They don’t look at the implications of their recommendations as they do not understand them.

The recommendations come out and in particular, the need to redefine electricity self sufficiency to average water years and do away with the “insurance” electricity-, and the Minister and Premier jumped on these recommendations. They didn’t think what it would mean to the First Nations in BC who have becomes fully engaged in the Clean Energy industry, as over 125 First Nations are involved in projects. Nor did they think how it would impact the objectives for First Nations in the Clean Energy Act or the Clean Energy Business Fund that was established to help First Nations get into the Clean Energy sector as well as revenue sharing. This was based on new Independent Power Projects and if there were no new projects, there would be no opportunity for First Nations to get involved in the industry, so the Fund would not be needed.

They also did not take into consideration the Independent power producers who bring billions of dollars of investment into the province and the thousands of jobs they create. After the report came out, the government promised they would have a new definition and action plan within the month. Finally, 5 months later, they unroll the important definition of electricity self-sufficiency. Obviously they had to take time to devise a plan on how to save face with First Nations, IPP’s, environmentalist and climate change experts and the public of BC. They needed to find a way to keep the definition of average water years to save face for their earlier statements and try and bring people on side.

I always wait for the day when governments have enough leadership, enough courage and conviction to state, we have rethought our position and realize that on sober second thought we have to change our original proposed course of action. It just never happens.

So by BC moving to a definition that means average water years, means there will be shortages of power more often than there is now, meaning more imports of power. Those critical or low waters years are becoming more and more frequent, global warming is impacting water flows.
The press release and strategy documents raves about this opportunity for Liquid Natural gas (LNG) as a good one for it will reduce the use of coal generated electricity in Asia and the use of more clean energy with LNG. Why does this make sense when BC has to buy coal fired power and supports exports of coal to Asian and other markets to make power?

This was a very sad and disappointing announcement from this government.
They chose to try and placate First Nations and Independent power producers by making the LNG plants fire their plants by electricity, making sure there is an increase in electricity that IPP’s can help produce. They further try and placate residents of BC by saying that these producers must help pay for the infrastructure and thereby keeping power prices down. How will they placate anyone when there isn’t enough power in BC and other jurisdictions hike up the cost of power as BC did during the California crisis?

Don’t get me wrong, the LNG plants for First Nations who chose to get involved like the Haisla did, are good opportunities. If First Nations feels these projects can be done in an environmentally sustainable way, in a manner that does not impact their rights and title, the opportunity can create revenue and jobs for the communities.
I continue to have serious concerns about fracking and the impacts on water and other environmental issues and I know I am not alone on that issue.

So, after months and months of waiting to see how the government would deal with this very important and critical issue, we now know that we are in very troubled waters and that the future of electricity production for self-sufficiency will suffer for political gain. What else is new? The debate will continue, but in the long run, people have to grapple with the issue of increased costs of producing electricity and the infrastructure that is needed to get it to your homes and businesses. Also we have to ensure that when you want power for your computer or your business, it is there for you. Electricity self-sufficiency, a lot more complicated than just turning on the switch.

There is still time to make the debate a raging debate. It will take time to get amendments to the Clean Energy Act through the legislature, time that you can use to let the government know what you think, it is our future-will it be with the lights on or off?


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