The disjointed and conflicting energy policies of the provincial government and its development of the natural gas industry raise a number of questions.
Question 1: If we are concerned about the province's carbon footprint, why is it better to have our non-renewable natural gas transported to the coast, compressed and then shipped to China rather than burning it at home?
It's hard to think of a good answer to this one. The atmosphere is global, so generating CO2 in China or anywhere else is just as harmful to the environment as generating it here in B.C.
In fact, not having to expend energy to pipe it to the coast or to compress the gas implies less energy being expended and, therefore, less generation of CO2. I'm beginning to wonder if the option to not export gas was ever considered by the premier and her advisers. Are they so dazzled by visions of the magnitude of the LNG export project that rational analysis went by the board?Â
Question 2: Why is it a good thing to tear up large parts of our wilderness at vast expense to lay gas pipelines rather than using the gas in situ and allocating the money saved by not building the pipelines for other pressing priorities?
The analysis required to respond to this question is perhaps more taxing for policy makers in Victoria. Yes, building the pipelines will generate substantial short-term employment. But, burning the gas in the northeast where it is found to power electric turbines to generate electricity needed by the gas and mining industries (including primary processing of ore) as well as by both commercial and residential markets would certainly be far less expensive than building Site C and the long-distance transmission lines needed to take that power to market.
Moreover, the heat generated from producing electricity could be used to heat both homes and businesses in the nearby communities.Â
Question 3: Why are we planning to continue to take the benefits of the Columbia River Treaty in the form of cash rather than in electricity?Â
This is truly baffling. The budget is tight and getting tighter and the government doesn't want to raise taxes. In the past BC Hydro has been forced to pay the government billion-dollar dividends and giving up cash due under the treaty would be difficult. But, we should consider that taking power instead could postpone the building of Site C and the huge capital investment it requires.Â
The joint review panel on Site C began hearings yesterday in Fort St. John. The question the commissioners should consider is: Is this project necessary?
Those concerned about the significant increases in hydro rates just announced by Minister Bill Bennett will be apoplectic when costs of financing the $8 billion bill for the dam are added to rates.
How did we end up in this situation where hugely important questions are being decided without examining all the options?Â
First, recall that legislation adopted under Gordon Campbell says only electricity generated in B.C. is acceptable in the longer term. (This is the same legislation that gave businesses a licence to print money under private power contracts - now, fortunately, under review.) The 160 megaWatts of power generated on the Columbia south of the border is ours and would meet our needs well into the 2030s. Selling at retail in B.C. would generate profits for BC Hydro and dividends for the government. That is having your cake and eating it too.
Moreover, successive Liberal governments have gradually neutered the Utilities Commission so now government has no countervailing source of advice to the dam-crazed Hydro executives. Effectively, only third-rate choices are on the table.
If ever there was a need for leadership to reverse this self-defeating policy package, now is the time.
David Bond is an author and retired bank economist.