Climate change policy in B.C. must deal with controversies – Kinder Morgan, Site C, and more

Flag_of_British_Columbia.svgIn his November 30 article, “Where is B.C. headed on climate action?”, Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives begins with a bit of history – November 2017 marks the 10 year anniversary of the passage of  B.C.’s  Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act, followed by B.C.’s carbon tax, the first in North America, in 2008.  His overview then discusses climate change policy since the Liberal government and its Climate Leadership Team (CLT)  were replaced by the government of the New Democratic Party in Summer 2017.  Specific issues raised: the new government may still be considering the  development of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) on the north coast; an inadequate annual increase to the carbon tax of just $5 per tonne per year (instead of the $10 per tonne recommended by the CLT); the need for a public inquiry into fracking  (as called for by the CCPA and 16 other organizations); and the need for leadership on more stringent regulation of methane emissions.  The author concludes:  “The BC government’s opposition to Kinder-Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline expansion is laudable. But there is much left to be done on climate action in BC… We need an action plan commensurate with the urgency posed by climate change and the aspirations of leadership claimed by BC politicians.”

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B.C. Premier John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver announce their coalition in June 2017

Although Marc Lee has written about the controversial Site C Dam project previously, he doesn’t include it in this overview, although it is still very much a live issue.   Following the Report of the Independent Review of the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC)  on November 1, the government indicated it would decide by December 31 whether to proceed with the project or not.  On December 1, the B.C. Green Party, the government’s coalition partner, sent an Open Letter to the Premier, arguing for cancellation of Site C on the grounds that it is likely to continue to exceed budget, and that alternative sources of energy are now cheaper.  Questions about the job creation forecasts used to justify the original decision have also been raised – most relying on the latest analysis from the University of British Columbia Water Governance Institute. Their latest  full report  was released on November 23; a 2-page Briefing Note also released argues that terminating Site C and pursuing  the alternative scenario put forth by BCUC would create three times as many jobs as the construction and operation of Site C by 2054, albeit with short-term job losses.  The longer term scenario forecasts jobs in site remediation, energy conservation, and alternative energy projects, including in the Peace River region.  Commentary on the jobs debates has appeared in “Digging for The Truth on Site C Dam Job Numbers ” in DeSmog Canada (Nov. 16) and  in “ A BC without Site C best bet for taxpayers ” an Opinion piece in The Tyee written by  Jay Ritchlin of the David Suzuki Foundation, which labels the call for current construction jobs as “a red herring”.

Also in The Tyee:Construction Unions Pressing for Completion of Site C” (Nov. 24) , which takes a deep dive into a recent press conference of the Allied Hydro Council of BC, a bargaining agent for unions at previous large hydro projects, and an advocate of the Site C project. The detailed article, outlining ties between the Council and the NDP government, is by Sarah Cox, author of  Breaching the Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley’s Stand Against Big Hydro (UBC Press, forthcoming Spring 2018).    The Allied Hydro Council submission to the BCUC Inquiry is here .

Final report on Site C dam leaves B.C. government to decide: continue or terminate the multi-billion dollar project?

On November 1, the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) released its Final Report to the Government on the Inquiry Respecting Site C,  the most controversial energy project in the province.  (A 20-page Executive Summary is here)  .  BCUC concurs with previous criticisms that B.C. Hydro’s forecast for electricity demand had been “excessively optimistic”, and that the project is likely to run late and over budget – possibly costing more than $10 billion. In his Submission to the BCUC in August, Revisiting the Economic Case for Site C,  CCPA  Economist Marc Lee discussed many of these same concerns, and also raised the issue that the  scope of the BCUC  inquiry should be expanded to  consider Site C’s environmental effects and the implications for First Nations . All Submissions and documentation are available at the Inquiry website.

The BCUC Final Report does not make recommendations, but presents detailed information on the costs of three alternatives: continuing and completing the project, terminating it, or suspending it. The report also considers the potential of  alternative, renewable energy options of wind, geothermal, and industrial conservation.  It concludes that suspending the project and re-starting it later is too expensive an option, leaving  the provincial Government to decide: continue, or terminate Site C.  The government response  states that “we anticipate a decision by the end of the year.”  CBC News presents some of the range of reaction to the BCUC report in , “ ‘I think it would be devastating for our whole community’: report raises local anxiety about Site C’s future”  .  DeSmog Canada published a detailed summary, along with background information about the many protests and objections, at “Site C Dam Over Budget, Behind Schedule and Could be Replaced by Alternatives: BCUC Report” . (November 1)

 

The new British Columbia government tackles climate change policy and controversies: Site C, Kinder Morgan, and Carbon Tax neutrality

As the smoke from over 100  forest fires enveloped British Columbia during the summer of 2017, a new brand of climate change and environmental policy emerged after June 29, when the New Democratic Party (NDP) government assumed power , thanks to a Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Green Party Caucus.  Premier John Horgan appointed Vancouver-area MLA George Heyman, a former executive director of Sierra Club B.C. and president of the B.C. Government Employees and Service Employees’ Union, as Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, with a mandate letter which directed Heyman to, among other priorities, re-establish a Climate Leadership team,  set a new 2030 GHG reduction target, expand and increase the existing carbon tax, and “employ every tool available to defend B.C.’s interests in the face of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline.”  A separate mandate letter to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, directed the Minister to create a roadmap for the province’s energy future, to consider all Liquified Natural Gas proposals in light of the impact on climate change goals, to freeze hydro rates and to  “immediately refer the Site C dam construction project to the B.C. Utilities Commission on the question of economic viability and consequences to British Columbians in the context of the current supply and demand conditions prevailing in the B.C. market.” In addition, the government “will be fully adopting and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

Some notes on each of these priorities:

Re the B.C. Climate Leadership Plan The recommendations of the B.C. Climate Leadership Team were ignored by the Liberal government when delivered in 2016.  In mid-September 2017, the reasons for that became clear, as reported by the National Observer , DeSmog Canada, Rabble.ca and Energy Mix . According to the National Observer,  “provincial officials travelled to Calgary to hold five rounds of secret meetings over three months in the boardroom of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). Representatives from Alberta-based oil giants Encana and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (CNRL) are shown on the list of participants meeting with B.C.’s ministry of natural gas development.”  In the article for DeSmog Canada, Shannon Daub and Zoe Yunker state that the Climate Leadership process was a stunning example of institutional corruption: “what can only now be characterized as a pretend consultation process was acted out publicly….  The whole charade also represents an abuse of the climate leadership team’s time and a mockery of B.C.’s claims to leadership during the Paris climate talks, not to mention a tremendous waste of public resources.”  The documents underlying the revelations were obtained under Freedom of Information requests by Corporate Mapping Project  of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, of which Shannon Daub is Associate Director.

Re the  Carbon Tax:  The Budget Update released on September 11 states: “The Province will act to reduce carbon emissions by increasing the carbon tax rate on April 1, 2018 by $5 per tonne of CO2 equivalent emissions, while increasing the climate action tax credit to support low and middle income families. The requirement for the carbon tax to be revenue-neutral is eliminated so carbon tax revenues can support families and fund green initiatives that help us address our climate action commitments.” For context, see “B.C. overturns carbon tax revenue-neutrality”  (Sept. 22) by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions;  for reaction, see the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-B.C. or the Pembina Institute .

Re the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline:  On October 2, 2017, the Federal Court of Appeal  is scheduled to start the longest hearing in its history, for the consolidated challenges to the National Energy Board and Federal Cabinet approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Project.  The government has applied for intervenor status, and in August  hired environmental lawyer and former B.C. Supreme Court Justice  Thomas Berger as an external legal advisor on the matter.  West Coast Environmental Law blogged, “See you in court, Kinder Morgan” , which provides a thorough summary of the 17 cases against the TransMountain expansion; WCEL has also published a Legal Toolbox to Defend BC from Kinder Morgan, which goes into the legal arguments in more detail.  The NEB website provides all official regulatory documents. Ecojustice is also involved in the complex court challenge.

Re the Site C Dam:  In early August, the B.C. government announced a review of the Site C project by the B.C. Utilities Commission.  The Preliminary Inquiry Report was released on September 20,  calling for more information before passing judgement on whether BC Hydro should complete the project. The Inquiry Panel also finds “a reasonable estimate of the cost to terminate the project and remediate the site” would be $1.1 billion, based on the figures provided by BC Hydro and Deloitte consultants. The Inquiry report is  summarized by  CBC . Next steps:  a series of round-the-province hearings and final recommendations to government to be released in a final report on November 1.

After years of protests about Site C, evidence against it seems to be piling up. A series of reports from the University of British Columbia Program on Water Governance, begun in 2016, have addressed the range of issues involved in the controversial project : First Nations issues; environmental impacts; regulatory process; greenhouse gas emissions; and economics.  In April, an overview summary of these reports appeared  in Policy Options as  “Site C: It’s not too late to hit Pause”,  stating that Site C is “neither the greenest nor the cheapest option, and makes a mockery of Indigenous Rights in the process.”   On the issue of Indigenous Rights, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for a halt on construction in August, pending a full review of how Site C will affects Indigenous land.

If Site C is a good project, it’s time for Trudeau to trot out the evidence” in  iPolitics (Sept. 17), calls Site C “an acid test for Trudeau’s promise of evidence-based policy” and an environmental and economic disaster in the making.  The iPolitics article summarizes the findings of a submission to the BC Utilities Commission review by Robert McCullough, who concluded that BC Hydro electricity demand forecasts overestimate demand by 30%, that its cost overruns on the project will likely hit $1.7 to $4.3 billion, and that wind and geothermal are cleaner alternatives to the project. McCullough’s conclusions were partly based on his review of the technical report by Deloitte LLP, commissioned by the Inquiry.

 

ILO report about Indigenous People’s role in the green economy; Canadian First Nations and clean energy

An April report released by the ILO, Indigenous peoples and climate change: From victims to change agents through Decent Work rejects the characterization of Indigenous people as “victims”.  The report states that indigenous peoples, numbering  over 370 million worldwide , “are at the vanguard of running modern green economies”, and “if they have access to decent work opportunities; if they are empowered to participate in decision making; if their rights are protected; and if policies address their social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities while honing their positive potential as partners, workers, entrepreneurs and innovators, indigenous peoples will become empowered agents of change who can play a vital role in spurring green growth and combating climate change.”

As if to prove the points of the ILO report, a press release on April 24 announced the results of a survey conducted by the University of Victoria Environmental Studies for   B.C. First Nations Clean Energy Working Group and  Clean Energy B.C.First Nations and Renewable Energy Development in British Columbia reports the results of a survey conducted from October 2016 to February 2017, showing that 47% of the 105 First Nations respondents are involved in the clean energy industry in some way – from ownership to receiving royalties. There are currently 78 operating projects, (in which they have invested over $35million), plus 49 projects under development and an additional 249 projects that they want to build, ranging from wind farms to solar installations to run of river power generation. 61% of First Nation respondents said the biggest barrier for their projects is the lack of opportunity to sell power to B.C. Hydro, because the utility has stopped buying power from independent producers,  projecting a surplus of power from the controversial Site C dam.  (DeSmog Canada compiles the latest news and research about the Site C project here.)

First Nations across Canada are also active investors in green energy, according an article in the Toronto Star April 26, “Six Nations of Grand River lead the charge on green energy”   . The article mentions projects in Quebec and Manitoba, and highlights the Ontario Six Nations of the Grand River solar and wind projects as exemplary – most recently, the Oneida Business Park in Ohsweken, Southwestern Ontario, which was awarded Aboriginal Project of the year by the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association in summer 2016.

six nations development corporationSix Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation (SNGRDC) manages the Six Nations’ economic interests in 17 renewable energy projects and numerous economic development opportunities. It employs over 100 people.  SNGRDC’s current green energy portfolio is capable of producing over 900 MW of renewable energy through its direct or indirect involvement in 10 solar, 6 wind and one hydroelectric project(s). Consultation is currently underway about another investment in a solar project near the now-decommissioned Nanticoke coal-burning power plant – which will consist of  175,000 to 210,000 solar photovoltaic  panels on 4 parcels of land either owned or leased by Ontario Power Generation.   The Grand River Employment and Training (GREAT) administration is involved to promote employment of First Nations workers in the contruction phase.

In January 2016,  the Whitesand First Nation also received an OSEA award for their sustained efforts to launch a 3.64 MW combined heat and power biomass plant, which will provide electricity to three communities of the Far-north.

June 2016 News: British Columbia

Controversy in B.C. over the Pembina Institute report released on June 14, How do B.C.’s Climate Action commitments stack up?  .  The report uses modelling by the Canadian Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project Team to predict that  B.C.’s emissions will rise 39 per cent above their 2014 level by 2030 following the current policies.  Over 80 per cent of the emissions increase between 2014 and 2030 is projected to come from oil and gas development, including liquefied natural gas (LNG).  See also the Pembina Backgrounder  as well as “How B.C. became a Climate Laggard”   in the Globe and Mail , a review by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS)   and  “How the B.C. Government responded”  in The National Observer .

And public opinion continues to oppose current policies,  including  Petronas’ $36-billion Pacific Northwest LNG  development, and the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal, where both the City of Vancouver and the Squamish First Nation  have filed appeals in B.C. courts.   Even the academics at the normally apolitical Royal Society of Canada have issued an Open Letter  opposing the Site C Hydro Dam on the Peace River.  Against this backdrop, the government’s updated Climate Change policy is expected at the end of June.