BC’s Clashing Shades of Green
Colleen Kimmett in the Tyee looks at the clash between two groups whom ought to be allies, but who are fighting. And as usual with infighting, the intensity seems greater and the impact is nastier. If you are already following all this in the list serves you probably do not need all this rehearsed, but the reason this article is being reviewed here today is that Powerup Canada is holding a conference is Vancouver today – and the conventional media are going to be all over this issue.
“There’s a new divide, with concern to environment voters, between those more traditional, who are concerned about wilderness preservation and wildlife, and those who are more urgently concerned about climate change,” [George Hoberg, a political scientist and forestry professor at the University of British Columbia] says.
On the one side are people like Rafe Mair, the Save Our Rivers Society, the Wilderness Committee and the Council of Canadians. On the other side are Tzeporah Berman, Mark Jaccard and others pushing the line that building green power sources quickly to replace fossil fuel is essential to reduce our carbon dioxide output. (Note too the corporate spin in the Sun piece as opposed to the Tyee’s even handed approach.)
In general, my sympathies lie in the “replace fossil fuel” side as it is true that in Canada we are not doing nearly enough to reduce our carbon footprint. Unfortunately, whatever we do with electricity generation in BC is going to look like a drop in the bucket compared with the production of the Alberta tar sands. But that is not an excuse for not doing anything.
On the other hand the current rush to put “run of the river” IPP projects on BC’s rivers shows only too clearly the lesson that the devil lies in the details. In theory, run of the river means the least environmental impact. In practice in BC many of the schemes being proposed require dams and large scale stream diversions – as well as construction roads and new power lines. Which is one reason why the public were so outraged at the proposals for the Upper Pitt River in a provincial park that even the BC Liberals blinked – and cancelled the project before it had really got started. About the only recent victory for public protest in BC and I cheered for!
Possibly the most offensive part of the current BC initiative is the way the process has been “streamlined” to ensure that as many projects get built as quickly as possible. People who have concerns rightly feel that they are being ignored in a process that cannot (on the whole) say “No”. (The Pitt River was an exception.) There is no cumulative impact assessment – each scheme goes forward on its own merits, and the best that can happen is that some of the impacts are mitigated.
The other thing that worries people is what happens once the private sector gets control of the water resources. Because the track record of the private sector and its use of NAFTA to override Canadian’s concerns about their environment is not encouraging. (The one that comes to my mind is Ethyl Corp and MMT but I am sure others can cite recent and more apposite cases.)
I find Rafe has most of the good arguments locally: there is no shortage of power in BC, the “run of the river” schemes mostly aren’t, and only produce power part of the year – during the spring runoff when BC Hydro’s reservoirs are already full. But the killer has been the recent California decision that most of the BC projects are too large to qualify as “green power” – because it was the prospect of selling to the California market and the juicy rates offered for green power that got the private sector involved in the first place. If there is no market for this power, why do we need to be persuaded to allow these projects?
And of course the other thing that the Green Power proponents miss is that there is still a great deal that can be done by reducing our power consumption – conservation, more energy efficiency, better planning, more transit – that will have a much bigger and more profound impact than a few more generating stations. And much more of that approach is needed across North America before any coal fired power stations will be shut down.