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Archive for the ‘energy’ Category

Canada (and BC) can grow GDP and cut GHG at the same time

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I came across this story by clicking on link bait “Something else Donald Trump is wrong about” on Vox. But I decided not to simply retweet that, firstly because we have all seen far too much about that fake tan monster and secondly this is important in both a Canadian and a BC context. (And I thought the people I wanted to reach might be less interested in that attention grabbing headline – “here’s some good new about the planet” seemed better to me!)

The Sarah Palin of BC politics currently occupying the premier’s chair is convinced that LNG is both an economic saviour and a way to reduce GHG emissions. It is, of course, neither.

Our newly elected  Liberal government in Ottawa – elected on promises to reduce GHG and committing in Paris to hold global warming below 1.5℃ – is now wavering. Not only because they allowed the Woodfibre LNG plant to go ahead, despite the very obvious shortcomings of the current (i.e. previous Conservative, Harper driven) EA process. But also because of the re-election of Brad Wall, which was obviously what Catherine McKenna must have been worried about when she started talking about national unity as being more important than the survival of life on earth.

So what Vox did was reprint a table from the World Resources Institute which shows that 21 countries have managed to reduce their GHG since 2000 while at the same time as increasing their GDP.

Decoupling_sparkline_graphic_v2

By the way, the stated reduction in US emissions is has been shown to be wrong, mostly because of the way they have counted methane.

You will notice, of course, that Canada is not among them. BC, of course, had been following a somewhat different track thanks to its adoption of the carbon tax. But that progress has been slowing, as the carbon tax has been stalled, and so much attention is now devoted to exporting fracked gas. Not only is the market for LNG now swamped, so that finding a customer for BC LNG will not be easy despite our generous tax and royalty regimes, but the way that methane leakage from fracking and LNG processing is measured has been updated with better data to show that it has little advantage over coal in reducing GHG.

There is no one answer to how this decoupling has been achieved – but there are some useful pointers in the article you just have to scroll down below that big table. But also there is, in BC, at present, a really good analysis of just how BC can improve its performance. And if you suppose that it might just be possible that none of the proposed LNG plants actually get built, and we elect a government in BC that is actually serious about reducing both CO2 and CH4 emissions – as opposed to just taking credit for past success – then progress does actually seem possible. Although if we try to do both, it’s very unlikely.

At the time of writing, there is still time to make yourself heard as part of the consultation on the BC Climate Leadership Plan. But even so, the table above ought to enough to silence the people who keep talking about growing the economy and saving the environment as though they were at odds with each other.

UPDATE From The Tyee interview with Nancy Oreskes, Harvard climate professor and co-author of Merchants of Doubt

Oreskes said Canada cannot seriously address climate change while also building more giant pipelines to deliver Alberta’s oil sands bitumen or British Columbia’s fracked natural gas to proposed export terminals on both coasts.

“If Trudeau can say we’re going to do all these things,” she said, “that says to me that they have not truly assimilated what is at stake here.”

Trudeau raised eyebrows when he told a Vancouver sustainable business summit last month that “the choice between pipelines and wind turbines is a false one. We need both to reach our [climate] goal.”

B.C. Premier Christy Clark similarly promotes liquefied natural gas as a climate solution: a “bridge fuel” to help China get off dirty coal power.

Oreskes called their positions dangerously “wishful thinking.”

Written by Stephen Rees

April 5, 2016 at 4:58 pm

Fraser Voices vs Fortis BC

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My email inbox has been filling up today with a contretemps on LNG on the Fraser playing out in the letters page of the Richmond News. Since I have learned that it is sometimes a bit tricky getting to see on their web page what has been printed in the paper, I thought it might be useful to set out the correspondence here.

The day started with an email from  Viviana Zanocco who is the Community and Aboriginal Relations Manager in External Relations department of FortisBC to undisclosed recipients.

Good morning,

As part of our commitment to sharing project-related information with you in a timely manner, attached is a letter in which we respond to misinformation presented in a recent letter to the editor published in the Richmond News; we’re sharing it with you prior to its distribution to the media.

In the letter, a local resident said the George Massey tunnel replacement project is being driven by the needs of LNG proponents and could impact fish and fish habitat. This is something we’ve heard repeated in the community as the discussion about the bridge replacement unfolds and requires clarification.

The fact is that LNG carriers that could one day ply the waters of the Fraser River would be able to do so even if the tunnel remains in operation. WesPac Midstream LLP is proposing to build an LNG marine terminal next to our Tilbury LNG facility, which we’ve safely operated on the shores of the Fraser River since 1971. The jetty would be built to accommodate vessels in the same size range or smaller than the existing vessels currently operating on the Fraser River. WesPac has confirmed publicly that the concept under review wouldn’t be impacted regardless of whether or not the tunnel remains in operation.

We also believe that LNG will play an important role for the marine transportation industry in reducing emissions and potential environmental impacts associated with the use of heavy oil and diesel.

FortisBC’s  Richmond News_ Letter to the Editor is a pdf file you can read from that link

I am indebted to Susan Jones of Fraser Voices for the following rebuttal

In the letter to the Richmond News it is stated:

 

Whether the George Massey Tunnel is removed, replaced or expanded – or how the proposed bridge project is constructed – will have no impact on the WesPac proposal.

 

[This is] simply not true

 

Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) discussed LNG ships and the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project with the Gateway group.

 

The following are some notes I have on this topic.  Those FOI emails acquired by Voters Taking Action Against Climate Change and newspaper articles indicate that the LNG operations were included in the discussions between PMV and the federal and provincial governments.

 

BC Government representatives began a series of meeting with Port Metro Vancouver in early 2012 as the port made it clear that:

 

“The tunnel is also a marine bottleneck. It was not designed for the size of ships used in modern day trade, which must access the Fraser River in Richmond and Surrey. As a result, the tunnel is becoming a significant obstacle to international trade on the Fraser.”

(Robin Silvester, CE0, Port Metro Vancouver: Vancouver Sun, April 29, 2012)

 

Discussions were underway about clearances for the new potential crossing and Port Metro Vancouver made it clear to the government that plans should include air drafts to accommodate large ships:

 

“Liquid bulk tankers with larger air draft requirements (e.g. LNG) should be considered,”

 

(Port Development Strategies Manager, Jennifer Natland, Nov. 29, 2012 to Project Planners)

 

On September 20, 2013, the B.C. Government announced plans to build a bridge instead of replacing the tunnel.  Port Metro Vancouver was included in the following meetings for planning and design.  Emails show that port staff urged the province to design a taller bridge, even though that would mean higher costs, a more challenging design and a steeper grade for Highway 99 traffic on both approaches.

 

On July 16, 2014, Port Metro Vancouver CEO, Robin Silvester queried:

 

“What is the air draft of the largest length LNG vessel that we could imagine in the river?”

 

Port marine operations director Chris Wellstood responded:

 

“…we feel that the 61-metre MAX air draft would allow for the larger part of the world’s LNG fleet” – tankers up to 320 metres long- to pass under new bridge and head up the Fraser.””

In another exchange of emails:

 

“On a June 5th a follow up meeting between PMV and Gateway was held to discuss PMV’s height requirement and as a result of that meeting Gateway was going to provide a revised drawing with a 130 m one-way channel for clearances…

…The main issue with additional height for the bridge is that the shore landings need to be higher and longer which increases the overall cost of the project…

…Please let me know if you see a problem with the original height requirements requested by PMV in 2012…”

 

(Chris Wellstood, Director Marine Operations & Security, Habour Master to Cliff Stewart, to Cliff Stewart, Vice President, Infrastructure Delivery, Port Metro Vancouver, July 15, 2014)

 

A June 2014 briefing note by port officials following a meeting with provincial counterparts cautions:

 

“…there are multiple challenges with high costs to achieve PMV’s requested height” of 65 metres”.

 

These negotiations did not include the public or the local governments.  The public have not been provided with credible information for other options such as upgrading the existing tunnel, twinning the tunnel, a smaller bridge or retaining the status quo with better transit and restrictions on truck hours.

 

In spite of repeated requests for the business case for this Project, the provincial government has failed to produce this information.  This should have been presented to the public and local governments for comment in the early planning stages.

 

Also considerations of safety with LNG vessels on the river has not been addressed.

 

This LNG production and export are putting the public at great risk as they contravene international LNG Terminal Siting Standards as outlined by the Society of International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO).  The Standards claim LNG ports must be located where they do not conflict with other waterway uses as all other vessels must be considered as ignition sources.  The narrow, highly populated lower Fraser River, and narrow shipping lanes through the Gulf Island do not meet the international safety standards of wide exclusion zones.

 

If that is not enough you might also like to read Elizabeth May’s trenchant comments on BC’s approach to LNG tanker safety 

Written by Stephen Rees

March 24, 2016 at 4:54 pm

There’s nothing clean about the Site C dam

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There is something wrong in BC. There is a provincial general election coming up (May 2017) and the premier seems to be determined to secure her legacy by building mega-projects of dubious or even negative value before she gets kicked out of office. Hopefully, the new government in Ottawa will do something to restrain this effort to change the face of BC before more damage is done.

 

Copied from Amnesty International

Open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:
Canadian organizations condemn Peace River hydroelectric mega-project for human rights violations

Dear Prime Minister,

Our organizations are profoundly concerned that construction of the Site C dam is being pushed ahead despite the conclusion of a joint federal-provincial environmental assessment that it would severely and permanently undermine Indigenous peoples’ use of the land; harm rare plants and other biodiversity; make fishing unsafe for at least a generation; and submerge burial grounds and other crucial cultural and historical sites.

The Site C dam is not just another resource development project. It is one of the largest such projects currently underway in Canada. For First Nations such as West Moberly and Prophet River, which continue to challenge the project in court, flooding the Peace Valley would take away one of the last remaining places where they can still practice their cultures and traditions. In other words, it would violate fundamental rights protected by Treaty 8, the Canadian Constitution, and international human rights law.

When the federal and provincial governments approved the project, they claimed that the severe harm that would be caused by Site C was ‘justified’ by the energy and the jobs it will produce. We strongly disagree.

Ignoring the rights of Indigenous peoples can never be justified. Furthermore, in this day and age there are far less damaging and less costly methods that could be used to meet British Columbia’s energy needs – many of which would create more jobs than Site C.

Last month, Canada played a crucial role in achieving an historic global accord on climate change. The Paris Agreement calls on governments to increase the use of renewable energy but also reaffirmed the obligation of all governments to acknowledge and respect human rights, including the rights of Indigenous peoples.

In other words, energy projects that violate human rights are not clean or green.

Prime Minister, we urge you and your Cabinet to put the principles you championed in Paris into practice in Canada. We urge that construction of the Site C dam be halted immediately, that all permits be rescinded, and that the previous government’s approval of this project be re-examined. It is crucial that the federal and provincial governments work collaboratively with the Indigenous peoples of the region to reach common agreement on a long-term plan to protect Indigenous land use in the Peace Valley.

The people of Treaty 8 have said no to Site C. Any government that is truly committed to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, to respecting human rights, and to promoting truly clean energy must listen.

Signed,

Alliance 4 Democracy
The Anglican Eco-Justice Unit, Diocese of New Westminster
Amnesty International Canada
Blue Planet Project
BC Women’s Institute
Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion – BROKE
Canadian Federation of Students
Canadian Friends Service Committee
Council of Canadians
Christian Peacemakers Team, Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Project
Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) Vancouver
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS)
CPAWS-BC
David Suzuki Foundation
Earthroots
Ecojustice
Greenpeace Canada
KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
Patagonia
Peace Valley Environment Association
Peace Valley Landowner Association
RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs)
Skeena Wild Conservation Trust
Sierra Club BC
West Coast Environmental Law
Wilderness Committee
Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

Written by Stephen Rees

February 11, 2016 at 8:34 am

Posted in energy, Environment, politics

Tagged with

The “Forces of No” are Market Forces

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Christy Clark is worried about the opposition her increasingly inappropriate policy direction has created

“There are people who just say no to everything, and heaven knows there are plenty of those in British Columbia,” said Clark.

Well, she has been pretty good at saying no herself: no to doing something about child poverty, for instance, or funding transit expansion. The real big issue she faces is the one she created for herself by going all in on LNG. The opposition to that is mainly due to local environmental impacts, but what is most likely to stop these projects is the way that demand for LNG has dropped while supplies are flooding on to the market. The prospects for any of the BC proposals being financially viable are somewhere between slim and none. Don’t take my word for it: read this report from The Brattle Group.

increasing competition has significant ramifications for the many LNG export projects now in development across North America and for buyers of LNG that have signed long-term contracts for export capacity from new North American LNG export projects. Many of the proposed projects that are not yet under construction are already facing an uncertain future due to the collapse of global oil and LNG prices. Additionally, the start-up of several new LNG projects in the next few years is likely to result in an over-supplied LNG market. LNG export developers and buyers of LNG that have signed long-term contracts for LNG export capacity are hopeful that the worldwide LNG supply glut is temporary and that market conditions in the post-2020 time frame will improve.

The Brattle Group are not in business just to say No to projects in BC.

And Scotiabank agrees with them, too!

And it is not just that the costs of wind and solar generation are falling, it is also that the problems of storing that power are getting solved too.

“Solar storage will become more competitive as new battery technology drives prices down, and wind storage more attractive as technical advances in areas such as composite materials enables the power generated by wind turbines to increase.”

That report is mainly about how to evaluate batteries, but there are other promising energy storage solutions too – like pumping water uphill, or pumping air into gas bags under a lake. There’s a good summary at The Guardian examining the options, from a UK perspective, of course.

And if the market forces are not convincing enough, there is also the impact of that agreement we signed in Paris to try to reduce global warming to no more than 1.5ºC. The physics of that mean that there cannot be any more new fossil fuel based power generation added by 2018.  It is not just the LNG plants and the pipelines that cannot be built if we are to hit this target.

Well-established science that says global CO2 emissions need to peak and decline before 2020. Wait until after 2020 and the costs of reducing emissions rise rapidly, as does the risk of exceeding 2°C. The 2018 deadline is consistent with this. It just happens to be a more meaningful way of looking at where we stand, and the consequences of the decisions being made today to build a school, a data center, or 10,000 diesel-powered farm tractors.

UPDATE And it would seem that the same Brattle report is inspiring Merran Smith to write about the possible impact of renewables too.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 28, 2016 at 10:05 am

70 PERCENT OF OIL & GAS COMPANIES STILL FAIL TO ADEQUATELY DISCLOSE RISKS TO INVESTORS

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infographic_wip-09201

This post is comprised of information that came into my email inbox as a press release. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been increasingly critical of Christy Clark’s claims about LNG and how it is a “cleaner” fuel than coal. The problem is that fracking for gas releases a lot of methane – a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 – and the companies responsible for that are less than forthcoming about how large the problem is.

Since a few, no doubt industry sponsored, trolls now pop up whenever I mention fracking, I thought I would let them have something to chew on. You, of course, have already divested from fossil fuels, so you don’t really need this.

 

BOSTON, MA///December 17, 2015///The 2015 edition of an annual investor scorecard ranking the 30 largest oil and gas companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” finds improved risk disclosure by a few companies, even as 70 percent of the energy companies continue to get failing marks.

Available online at www.disclosingthefacts.org, the third annual Disclosing the Facts report from As You Sow, Boston Common Asset Management, and the Investor Environmental Health Network (IEHN) gauges how well the oil and gas companies do in providing information so that investors can accurately assess how, or whether, these companies manage key risks of fracking, including use of toxic chemicals, water consumption and water quality, waste management, air emissions, methane leakage, and community impacts.

Eight oil and gas companies made substantial progress in their 2015 disclosures, spurred in part by the earlier scorecards as well as by shareholder engagements involving a wide range of investors. BHP Billiton emerged as the highest-scoring company for the second year in a row — almost doubling its 2014 score from 18 to 32 points, out of a possible 39 points. Hess (2nd), Apache (3rd), and Noble (tied for 4th) built on their leadership positions from 2014, disclosing information for about half of the scorecard indicators. Also tied for fourth, CONSOL nearly quadrupled its 2014 score, jumping from five to 19 points by securing third-party certification for compliance with the best practice standards of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development.

In addition to the top five companies, three other companies — Southwestern Energy Co. (6th), Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (tied for 7th), and QEP Resources, Inc. (tied for 7th) — made substantial gains in 2015.

Exxon Mobil, the largest of the companies scored, earned 4 points, placing it in the bottom third of the industry.

The new report also scores companies on their disclosure of methane leakage, a key concern because methane is far more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2). For the second year in a row, most companies failed to disclose their methane leakage rate or how often they monitor for leakage. In 2015, just five of 30 companies disclosed their methane emission rates from drilling and other operations. Not a single company reported establishing public methane emission reduction goals.

“The results of the 2015 scorecard show that corporate disclosure efforts have increased among a core group of industry leaders, despite enormous financial write-offs by the industry,” said Richard Liroff, executive director of IEHN. “A handful of companies have clearly responded and risen to our challenge. Unfortunately, reporting on many of the key metrics is still absent for most companies, making it difficult for investors and the public to assess and compare performance. Methane reporting, in particular, is almost non-existent among the companies we surveyed.”

“It is encouraging to see a new company—CONSOL– jumping into the top five in this year’s scorecard. But we need to see a bigger commitment from the industry in general,” said Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow. “While progress has been made, companies must improve their local disclosures — their social license to operate is often determined by local concerns such as land and water use, air and water pollution, and nuisances such as noise, light pollution, traffic, and road damage.”

“The report shows that several good practices are becoming more widespread. We see companies continue to pursue operating innovations that not only save money but also yield environmental benefits. These include, for example, substituting pipelines for trucks to move water and waste water, enhancing leak detection and repair efforts, and using less, but safer and more cost-effective chemicals,” said Steven Heim, managing director of Boston Common Asset Management. “Absent greater disclosure on things like methane, other air emissions, and growing concerns around induced seismicity, investors have no way of crediting those companies making meaningful efforts to adopt best practices and mitigate their impacts on communities and the environment.”

This 2015 scorecard benchmarks the public disclosures of 30 companies on 39 key performance indicators. It distinguishes companies disclosing more about practices and impacts from those disclosing less. The scorecard assesses five areas of environmental, social, and governance metrics emphasizing, on a play-by-play basis, quantitative disclosures for: (1) toxic chemicals; (2) water and waste management; (3) air emissions; (4) community impacts; and (5) management accountability. It relies solely on publicly available information companies provide on their websites or in corporate financial statements or other reports linked from their websites.

The five most widely reported indicators include: substituting pipelines for trucks to transport water for fracturing (23 companies); declaring a practice to use non-potable water instead of fresh water for fracturing whenever feasible (19 companies); avoiding use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing fluids (16 companies); relying on independent third-party databases to screen potential contractors (16 companies); and linking compensation of senior management to health, safety, and environment metrics (15 companies).

The complete ranking of the 30 companies is as follows:

______________________________________________

COMPANY*                                   SCORE (OUT OF POSSIBLE 39 POINTS)**

Company and Ticker Symbol 2015 Score 2014 Score
BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP) 32 18
Hess Corp. (HES) 21 17
Apache Corp. (APA) 20 13
Noble Energy, Inc. (NBL) 19 13
CONSOL Energy Inc. (CNX) 19 5
Southwestern Energy Co. (SWN) 16 2
Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC) 15 8
QEP Resources, Inc. (QEP) 15 1
EQT Corp. (EQT) 14 16
ConocoPhillips Corp. (COP) 11 5
Range Resources Corp. (RRC) 11 9
Royal Dutch Shell plc (RDS) 11 9
Occidental Petroleum Corp. (OXY) 10 7
Penn Virginia Corp. (PVA) 10 9
BP plc (BP) 8 6
Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. (COG) 8 8
Encana Corp. (ECA) 8 15
EOG Resources, Inc. (EOG) 8 9
Exco Resources, Inc. (XCO) 7 7
Devon Energy Corp. (DVN) 7 5
Newfield Exploration Co. (NFX) 6 4
Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK) 4 7
Chevron Corp. (CVX) 4 6
Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) 4 5
Pioneer Natural Resources Co.* (PXD) 3
Ultra Petroleum Corp. (UPL) 3 9
WPX Energy, Inc. (WPX) 3 3
Continental Resources, Inc. (CLR) 2 2
Whiting Petroleum Corp. (WLL) 2 3
Carrizo Oil & Gas, Inc. (CRZO) 0 0

*For the 2015 scorecard, Pioneer Natural Resources was substituted for Talisman Energy, Inc., which was acquired by Repsol, S.A. **2014’s scorecard had a total of 35 possible points.

The three most significant scoring changes on indicators between 2014 and 2015 were for: play-by-play reporting of the types of water sources used for fracturing activities (from one to six companies); percentages of wastewater reused for fracturing (from two to seven); and addressing naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs) (from six to 12).

ABOUT THE GROUPS

As You Sow (http://www.asyousow.org/) promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, coalition building, and innovative legal strategies. Its efforts create large-scale systemic change by establishing sustainable and equitable corporate practices.

Boston Common Asset Management, LLC (http://www.bostoncommonasset.com/) is a sustainable investment firm dedicated to generating competitive financial returns and meaningful improvements in corporate performance on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. We are long-term investors. We believe that markets typically misvalue the timing and magnitude of risks and opportunities presented by ESG factors. Therefore, our investment strategy is to build and grow diversified portfolios using the high-quality but undervalued sustainable stocks that our integrated investment research identifies. As part of this, we look to add value through targeted company and industry engagement efforts.

The Investor Environmental Health Network (http://www.iehn.org) is a collaborative partnership of investment managers and advisors concerned about the impact of corporate practices on environmental health.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 17, 2015 at 11:23 am

Posted in energy, greenhouse gas reduction

Tagged with ,

How to fix Translink’s broken governance

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The need for this article, right now, is almost purely academic. The ruling BC Liberals seem immune to widespread obloquy over not one but a series of scandals any one of which might have brought other kinds of government down. Yes Translink is a problem for those of us living in the region  – and that is, numerically at least, the majority of the BC population. But that is not the way politics works here, and Christy Clark seems able to serve out the rest of her term. And anyway there are plenty of other issues where she is at odds with most of the people who live here, but can survive at least until the next election.

The reason I decided to start writing was a piece in BC Business entitled  “How TransLink might fix its broken business model” which is nearly a month old now but its author, Frances Bula chose to tweet it again to-day, which caught my  attention. Basically the article looks at the turn around in Atlanta, and speculates about a similar approach here.

My comment is under the article, and this post is designed to enlarge upon it. Quoting myself

The problem in Vancouver is not management. It is governance. The present model is unaccountable and unrepresentative. It was imposed by a provincial government that has clearly demonstrated that it has absolutely no interest in seeing it work.

The province has always had a policy that transit is different to other types of public service, and needs a unique approach. It interferes continually but, at the same time, refuses to fund transit properly while spending far too much on road expansion. A referendum is required for any new funding mechanism, but is never required for any highway project – or indeed any other type of provincial spending/funding decisions.

And Jordan Bateman will always be only too happy to torpedo any proposals that might actually work to improve the situation as that would rob this one trick pony of his audience.

A new CEO is not going to be able to change the governance. Only the province has the ability to do that. This government never admits to any of its mistakes. Only a change in Victoria as complete as the one just seen in Ottawa is going to make any difference.

So one day there will be a different provincial government that decides that it is time to reform Translink. Here is what they will need to think about:

The current arrangement has been cobbled together to suit the BC Liberals of the day. It makes no sense now to continue with it, and the easiest point to start might be to unpick what they did by simply repealing their legislation, and go back to the former GVTA. Except that was not exactly popular either, and for very good reason. In its first iteration it was a new body run by some but, not all, of the Mayors with some acknowledgement of the varying sizes of the municipalities. This method of indirect representation is similar to that of Metro Vancouver, responsible for waste disposal and water delivery, regional parks and planning, but there all the Mayors get a seat at the table but with weighted votes.

Translink was supposed to have been a transportation agency – with responsibility for some bridges and the Major Road Network (MRN), but this was really only provincial downloading of responsibilities that would have happened anyway. One of the worst decisions, in terms of its financial impact on Translink, was to replace the Albion Ferry with the tolled Golden Ears Bridge, which has created a huge drain on the agency’s revenues as traffic has never come up to expectations, and revenue risk was not transferred to the P3 – which pretty much vitiates the reason for using that method of funding. Apart from that the MRN seems to have worked well except for one long running argument over a bridge between New Westminster and Coquitlam. On the other hand the ill conceived North Fraser Perimeter Road was soundly defeated and has yet to re-emerge. Though it almost certainly will if the Ministry engineers get their way – as they usually do in the Long Run.

I have long argued that indirect elections are a recipe for discontent. Mayors are not elected on regional issues, and tend to adopt a stance that is defensive of their turf before any regional consideration. But no matter how much you might dislike what your Mayor says over regional issues, they are not the deciding factor come election day. We need representative and responsible government and you do not get that by holding infrequent, contentious non binding plebiscites.

The governing body has to be an advocate of better transit, because this region has historically been underserved for most of its existence, and is the only feasible way for a region of this size to function effectively. Transit is not only vital to the economy, it is also essential to tackle our most pressing environmental and social issues – and those include affordable housing. Where you chose to live determines how much you travel and the concept of affordability has to include costs of housing AND transportation if it is to be meaningful.

And while the province will never make any concessions over the needs of longer distance travel and transport, nor will the federal government in terms of ports and airports. Both levels of government have effectively abandoned their responsibilities with respect to housing but that is not sustainable and will inevitably have to change. And while technological changes may well have some dramatic impacts on how we use the transportation system they are unlikely to reduce demand for movement of people and goods overall.

It is also obvious that you should not plan just for transport as though it was not intimately enmeshed with land use. Sadly, we continue to behave as though the two subjects were unrelated – even if we give the idea of integration at least lip service if not substantive commitment. By and large, when new transit lines are planned it would be much better to get them up and running before the people arrive, if you do not want them to get used to driving everywhere first, which is what has been happening.

So, given that Metro Vancouver seems to work acceptably, why would you not just put Translink under its command? I think that is a temptingly straightforward solution but not one that satisfies the need to improve accountability. Much better I think to reform both at the same time and hold direct elections for regional government – with a Mayor for Metro. This is the solution that was adopted in London. Mrs Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council, but then balked at privatising and deregulating London Transport. It was the proverbial dog’s breakfast and did not last for long after she was deposed. The Greater London Authority and its directly elected Mayor now runs Transport for London – and some related issues that have been downloaded including taxis (which used to be run by the Home Office). Much of the transit service is contracted out, but there is a single integrated fare system, and some of the local train services have been transferred from the national rail system to the Overground.

The huge issue that I have not so far dealt with is the need for much more investment in transit as well as increasing need for revenue support – if only because the use of gas tax revenues has been a victim of the system’s very success at getting people out of their cars. Property tax is not going to be accepted, and the province needs to become much more responsive to the needs of people to get around without a car. This applies as much outside Vancouver as within it. It is absolutely baffling why the province refuses to set up a transit service along Highway 16 (“The Highway of Tears“) between Prince George, Terrace and Prince Rupert. That has to be part of the solution to terrible loss of life due to aboriginal women being forced to hitchhike as the only way to get to essential services. Victoria’s need for rail based transit could not be more obvious, nor so long obviously ignored. Restoring trains on the E&N is only a start.

So yes there is going to have to be more provincial money for transit, and the roads budget is the place to start. We simply cannot afford more freeways and gigantic bridges. We also need to raise money fairly and equitably. Income tax and corporation tax are the obvious places to start, and the odious fees and charges levied without reference to ability to pay have to be abolished. So much less reliance on BC Hydro, ICBC as revenue sources, no more MSP and a thoroughgoing reform of BC Ferries to make it once again a public service and not a pretend corporation. The wealthy can readily afford to pay more tax. There has to be an end to all the corporate welfare, especially subsidies and outright give-aways of natural resources. There will still need to be fossil fuels, but levying reasonable royalties (cf Norway) has to be central to public finance. Carbon tax has worked, to some extent, but the “revenue neutral” mantra has to be abandoned.  We have to switch away to renewable energy sources at a much faster rate, and a lot of carbon is going to have to stay in the ground. At the same time, we have to recognize that far too many people are currently living a hand to mouth existence, and cannot absorb more levies fees and tax increases. We have to be more socially responsible, but this also will often mean better ways of doing things. It is cheaper to house people than it is to cope with the costs of homelessness. The war on drugs is unwinnable, but recreational substance use can be a useful source of revenue – and self medication.

The idea that we can reform Translink by tinkering with its PR and “business model” (whatever that means) is delusional. And like any interdependent ecosystem, we cannot just pull on one or two strings and expect the web to stay intact.  But we can also readily identify where the current policies have not worked and cannot be made to work better just by getting tougher. Most of the knee jerk right wing responses are ill informed and unsupported by any credible data. Better policies are in place elsewhere and we can find better examples than the one we have been so blindly following. And none of this is a stand alone issue. It is long past time for some joined up thinking.

AFTERWORD

From the Globe and Mail Friday November 20

One change Mr. Fassbender said he’s not going to consider at all is another reorganization of how TransLink is governed. When the agency was first created, 12 mayors sat on a board that directed TransLink. The province changed that in 2007 to have the board composed of non-political appointees.

Mr. Fassbender emphasized that everyone needs to stay focused on what’s really important, not squabbles over how much TransLink’s CEO is paid or what the governance of TransLink looks like. “It’s important that we keep our eye on the goal – an integrated, working transportation system.”

 

Written by Stephen Rees

November 18, 2015 at 5:37 pm

“so it’s a third of the cost for two-thirds of the benefit,”

with one comment

The title is a direct quote from Yves Desjardins-Siciliano who is the CEO of VIA Rail. The story comes from the Huffington Post citing the Financial Post and the Windsor Star. It sets out the case for a separate passenger only railway between Toronto and Montreal, which would significantly increase the speed and reliability of rail service but would not be as expensive a full blown High Speed Rail (HSR). Given the financial position of VIA, and the nature of the demand in the corridor, this proposal would be Good Enough. HSR is a good example of the best being the enemy of the good.  It has been studied extensively – I worked on one such study as a consultant back in the 1990’s – and so far nothing has been done in terms of improving VIA rail’s current service or winning people back to rail from short distance air or driving. It did surprise me, when I first came to Canada, that intercity buses were often faster than passenger trains.

It pains me a little that electrification is still seen as a dispensable option but actually I have to admit that a modern diesel electric locomotive  can be very energy efficient. I just happen to think that since Ontario has done such a good job of getting rid of its coal fired power stations, the greenhouse gas reduction argument should be given much more weight. There are also a couple of considerable advantages of an electric train. First, electric trains can climb much better than diesels: they don’t weigh nearly as much, as they don’t have to carry the generator or the fuel. So lines purpose built for modern electric trains can have steeper grades, and often that means they can be straighter, which also helps increase speeds. Secondly, the energy used in braking can be captured and returned to the power supply line for the the use of other trains. Regenerative braking captures a lot of the energy that is otherwise lost as heat. Electric trains can also decelerate and accelerate much better than diesels, so dealing with intermediate stops is not such an issue in overall travel time. I would hope that the design of intermediate stations would permit fast trains to pass stationary ones, so that even if it is not actual HSR, there could still be some non-stop service between the two major centres, to improve  competitiveness with air. However, given the way that the population is distributed across sprawling suburbs, centre to centre may not be the most important tool to attract traffic. Large Park and Ride lots, on the other hand, will be essential.

I have not seen any of the analysis that VIA has used to come up with the costs of its proposed separate line compared to a HSR, but there has to be a lot in common between the two. Land costs will be very similar, I think. It also seems sensible to eliminate level crossings – and to fence the entire line – just to increase safety.  You have to do that for HSR, but if those components were omitted for a conventional speed line that might explain some of the price difference.  While I am in favour of getting the costs down, this would seem to me to be very hard to defend when it comes to public consultation.

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

November 5, 2015 at 8:20 am

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