BC Views: Floating on a sea of gas

Another View by Tom Fletcher,the legislative reporter for Black Press

Premier Christy Clark’s recent fanfare about developing a natural gas export industry in northern B.C. included a major change in electricity policy.

Last year Clark’s government forced BC Hydro to trim its operations and keep its next two annual rate increases below four per cent. Part of the savings will come from redefining former premier Gordon Campbell’s climate strategy, which required BC Hydro to be self-sufficient in even low-water years, with no net electricity imports.

The target is now self-sufficiency in average-water years, limiting expansion of independent power projects. It also means B.C. will import more gas-fired electricity in the coming years, and burn some of its own abundant gas to generate new power up north. North America finds itself floating on a sea of shale gas.

Campbell’s plan entailed using B.C.’s big dams to stabilize and store power from new intermittent sources of hydro and wind, building the Site C dam on the Peace River and exporting clean energy at a premium in a carbon-priced North American market.

Both the carbon market and the export market have evaporated. While B.C. was developing run-of-river to sell to California, the U.S. west coast built new capacity, much of it gas fired, after an electricity crisis that caused brownouts more than a decade ago.

Today, Washington state producers are actually paying BC Hydro to take their excess power because they need to move it into the grid, and B.C. is the only place that can store it using dam capacity.

NDP energy critic John Horgan is celebrating this change in BC Hydro policy. He says the government made a multi-billion-dollar miscalculation by assuming California’s electricity shortage would continue indefinitely, and surplus power would be profitable. He says independent power contracts are part of BC Hydro’s current financial problems, but political interference in planning is the bigger issue.

Horgan would not endorse the Wilderness Committee’s call to cancel electricity purchase contracts BC Hydro has signed for more run-of-river developments. Additional projects are planned for the Upper Lillooet, Upper Toba and Harrison Rivers in southern B.C., and the Kokish River on northern Vancouver Island. Most are aboriginal partnerships.

Energy Minister Rich Coleman told me no contracts will be cancelled, and he rejected my suggestion that BC Hydro could end up with too much power in the wrong places and at the wrong time of year. BC Hydro can move power around as well as store it, and that ability will improve when the smart grid is completed.

Independent power doesn’t end there. It shifts to northern B.C., where three liquefied natural gas projects will need output equivalent to two and a half Site C dams to operate.

Coleman confirmed that at least one modern gas-fired power plant will be needed to develop LNG, which is expected to be in business before Site C could be built. That powerhouse will likely be built by the LNG developers, and used to back up new intermittent sources of offshore and land-based wind and any river or geothermal sites available along a new northwest power line.

B.C. will likely have a second gas-fired power plant in the northeast corner, to supply the Horn River shale gas development and processing plant now underway. Coleman says that plant should be able to capture carbon dioxide and sequester it deep underground. Fort Nelson and points north will remain off the BC Hydro grid.

Even with carbon capture in the northeast, Campbell’s greenhouse gas targets look to be the next part of his legacy to be abandoned.

 

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Activists from the Fairy Creek Blockades hold the injunction application notice which was submitted by logging company Teal Jones to the B.C. Supreme Court. The application, which asks to have blockaders removed from the sites that stop access to cut blocks, is set to be heard on March 4. (Photo contributed/Joshua Wright)
Activists hunker down to protect Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew from logging

Forest company Teal Cedar applies for injunction to remove seven-month-old blockades

The application proposing to rezone Western Speedway was passed by Langford’s planning, zoning and affordable housing committee Feb 8. A petition has since been started by residents of Trudie Terrace, hoping to stop the proposed residential portion of the development plan. (CBRE Victoria)
Petition opposing Western Speedway development proposal gains steam

Save Thetis Heights Neighborhood petition aims to stop extension of Trudie Terrace

The City of Victoria filed a petition with the Supreme Court of B.C. March 2 to have it clarify whether, under the Trustee Act, Beacon Hill Park can be used for temporary sheltering. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria asks court to clarify if Beacon Hill Park can be used for sheltering

City of Victoria filed petition to Supreme Court of B.C. March 2

Boma Brown won the Emerging Leader Award for her work founding the Support Network for Indigenous Women and Women of Colour. (Courtesy of Boma Brown)
Victoria SNIWWOC founder up for national women’s award for volunteer efforts

Victoria’s Boma Brown is a semi-finalist in the running for the L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth award

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

.
LETTER: Anti-semitism definition lacking

Re: We must identify anti-Semitism and combat it (Online, Feb. 26) I… Continue reading

The victim of the homicide on Cowichan Lake Road early Monday morning was 17 years old, and was stabbed in the incident. (File photo)
Duncan homicide victim was 17 years old

RCMP report that teenager was stabbed

(File photo)
RCMP arrest man after report of gun-toting threat-maker near Parksville schools

43-year-old man taken into custody; students at nearby schools were asked to stay inside

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

The machines are located in four cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Victoria

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

Most Read