The British Columbia Utilities Commission recently published its report on the 1,100-MW Site C Clean Energy Project which is already under construction. Among other things, the BCUC was mandated to report on the implications of three scenarios: suspension, completion and termination (and remediation) of the project. I understand its role wasn’t to take a position on the matter, but rather to analyze and relay the facts.
However, in this exercise, facts alone can’t paint the entire picture. Assumptions, modelling frameworks and projections are obviously part of the equation when analyzing such a complex issue. In order to make an informed assessment, the Commission had to rely on projections on a host of issues including future electricity generation demand and supply, cost of renewables, and more. In fact, the word “likely” appears 61 times in the report — a sure sign that assumptions were taken into consideration.
Having said that, I was disappointed that the BCUC did not conduct its inquiry and relate its findings within the greater context of climate change, the 2015 Paris Agreement and the 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on Climate Change and Clean Growth, of which British Columbia is a signatory. Provincial governments — past and present — have made fighting climate change and reducing GHG emissions key components of their mandates. I don’t expect that to change in the foreseeable future as governments aggressively pursue this agenda.
Yet, the Panel clearly states in its conclusion on page 186 that it takes no position on mitigation strategies such as changing government policies to find ways to mitigate risk and meet future energy needs. For the life of me, I have a hard time accepting the Panel’s refusal to even consider future government climate change-fighting policies.
In fact, what I find “risky” is not looking at Site C through a climate change lens. Site C can help abate GHG emissions and provide British Columbians with clean, firm electricity. It is an important climate change-fighting measure — one that fits well within the province’s Clean Energy Act.
Further, the Panel suggests that “government policy regarding electrification could impact the load forecast to the higher side.” Of course it could! And, in my view, it will.
As indicated in the report, BC Hydro argues that there is “significant emerging potential for load growth from initiatives targeting greenhouse gas emission reductions through electrification of fossil-fuel powered end uses (such as electric vehicles or building heating systems).” But the Panel chose not to take that into consideration.
A key GHG-mitigating measure many experts endorse is the electrification of the economy. That’s what the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources has heard as part of its in-depth study on the challenges, costs and opportunities of transitioning to a lower-carbon economy. For example, it is expected that the market share of electric vehicles will continue to grow. Site C could provide clean, reliable electricity to power these cars. Additionally, Site C could help emissions-intensive industries reduce their emissions.
In the end, the Panel recognizes there are other implications for the government to consider when comparing the completion and termination scenarios for Site C. As it writes, “both scenarios involve risk that is not easy to quantify.” Indeed, the risks are difficult to measure but, more importantly, we risk much more if we don’t consider this clean energy project.
Even the federal Environment and Climate Change Minister recently agreed that Site C is “part of the solution” when asked about climate change and finding new clean alternatives as we move towards increased electrification of the economy. It would be a real shame if the new government would put a halt to Site C without looking at it through a climate change lens.
Richard Neufeld is a senator representing British Columbia, and served from 1991 to 2008 as MLA for Peace River North. He was Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources from 2001 to 2009.
This article appeared in the November 22, 2017 edition of The Vancouver Sun.