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BC Hydro is funding 'wrong way to do green energy': Barlee

Last Thursday, BC Hydro announced a first round of contract selections for its 2008 Clean Power Call on its website. The initiative is said to be intended to top up B.C.’s hydro system with green power and make the province self-sustaining by 2016.

Of the 19 private sector electricity purchase agreements by BC Hydro, five are for wind power projects while 14 are for run-of-river hydro developments that will generate anywhere from 41 to 214 gigawatts per year, according to BC Hydro’s press release.

Together, the construction of the projects will produce “3000 person-years of employment” and $3 billion in B.C. capital investment, Blair Lekstrom, Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, was quoted as saying in BC Hydro’s release.

Lekstrom may have confidence in the economic benefit of the contracts, but Gwen Barlee, policy director for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, thinks that it’s important to consider the impact of run-of-river power.

“People often think of… a little tiny turbine in a stream producing power. The reality is far different. They’re industrial projects,” Barlee told The Tyee.

The diversion of river water, blasting for access roads, the erection of transmission lines and the destruction of salmon and grizzly bear habitat are just some destructive requirements for the creation of a run-of-river power in places like Bute Inlet, said Barlee.

“If the B.C. government wanted to create a plan for doing green energy wrong, this would be it,” said Barlee.

NDP opposition energy critic John Horgan was quick to respond to BC Hydro’s contract announcement with accusations of Liberal glad-handing. In the lead-up to the last election, aid Horgan, the private power industry made donations to the B.C Liberal party to the tune of $300,000 and are now the benefactors of the Liberal led energy plan.

“Awarding big contracts to B.C. Liberals’ friends and financiers is not good policy -- it’s deplorable," said Horgan. “Where are the plans for supporting conservation over privatization?”

Conservation is something that must come first, but it’s a concept that runs contrary to the privatization of BC’s energy sector, said Melissa Davis, executive director of BC Citizens for Public Power.

“Private companies are never going to be defined through conservation objectives. They’re always going to be defined by profit and…energy consumption. One of the few ways that we can really remain leaders around climate change is to put our conservation principles first,” said Davis.

Warren Brazier, chair of law firm Clark Wilson’s energy and natural resources group, recognizes that no power generation project is without financial and environmental costs. He writes the B.C. energy blog Megawatt and advises independent renewable power producers in B.C on energy and natural resource matters.

Brazier said that independent power developers that he works with are aware of impacts and work to reduce them.

“They realize the issues. They work with First Nations. They’re not really trying to harm the environment. They’re protecting the environment; they follow the laws of the land in getting permits and assessments as necessary,” said Brazier.

He thinks that BC Hydro’s follow through on the contracts after their 2008 request for proposals is a step forward in supporting renewable energy producers and diversifying power production.

“There’s a bio energy call that’s separate from this one. The province has also indicated that it’s opening up the geo thermal permit auction,” said Brazier.

“To me it demonstrates the province’s commitment to renewable energy… it’s been a long time coming.”

Twenty-eight projects are still up for selection in the Clean Power Call, according to the BC Hydro press release. Additional projects will be selected for purchase in late March, depending on discussions with project advocates and their negotiations with First Nations.

Justin Langille reports for The Hook as part of his practicum with The Tyee.

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