Fletcher: Power politics in B.C.

Look out, it’s another dumpster fire.

No, not at ICBC. This one is at BC Hydro, where Energy Minister Michelle Mungall has dashed to the scene on the back of the NDP’s political emergency vehicle to put out another B.C. Liberal smouldering mess.

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This one is independent power production, or “pirate power” as NDP stalwarts and BC Hydro’s office union used to call it when former premier Gordon Campbell was executing his vision for a cleaner, greener tomorrow.

It’s costing us $16 billion extra over the next 20 years, according to Premier John Horgan’s hand-picked analysis.

Green energy plans, whether in Ontario or Germany or Australia, have a way of ending up as wreckage.

Campbell’s plan suffered a head-on collision with reality around 2010, two years after B.C. led the world in imposing a carbon tax and declaring its path to clean energy self-sufficiency.

Based on distributed, contracted hydro, wind and biomass, it included exporting the purest power from the Best Place on Earth to California, where Campbell and his pal, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, were also envisioning a “hydrogen highway” to the future.

Then came the shale gas revolution, as detailed in the report from former NDP finance bureaucrat Ken Davidson, who chose the totally objective title Zapped for his findings.

Abundant, cheap oil and natural gas transformed the U.S. energy scene and California, among other states, shifted from coal to gas for electricity.

This is how the U.S. became the only one of the climate-posturing countries from the Paris summit in 2015 to actually produce a significant cut in greenhouse gas emissions. As with ratings for hosting the long-running TV reality show The Apprentice, Donald Trump beat Arnie hands down.

Campbell also didn’t anticipate the Great Recession that took hold in 2008. Some mill and mine investments never came back and now BC Hydro estimates it will have surplus electricity into the 2030s.

Neither BC Hydro nor the NDP seem to put much stock in the upsurge of electrification the government keeps talking about. And then there’s B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver, who seems to have his own political hot mess.

As a climate scientist, Weaver was a supporter of distributed clean energy projects back in those days. He endorsed Campbell’s Site C dam, too. But now he’s leading a party that would whip him with cooked kale if he uttered such blasphemy.

Now he wants distributed green energy instead of Site C — and stay tuned for the next revision.

If Green folks were serious about greenhouse gases, they’d be calling for nuclear plants. But there’s no coherence to Green policy and the public is beginning to understand that.

Clean Energy B.C., the private power industry group that represents run-of-river, solar, wind and geothermal investors, said the Zapped report played the familiar political game of using spot price in the electricity market to cast B.C.’s private power producers as overpriced.

“In [Davidson’s] report, there is a fundamental error in using an inaccurate and overly simplified proxy for the market price of electricity,” the group said in a statement. The group also noted it employs people, electrifies remote Indigenous communities and pays more taxes than the oil industry in B.C.

Mungall promised no more political interference with BC Hydro rates, but oddly next year’s proposed rate increase of less than one per cent is below the alleged annual impact of private power.

And the NDP wrote off $1 billion in deferred B.C. Hydro debt, transferring it to taxpayers.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press.

Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

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