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VIEW: Retire Burrard Thermal power plant, Green candidates say

[Editor's note: The Tyee received this unsolicited opinion piece from three BC Green Party candidates, including leader Jane Sterk and deputy leader Andrew Weaver, and we offer it for your consideration. During the election season, we'll post various perspectives as we receive them on the Election Hook, labelled clearly as "VIEW."]

In 1963, the new Studebaker Lark could be purchased at dealers for about $2,000. It was considered a compact car for its time. This sedan remains popular today amongst car collectors for its looks and out of a sense of nostalgia.

Also back in 1963, BC Hydro's Burrard Thermal power plant opened. Like the sedan, it was modern for its day. But, unlike the compact car, nostalgia shouldn't play a role in keeping it around.

Burrard Thermal has needed a lot of repairs and upgrades over the past half century. In fact, BC Hydro has spent over $200 million on it in a constant effort to clean up its many harmful emissions and limit its toxic output of particulate matter.

This gas-burning power plant admittedly once helped fuel the province's burgeoning economy as B.C.'s population nearly tripled during its 50 years in operation. But now, with Burrard Thermal, we face the dilemma that owners of older cars often face. We can continue sinking money into this aging plant that needs increasingly frequent and costly repairs and upgrades. Or we can invest in more cost-effective and modern energy and transmission facilities, paid for in many cases not by taxpayers but by independent power producers.

B.C.'s public policy and legislative priorities should help guide the way. The province has a number of laws, regulations and policies designed to advance cleaner electric power that will also reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. During her legislative service, Premier Christy Clark vowed repeatedly to retire Burrard Thermal, pointing out in a 1999 Legislative Assembly debate that it produces all kinds of fine particulate matter which pollutes our air every single day.

Laws and public policy commitments are important, but equally important is the legacy we pass on to future generations. Retiring Burrard Thermal offers the opportunity to reduce emissions of toxic pollutants into the Lower Fraser Valley airshed. Retiring Burrard Thermal will also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

On the economic front, recent studies show that the construction of new and cleaner energy projects in B.C. such as wind, biomass, geothermal and properly regulated run-of-river small-scale hydro projects creates significantly more jobs than those dependent on unsustainable fossil-fuels.

B.C.'s natural resources, such as our forests for paper products and our rivers for hydropower, have long been major job creators. Now we can likewise harness our abundant wind, biomass, geothermal and small-hydro resources to power continued economic prosperity in a cost-effective manner for another half century and beyond. We must invest in modern energy generation and transmission facilities that will truly stand the test of time, ensuring a cleaner environment that will benefit the economy and ratepayers alike. Political leaders have already endorsed these very goals.

Now we must turn these goals into action.

Just as we remember the Studebaker for its important contribution to our automotive history, we can likewise remember Burrard Thermal for its role in B.C.'s development. But just as more modern and efficient cars eventually replaced the Studebaker, Burrard Thermal should be retired in favour of modern, cost-effective, and cleaner technologies.

Andrew Weaver is a Lansdowne Professor in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of Victoria and Deputy Leader of the Green Party of British Columbia. Jane Sterk is the Leader of the Green Party of British Columbia. Daniel Tseghay is the Green Party of BC candidate for Vancouver-False Creek.

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