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Moratorium needed on private power: James

B.C. New Democratic Party leader Carole James celebrated Earth Day today by flying over the Ashlu Creek private power project to highlight its environmental impact and renew her platform commitment to put a moratorium on the projects.

“It really struck me how important it is that we make sure we take a step back,” James told reporters back on the ground outside the Vancouver Convention Centre.

“[It’s important] that we put a proper environmental process in place and that we make sure we take a look at the cumulative impacts of those independent power projects on rivers,” she said.

The NDP platform proposes the moratorium on private power projects, including run-of-river, until a review of anticipated energy supply and demand is completed.

Contracts that already exist will not be affected and James made clear the party is not calling for a ban.

“There may be places where run-of-river makes sense,” she said, but the NDP would stop the “gold rush” of projects that have taken place under Premier Gordon Campbell’s government.

While the moratorium has received criticism from some environmental groups, Joe Foy, national campaign director for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee applauds the move.

“I think it’s a fantastic position,” he said, expressing concern over the projects' environmental impact, the inefficiency of the power and the potential “massive hidden debt” arising from contractual obligations.

“This is just a financial boondoggle -- the likes of which I don’t think this province has seen,” he said.

The B.C. Liberal Party responded to the NDP position today by releasing press releases which said two New Democrat candidates are breaking with the party and are in fact supporting the independent power projects.

One of the releases cited a letter written in March 2006 by Columbia-River Revelstoke candidate Norm Macdonald, which expressed his support for an independent power project at David Thompson Falls and Cedar Creek.

But Macdonald told The Tyee he was initially “duped” by the environmental rhetoric surrounding the projects and has been outspoken ever since about his concerns regarding weak environmental protections and the loss of local and regional decision-making over the projects.

“I’ve been really clear I just can’t support what the government is doing,” he said.

When asked why some NDP candidates have supported the projects, James reiterated her position that the party is not calling for a ban and so it not contradictory for individual projects to receive support from candidates.

Apart from the moratorium, the New Democrats are also calling for an end to the privatization of BC Hydro and would allow the company to create new sources of renewable green energy and find new ways to promote conservation.

James said the floatplane used today was operated by a company with a 100 per cent carbon-neutral policy and the entire leader’s tour is being carefully planned and will purchase carbon offsets to minimize its environmental impact.

Garrett Zehr reports for The Tyee.

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