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BC plan to export clean energy faces challenges

A provincial government plan to become a net exporter of clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions may be unsuccessful, a new Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions white paper says.

"While the government has declared its objective of seeing B.C. become a major net exporter of electricity, it has done so with insufficient public consultation, amidst much opposition, and in the face of considerable economic uncertainty," said the paper released Feb. 11, written by UBC resource professor George Hoberg and UVic graduate student Amy Sopinka.

"Expanded electricity exporting by B.C. could contribute substantially to provincial economic development, while also reducing [greenhouse gas] emissions in importing jurisdictions," it said. "Yet, the prospect also poses significant economic, environmental and social risks."

In April, 2010, then energy mines and petroleum resources minister Blair Lekstrom introduced the Clean Energy Act, saying its aim was for B.C. "to be a net exporter of electricity from clean or renewable resources with the intention of benefiting all British Columbians and reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

The PICS white paper released today warns that the market for B.C.'s electricity exports is highly uncertain and notes that the import policies in some states, particularly California, would pose a challenge. The state aims to have 33 percent of its electricity to be renewable by 2020, but its current definition of "renewable" would not include large hydro dams such as the one proposed for Site C.

The Clean Energy Act fails to protect B.C. taxpayers from subsidizing export projects and provides little guidance on how stakeholders and the public can be involved in planning, the paper said.

It recommended that the government set regulations saying it will only authorize export development if there are "net economic, social and environmental benefits to the province." It also recommends creating ways to share revenues with local communities, capping the proportion of B.C. electricity that can be exported, and requiring importing jurisdictions to have "meaningful" energy conservation and efficiency measures in place.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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