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Clean tech, oil and gas can work 'hand in hand': Lekstrom

Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom announced $6.6. million investment in two clean technology projects this week, an emerging sector that he called one of the "best kept secrets in British Columbia" and one that will work "hand in hand" with its established oil and gas industry.

The investment comes from the province's Innovative Clean Energy Fund, through which it has already committed $60 million to 41 projects across B.C. Lekstrom made this latest funding announcement in Vancouver at the GLOBE conference on energy and the environment, where the province's clean tech industry has figured prominently, even drawing comparisons to the Silicon Valley's high tech boom in the 1970s.

Jonathan Rhone of Nexterra Systems Corp., which will share $4.5 million of the $6.6 million funding with the University of British Columbia and other partners to build a biogas system on the university's campus, said there's a lot of competition for capital in clean tech, "and so much competition for where start-ups are going to be located."

"So what we think we need to do in British Columbia is we need to become a great place to develop and demonstrate technology here at home."

Rhone is one of the brains behind the recently-launched Clean Works B.C., a clean tech marketing and branding exercise backed by what he called an "unholy alliance" of industry interests.

"We absolutely do think the oil and gas sector belongs in our clean tech group," said Rhone, a sentiment that Lekstrom echoed.

Lekstrom said the clean tech sector is "helping the oil and gas industry do things so much better today than they did even a decade ago."

"We need the clean tech sector, we need the fossil fuel industry."

William F. Wescott, managing director for the San Francisco-based consulting company Cleantech Group LLC, described clean technology as "the new kid to the party when everybody's already been eating the cake."

And while government cash is always welcome in clean tech, continued subsidies for the oil and gas sector "is not going help necessarily lift the needle up and go into a different groove," he said.

Earlier this month, the province announced $282 million in subsidies and $200 million in road upgrades to support the oil and gas industry in B.C.

"Minister Lekstrom is in a very interesting position where you know, he on one hand has to regulate and perhaps even promote primary industries and on the other hand, also has to help secondary industries," said Wescott. "And there's inherent tension there."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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