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Mini hydro projects small part of B.C.’s energy picture

While leaders of the world have been discussing the need to cut greenhouse gases (GHG) to meet the demands of the Kyoto Protocol, BC Hydro is going against the grain as it plans to increase its future greenhouse gas emissions.

"The decisions being made today on energy will affect the climate for decades and decades," said Gerry Scott, the director of climate change for the David Suzuki Foundation. "It would be most imprudent of B.C. to encourage investment in coal and gas production knowing that they have to bring emissions down."

BC Hydro has relatively low emissions compared to other energy giants because 90 per cent of its energy comes from large-scale hydroelectric projects, which is a renewable, sustainable resource that does not produce GHG emissions.

"Historically we have a very low emissions profile and we're definitely going up and that's why we're looking at the green energy to mitigate that," said Brenda Goehring, the manager of green and alternative energy at BC Hydro.

In 1999 Hydro produced 1.4 million tonnes of GHG emissions, which is roughly one per cent of the Canadian energy sector's GHG emissions and 0.2 per cent of Canada's total GHG emissions.

But the company predicts a 2 per cent rise in energy demand each year and will be meeting a lot of that demand with gas-fired electric generation stations. While the gas-fired plants are the cleanest thermal energy around, this type of production will bring up the numbers on the GHG emissions count.

For example, Hydro is moving ahead with two gas-fired sites on Vancouver Island, which will bump up its GHG emissions. They have also committed to reducing the GHG emissions from those two plants by 50 per cent over the next eight years by implementing offsets, applying credits for reducing emissions at other sources, such as run of river mini hydro projects.

The end result though, is that the total BC Hydro emissions will go up as a result of these new projects.

"They have to give up on their natural gas strategy and move more fully into a more aggressive development of energy efficient programs," said Scott.

But it does not look as though the Liberal government wants to move the energy sector in that direction.

In August Gordon Campbell's government created a task force to draft an energy policy framework for the province. At the end of November the task force released its interim report. In the second chapter the report says:

"British Columbia has plentiful sources of energy, and demand for energy is increasing in the province, throughout North America and around the world. Therefore, the energy sector, which is already a significant contributor to the British Columbia economy, has good prospects for continued growth."

The report also states that it makes sound economic sense for B.C. to diversify its energy supply by looking into electricity, gas, coal and alternative energy.

"We were disappointed in some of the directions of the task force," said Scott. "We particularly react to the coal recommendation. There is nothing worse they can do than burn coal.

"It's short-sighted to hang our hat on the fossil fuel industry," he added.

Last year, B.C. realized how important its energy resource was when California plunged into an energy crisis.

"Starting in late 2000 and early 2001 we had a very large bump in the value of exports due to the soaring prices of electricity and natural gas," said Dan Schrier, the chief of trade and small business statistics at B.C. Stats.

B.C. was able to take advantage of the situation because of the nature of hydroelectric production. It’s very flexible and can be powered up and powered down by regulating dams. Hydro can build up excess power overnight and sell it off the next day.

But the California situation was a mere glitch on the energy crisis screen.

"It's hard to say (where B.C.'s energy future lies) because it's such a volatile commodity," said Schrier. "Only in recent times has energy played a large part in B.C. exports due to inflation."

There is concern among industry watchdogs about how much energy is being produced for B.C. itself and how much is being sold elsewhere at the expense of the province's natural resources.

"BC Hydro can now sell into Washington and California, whereas before that would have been impossible. Before the markets were very limited," said Schrier. "There is a lot of demand in the U.S. to get away from other (energy) sources. They are looking toward Canada as a source."

Canada has yet to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to reduce GHG emissions, but if it does, it will be expected to reduce its emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.

"(The B.C. government is) pursuing an energy policy that is separate from a climate policy," said Scott. "There's a real contradiction there."

The final report of the task force will be submitted to the Minister of Energy and Mines by Feb. 15.

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