Opinion: Clean energy for the heartland

February 28, 2016

In B.C., we have an amazing blueprint for climate action pulled together for us by the Climate Action Leadership Team, which was appointed by the provincial government. The leadership team represents a broad segment of society — urban and rural local governments, First Nations, LNG and forestry industrial sectors, not-for-profits and academics — and came up with a unique consensus around 32 recommendations.

One central message we should glean from the recommendations is that for our collective future energy plans, we need to use more electricity from clean and renewable sources. This is an evolution that is underway throughout the world. While natural gas has a role as a transition fuel and this transition may take some time to achieve, the era of fossil fuels is over — it has to be.

The good news in B.C. is that we have a great start on reliable, responsible, affordable clean and renewable electricity from hydro, wind, biofuels, and solar sources.

First Nations want more clean energy opportunities. While natural resource development appears to be synonymous in B.C. with conflict, clean energy projects are embraced because they resonate with aboriginal values of protecting the environment, building legacy infrastructure, and enabling sustainable economic development.

Anchored by long-term, power-purchase agreements, clean energy projects are not subject to the vagaries of the commodity markets.

With the renewable fuels distributed throughout B.C., the only limitation today is perhaps transmission and distribution line limitations, however, local smart grid development and distributed generation is obviating the need for traditional grid build out.

The northeast, known until recently for oil and gas and large hydroelectricity, is now home to a cluster of wind projects, which are the envy of the world. When the Meikle Wind project starts up later this year, it and three other operating wind farms will contribute 500 MWs of generation to BC Hydro’s system. In B.C., an innovation has been to perfect the placement of these facilities in cold climate mountainous ridge tops. The beneficiaries include First Nations and local residents as these projects together pay over $2 million in annual property taxes to local governments.

In the Fraser Canyon, the Kanaka Bar Indian Band, working in partnership with Innergex Renewable Power, have built a 50 MW hydro facility that has low impact on the natural environment but high positive impact on the First Nation community. Annual revenues that are paid to this community is in excess of $1 million per year from royalties and revenue sharing, and this will continue for 40 years.

The economy in northwestern B.C. has already been transformed by clean energy, and the Tahltan, Taku Tlingit, Nisga’a and Kitselas have been recent beneficiaries, as have the towns of Stewart, Dease Lake and Terrace. Projects like the Northwest Transmission Line, Forrest Kerr, McLymont Creek, Volcano Creek, Atlin and Long Lake are generating clean and renewable power and also anchoring economic development.

The biomass plant now under construction is transforming the town and First Nations around Merritt. More of this new economy is possible and necessary; it is an economy that will help save our planet.

This is the lens through which I view the clean energy sector in B.C. and our societal needs post-Paris Climate Accord. The circumstances regarding a warming climate and myriad impacts are getting worse, it still remains a challenge. But amazingly, we have the model, the will and plan to do something about it — taking responsibility in our cities and also our small communities, including First Nations.

Climate action has galvanized a lot of people to have hope.

During Globe 2016 in Vancouver this week, let’s show the world what we are doing in B.C. with clean and renewable energy. It works.

Paul Kariya is executive director of Clean Energy B.C.

Click here to read the original article published in The Vancouver Sun.