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There Are Limits To Conservation

Neither The BC Liberals Nor the NDP Will Question The Population Growth Which Drives Energy Consumption

Dan Doyle, the Chair of BC Hydro, appeared on BC Global TV News on July 14, 2010 to say that the corporation must spend as much as $220 million this year importing power from the United States to meet the province’s energy needs---some 10%. The province in fact has had to import power for the last 9 years, at a cost of $25-30 million per year. But thanks to the Peace River drought and a drop in the water volumes in hydro-electric reservoirs, recently at 77% of normal inflows—the fourth worst in 50 years-- BC Hydro will have to spend eight times that amount on imported energy this year---much of it from “dirty” fossil fuel sources. NDP energy critic John Horgan warned of a coming rate shock of 29% to meet the extra costs, but BC Hydro is looking to gain permission to defer these costs to the future by tapping into a “rainy day fund” that would be replenished when the rain returns to ‘normal’ patterns. The concept that global warming might thwart that confident expectation apparently does not enter Mr. Doyle’s mind. In less than a year the deferral fund will be in the red by $730 million---enough that would require a 21% rate hike to liquidate.

What Mr. Doyle, Mr. Horgan and Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell have in common is their acceptance of population growth as a given. Campbell says that BC will grow by a million people in the next 20 years. Former NDP environment critic, Shane Simpson, once proclaimed in Campbell River to an NDP gathering in January of 2007 that he “will not tell people not to come to British Columbia.” And neither will he tell people not to come to Canada. According to the 2006 census, some 80% of new BC residents came from other countries, and that percentage grows by the year. BC in fact attracts more immigrants per capita than any other province. But neither will Mr. Simpson, nor Mr. Horgan or anyone else in the BC NDP caucus tell the federal NDP to not to lobby for higher immigration quotas. Like local and provincial politicians of all parties, they dodge immigration issues by hiding behind the skirt of provincial jurisdiction, arguing that they cannot do anything about incoming migration from any source. Yet they eagerly collude with their federal counterparts by offering support for their political campaigns as a quid pro quo for leveraging more federal dollars to cope with the demands that issue from hyper immigration. More money for ESL training, for infrastructure projects and a myriad of other expenditures.

Absurdly, Horgan joins the BC Hydro chorus and calls for more energy conservation. The answer, it seems, is to develop alternative energy sources and “conserve”. It is doubtful that the NDP, the Greens or the Campbell Liberals ever met a problem that could not be solved by decreasing per capita consumption and waste and increasing “efficiency”----the great elixir for all that ails us. Campbell’s “Clean Energy Act” even held out the promise of reducing ,through conservation, the forecasted growth of electricity demand in B.C. by 66% and a reduction of green house gas emissions by 33% in the next ten years ---all the while an average of 50,000 new residents are hopping on board the provincial energy train each year. Nevertheless, while conservation would slow the rate of increasing energy consumption by as much as two-thirds, it would not stop it. In fact, according to Campbell, provincial energy demands will grow by 20-40% by 2030. Fast or slow, growth is growth, and it is definitely not sustainable.

BC Hydro, of course, comes equipped with all the trendy buzzwords necessary to make this pitch palatable to any who might doubt its mission of having us believe that we can have our cake and eat it too. Everything will be “smart”, “green”, “sustainable” and “efficient” on the road to population overload. Move over, California! “The Power Smart Sustainable Communities Program” will help developers “green their projects by providing expertise, education, program support and financial incentives.” “District energy systems” will “provide a reduction in overall energy use and are able to utilize the most environmentally friendly available source of energy such as biomass, waste heat or geoexchange heat pumps.” Don’t worry about the fact that some 200,000 more housing units will have to be constructed to accommodate the half a million new energy consumers who will make B.C. their home in the coming decade. These housing units will all be “smart, green, sustainable and efficient.” In the virtual reality of the trendy green imagination, we can apparently decouple economic and population growth from all negative ecological impacts. We can conserve, reuse, recycle and retrofit growth of existence. As we grow our cities up and out and burst urban boundaries with more and more housing, we can install CFL lights, “energy star” appliances, induction stove cooking tops, solar panels, apply paint that protects air quality, and offer new types of roofing materials, insulation, carpets and pavement. All the things that will allow a theoretically infinite number of people to share this wonderful land. No doubt one can expect that soon thirst will be decoupled from water and ice cream consumption will be decoupled from weight gain.

The network of dams built between 1960 and 1980 are aging assets that require massive maintenance inputs of over $10 billion in the next five years. In addition, the Site C dam project will possibly require $15 billion dollars, and promises to supply power to some 410,000 homes in the province---a gain that would be wiped out in twenty years by the province’s expected growth. The NDP argues that a Site C dam is unnecessary, just as it argued a half century ago that W.A.C. Bennett’s hydro megaprojects were unnecessary. They wince at the prospect of seeing 5,340 hectares of flooded land, and worry about its effect on agriculture and the environment---while remaining oblivious to the impact of immigrant-driven growth on those very same things. But rather than strike at the root of rising energy demands---the exponential growth in the number of consumers in British Columbia---they argue for all the boy scout measures that would reduce per capita consumption. One day they will learn that there are limits to conservation.

Tim Murray
July 15, 2010