Tough Energy and Environmental Questions for 2011


In looking ahead to 2011, I see a very troubled environmental scene. This is because of one thing mainly: with our governments money talks and big time money talks big time. This will reflect itself in several ways and places.

In order to understand this, I think, it must be remembered that corporations don’t give a rat’s ass about the environment. They would pollute all water, destroy wildlife, and desecrate the environment generally. Every tiny bit of environmental restraint has been and always will be imposed by government and it will be resisted and ignored by the corporate world. Many of my generation and others have been brought up to respect government authority and to assume that the world was full of “good corporate citizens.” We, in fact, marveled at the great construction taking place such as Alcan even reversing rivers and creating huge artificial lakes. We developed a public mindset that marveled, uncritically, at development.

There is no question that much of the world will need power; more and more every year. What’s interesting is the lack of an intelligent debate on the subject both at a local and global level.

We have industry and environmentalists fighting but it’s scarcely a fair fight. On the Enbridge proposal to build two pipelines from the Tar Sands to Kitimat and back, industry is out-spending the environmental community 100-1. All the magazines I read carry huge touchy feely ads from huge corporations who tell us in full page ads that they are working just as fast and as hard as environmentalists to make all their creations green.

Much of the problem has been created by an uninformed and ill-informed public which refuses to critically consider anything they’ve been brainwashed into believing or disbelieving. We in the environmental field, me very much included, have decided that certain issues cannot be discussed. These beliefs have become a hardened catechism that brooks no debate.

I have written in the past about nuclear power, for example. This is wrong, we all agree. They explode like atom bombs or melt down. If you live near them or work in them, you’ll be nuked. And there are the calamities at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

In the first case there was a disaster, and at Three Mile Island there was a dangerous near-miss. And these and other scares tell us that if you do nuclear power and don’t keep up safety programs it’s only a matter of time before you have very bad news. Nuclear plants are hugely expensive to maintain and no one has found a safe way of dealing with the waste.

Does this mean that nuclear can never be debated again? Do any of us know what research has been done in recent years? In a moment I’ll tell you why this is an important question.

On the other side we’re told that wind power is the way to go because it’s “green” and that’s good. (“Green” is now a weasel word used by polluters to gloss over their destructive policies). The fact that wind power is hugely expensive and invariably set up with taxpayers money, that it is unreliable and environmentally unsound is not dealt with, for this is the reverse of the uranium argument – nuclear is bad and wind power is good, now let’s have no more arguments. While we’re at it, the future is electric cars and that’s that! Never mind asking where the electricity is coming from and how green that source is – this matter has been decided, period!

Right behind nuclear power comes fossil fuel power. This source of power is evil, so no more discussion please.

I would advise one read the lead argument for the use of coal in this month’s Atlantic Monthly. Here is a pretty strong argument which, in a nutshell says “we’re not going to eliminate coal as a source of power for a very long time to come. Isn’t the object to lower carbon emissions, so if we have no alternative for coal we should work harder at reducing the carbon footprint of this and other fossil fuels? Are there not, coming out of China for God’s sake, new techniques which have dramatically reduced the unhappy consequence of burning coal for power?”

My point is that of a British Columbian who wants to save his province’s environment. If I fight on the mantra that fossil fuels and nuclear are bad for the environment so that their use must be eliminated, doesn’t that lead to the conclusion that hydroelectric power is the only way to go? Of course we have wind power, tidal, and solar power but until they can supply the world’s needs for power, what is left?

Do we not see that by saying that other countries must stop all nasty sources of energy we are inviting them to look to us to supply the power from our rivers?

The demand for energy must go somewhere and rudimentary economics tells us the demand will lead to and find a supply – and we’re it! That demand is going to increase so that every piece of water that moves in BC will become a potential source.

This is the great evil of the Campbell Energy Plan (based largely of private river diversion projects), which has been sold on the basis of our own needs – which is plain barnyard droppings. Not only is it going to outside consumers, it is saying “look, neighbour, don’t you worry your pretty little heads about designing your own sources of energy and don’t bother for a moment with conservation because there’s lots more where that came from!”

I will soon be accused of all the usual sins – Rafe Mair favours nuclear, fossil fuel power, etc. – but I am not. What I’m saying is that our energy policy has us financing, out of taxpayers’ pocket, large international corporations who build their plants to produce power for somewhere else.

How are we financing these corporations? This is not hyperbole at all. We buy their power at 2-3 times what we can sell it for and that is money in the bank that otherwise would have to be borrowed or used out of the company’s assets. British Columbians are, therefore, not giving away power to other jurisdictions so that they needn’t make any sacrifices themselves – we’re financing the operation!

We’re saying to American governors: don’t worry about your environment, don’t fret about how you deal with carbon emissions, don’t give more than a passing thought to conservation – BC rivers and streams are yours for the asking!

It’s one thing to be a good neighbour but don’t you think this is a bit too much!


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at

11 thoughts on “Tough Energy and Environmental Questions for 2011

  1. Even if the Alcan watershed is the size of Vancouver Island, there is no guarantee that Alcan is making 1400% profit margins – that is irrelevent … duh. Their capital costs is astronomic and the assets in the ground is worth a lot. Show me their balance sheet or a link to the BCUC decision that backs you up. So far you have been unable to do so.

    Water rental rates are $4 today. If Alcan is paying $5 water rental rates, then they are paying more than IPPs. And then Alcan pays income taxes that BC Hydro does not pay. Then Alcan pays property taxes that BC Hydro does not pay. Alcan pays the First Nations which BC Hydro does not pay.

    IPPs pay six times more in water rental rates and taxes and dividends to government than BC Hydro does for each GWh.

    The power sales deal with BC Hydro includes charges for the transmission grid that BC Hydro owns – like all other deals. Show link that Alcan is receiving sweetheart free transmission.

    Do you think anyone is going to pay you for your propaganda outfit when you have no substantiation and backup for your claims? Probably the public unions would.

  2. Damien – you are making things up. I looked in the BCUC decision, there is nothing that says Alcan’s profit margin is 1400%. And you never answered if that included interest costs. Obviously you don’t know and are completely making this up. Provide a valid link or stop lying.

    Alcan had the right to sell power if Alminum prices dropped to the point that they could not produce Aluminum. So they sold power to BC Hydro at (below) market prices. So what is wrong with that? You want society to be impoverished with stranded assets producing nothing? That BC Hydro instead buy dirty and GHG belching coal fired power from Americans? You hate the Americans but you say lets buy dirty power from them. Quite hypocritical.

    Alcan never sold power to California. Another lie that you can’t prove. Alcan has always sold power to BC Hydro, and the BC Hydro grid is certainly in the “vicinity” of Kitimat. So no “deal was broken” – provide link to deal because you obviously make things up.

  3. Sustainable, I don’t have time to address your endless stream of BS – but suffice it to say you have failed to grasp all my basic points. Alcan was granted a system of rivers in 1950 to SMELT ALUMINUM AND CREATE LOCAL JOBS. They were specifically granted the right to sell EXCESS power “IN THE VICINITY OF THE WORKS”, which does not, unless you have a very poor sense of geography and the meaning of “vicinity”, include California. That deal was broken, putting thousands of people out of work and decimated the economy of Northwestern BC. Alcan is able to sell this power to BC Hydro at a %1400 profit – which the BCUC did indeed find – because: 1. They’ve been permitted to completely pervert the terms of the deal under which they obtained access to a watershed the size of Vancouver Island; 2. They’ve been able to keep their token water rental rates at the $5 they began at in 1950; 3. Through their pal Gordo, they rewrote our energy policy to ensure they’d have unlimited, cheap access to our PUBLIC transmission grid. Alcan’s power sales profitability is based on a whole pile of public subsidies. But you’d probably call that the free market at work, wouldn’t you, you economic genius!

  4. I doubt BCUC is that stupid to claim 14x net margins for Alcan. They did not include the cost of capital and taxes paid. But of course for nationalist and socialists like you with zero understanding of economics, capital comes for free. There are billions of dollars of infrastructure in the ground and it costs about 9.5% a year in carrying costs. It does not matter if government or private owns the assets there is a 9.5% carrying cost.

    If you don’t include the carrying cost, then it would be like saying “buy a house with 5% down payment but don’t pay the interest”. This is fantasy and not economics.

    If you include the carrying costs, the below market price of power that Alcan sells, the 70% taxes on gross income that it pays – and now all the expansion of the aluminum smelter that Alcan is spending on creating more jobs, you will find out that your 1400% rate of profit is BS hotair coming from a deep sense of envy of productive people and stems from ignorance of simple economic.

  5. Damien: “Alcan increasingly diverts energy for private sale, at a 1400% profit (according to the BCUC)!!!”

    Duh … There is an asset in place that generates wealth and the asset has a value and a carrying cost. Now it turns out the Aluminum markets is in the dumps and Alcan cant produce Aluminum. But can produce power.

    Alcan sells the power to BC Hydro at about $80 a MWh. This is below the market price of power in BC. The market price for green and clean power is even much higher in California. But Alcan sells all its power to BC Hydro at below market prices. Then it has to pay 70% of its net income as taxes to the chosen local community, to FNs, BC and the Feds.

    You are saying the people of BC should not get that taxes, and should be impoverished, because there is something religiously evil about capturing sustainable green energy? Why do you hate the people of the province so much?

  6. Damien: “Public resource given to a foreign corporation”.

    What nonsense. I suppose all foreign countries should now kick Canadian investment out of their lands. What a juvenile type of vacuous logic. Said foreign corporations infused massive amount of capital in Kitimat and produced massive amount of jobs and wealth and taxes which were received by BC.

    And we did not “give away our public resource” to Alcan. They are leasing it and when the lease runs out we get it back. Do you know the difference between leasing and owning Damien? Get a job at a dealership and do something productive.

    So you are saying this massive amount of clean and green energy that is beneficial to the whole Province and Canada should not be used because some selfish shakedown locals want to organize against it? Are the locals some sort of “chosen” people with redder blood than the rest of us mortals who need clean power? This is such a racist comment of yours that the local grievance shakedown community should be able to discriminate against the rest of BC and Canada. Where is the Social Contract? Your morals are quite suspect.

  7. Damien, obviously you are ignorant of simple economics.

    First off, the Socreds were just a continuation of the coalition government and they participated in the coalition government as the Conservatives. There is absolutely no reason to believe the Socreds would have not approved Alcan’s power project – in fact they would be even more in favour. After all, the massive dams that completely destroyed the unique ecosystem of the Columbia and the Peace watersheds were built under Bennett and the Socreds. Rafe belonging to the Socreds would have been in favour of Alcan or he would not be in that detested environmental destroying party.

    Last time I checked there was only one dam on the Nechako. Nothing like Revelstoke which was built by the Socreds at the time of Rafe in the 1980s. Rafe presided over the damming and destruction of the Columbia River system and the flooding and complete annihilation of hundreds of square kilometers of unique pristine and wild habitats with enormous ecological consequences.

    Can you please show me the “series of dams” you claim to be on the Nechako. Or is it your usual hyperbole and propaganda? The lakes configuration were never changed.

  8. Sustainable, you should check your facts. The Alcan Nechako reservoir deal was signed in 1950 by the coalition government that preceded Bennett’s Socreds – and a full 25 YEARS before Rafe became a Socred MLA. Rafe’s primary concern with Alcan regarded the proposed Kemano Completion Project in the 1990’s, which he helped stop when he was in radio after receiving the definitive DFO report – which had been covered up because it was so damning of the project’s proposed flow regimes and their impact on fish values – from a whistleblower. The original Nechako Reservoir was indeed created by damning a series of rivers and producing a circle of five different reservoir/lakes – which carried enormous ecological consequences at the time. Neither Rafe nor I are “socialists” – though these labels are increasingly out-moded today. What concerns us particularly about Alcan today is the way a public resource has been given to a foreign corporation, allowed to break their historic social contract with the people of Kitimat and BC, which was meant to produce aluminum smelting jobs, whereas today, Alcan increasingly diverts energy for private sale, at a 1400% profit (according to the BCUC)!!!

  9. Alcan never reversed a river. Alcan tapped into a huge 1000 km lake and diverted part of the lake runoff. There was no river there to be reversed. And this was done with the OK of the Socreds when Rafe belonged to the Socreds.

    Alcan created tens of thousands of jobs and raised the standard of living in BC. But socialist Rafe and Damien, neither of which ever had a real job working for a profitable enterprise, want only lazy inefficient government to build anything in this province so that the citizens become impoverished.

    Why did Rafe Mair not protest Alcan when he was minister of environment or MLA for the despised and hated reactionary Socreds?

    Because he knew where his paycheck was coming from. Such a hypocrite becomes a clown when he complains about Alcan !

  10. If they get rid of the wild fish,which they have several corporations from Norway working on,then we can start damming the Fraser and tributaries and drilling for ofshore oil,I assume that has been the plan for some time now…Big money talks.

  11. Rafe, Thanqxz . . . well said.

    “We developed a public mindset that marveled, uncritically, at development.” Yup! The city calls itself “GREEN VANCOUVER” yet commences approval for 48 stories on Burrard and planner Toderian rationalize 600-700 foot downtown heights.

    “GREEN”? We know we are being scammed!

    I have been an architect in BC for over sixty years and when I call such nonsense I am told, get on side: LEED gold/silver has been invented to give comfort to us design professionals. We know damn well it is window dressing.

    We gain brownie points by adding more alphabet soup: i.e. BEP alias, Building Envelope Professional. Only the naive buy in!

    “. . . industry is out-spending the environmental community 100-1.”

    Do we really need more height downtown? When Olympic Villagers are instructed to ” . . . not drink out of the toilets”, are they really saving the planet?

    IMO our most potent act is to address the word “conserve”, literally, by restraining our “wants”.

    I will feel better for my great grand kids when we find the integrity to curtail our wants instead of dumping the consequences on them!

Comments are closed.