Gwen Barlee Op-Ed: Lifting the ‘Green Cloak’ that Covers Private River Power Projects


Read this op-ed in the Vancouver Sun by Gwen Barlee of the Wilderness Committee, pulling back the ‘green cloak’ that masks the economically and environmentally destructive nature of private river diversion projects in BC. (Sept. 17, 2012)

When I was growing up my mother used to warn me to look out for a wolf in sheep’s clothing. What she meant was to be cautious about people and situations that are not what they seem. This idiom aptly applies to the issue of independent power projects (IPPs) in British Columbia.

At first blush IPPs, notably river diversion projects, seem like a visionary and green solution to producing low carbon energy. Indeed, this is what the Wilderness Committee, a BC-based environmental organization, first thought when we were introduced to the concept a decade ago, and it is what the IPP industry vigorously advocates, as evidenced in Paul Kariya’s commentary to The Vancouver Sun on September 3rd.

Unfortunately, the reality is far different.

History shows that IPPs took root in BC when the provincial government introduced an energy policy in 2002 which forbade BC Hydro from producing new sources of hydroelectricity. This led to over 800 creeks, rivers and even lakes being “staked” by private power companies who were eager to capitalize on the rich electricity contracts BC Hydro was forced to issue. The move to stimulate IPPs in BC had nothing to do with tackling climate change, as the BC government at that time actively opposed the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. Instead, it had to do with electricity privatization and deregulation – twin concepts sweeping North America at the time.

Today, because of a horribly misguided energy policy, BC Hydro is now on the hook for over $50 billion – yes, billion – in sweetheart energy purchase agreements to IPPs. It is important to remember that IPP electricity produced here was never meant for BC. It was slated for California, except California doesn’t consider river-diversion projects to be green and it won’t pay a premium for the power.

So here we sit, with a publicly-owned utility saddled with an enormous debt for power we don’t need. BC Hydro, once the envy of North America for providing our province with reliable low-carbon electricity, now hovers on the edge of bankruptcy unless it can pass on its considerable debt to ratepayers.