Citizens protest a proposed private power project in Kaslo, BC

BC’s Energy Future: What to do with Private Power Contracts and Site “C”


There are rumours abroad in this province that Gordon Pinocchio Campbell is losing interest in private power projects and moving over to Site “C”. The apparent reason is that California refuses to consider the power green or clean – something the Common Sense Canadian has been saying for a long time. Whether this rumour is true or not, nothing is changed with respect those licenses now granted or those approved in principle awaiting the ersatz Environmental Assessment fiasco. What any new government would be obliged to do is open sill the existing contracts to the public – remember, these contracts were forced upon BC Hydro, our company – and if unfair, cancel them.

Carole James said in the last election that she would honour existing contracts and that simply doesn’t make sense. If she were running for mayor of a city on a pledge to clean up the corruptness of its previous leaders, and, upon winning, found that the contracts signed by them were all long-term, sweetheart deals with political pals, would she then honour the contracts? If so, what was the point of electing her?

We hear it said that if those contracts are tampered with, new business wouldn’t come and existing business would flee the province. That’s nonsense. If there are good business opportunities, businesses will come.

I believe that Ms. James and the NDP must put together criteria for examining these deals which would include seeing if the province of BC will benefit. If, as the truth unfolds, we find that these were long-term deals for government’s friends and donors; if we find out that most of the power produced by private power projects must be exported because they can’t make the power when BC Hydro can use it; if we see that the environmental damage is huge and irreparable; if we learn that BC Hydro is hurting badly and will soon be decapitated if it must continue to buy private power power at double what Hydro can sell it for and is thus on a clear path to ruin – under these circumstances the contracts have to be canceled, which can be done by an act of the Legislature. Too bad for the companies but they knew the contracts were theft, and thieves, whether corporate or not, deserve no sympathy.

Site “C” raises new issues. Damien Gillis and I both oppose this development and, no, we’re not against everything. British Columbia, contrary to government lies by Campbell and Colin Hansen, is not a net importer of power. BC Hydro is sometimes but BC Hydro isn’t the only power maker; when you count the others – Fortis, Alcan, and Teck-Cominco – BC is typically a net exporter.

The fact is that no power system can produce all the provincial needs under extreme difficulties. To maintain such a system would be horrendously expensive and wasteful. That’s why Burrard Thermal is needed and, as the BC Utilities Commission noted a year ago, ought to be expanded as our need grows.

But here is the point: Burrard Thermal must only be used when there is a serious shortage, which happens a few days a year – in the dead of winter when are needs are greatest and supply at its lowest.

Burrard Thermal, thanks to the Campbell government, has had a bad press. It’s not a pollution-belching plant at all. It uses natural gas which, after hydro power, is the next best producer.

Look at it this way: when a hospital is suddenly deprived of power, a backup system kicks in to cover off the (usually) short blackout. Some of my neighbours have back-up generators for the black-outs we get when hydro lines are down.

The public of BC have been very badly served by this government which has not been up front and honest about the power challenges in BC but has plainly lied through their teeth.

Site “C” is a debate the public – a well informed public – must have. Can we afford it? Most importantly, who are the target customers?

It’s said that even if it mostly exports power, there’s nothing wrong with that. This raises the critical question: is BC prepared to inflict serious and permanent environmental damage and ruin vital agricultural land in order to export the power produced? What if it’s designated for the Tar Sands and other egregiously bad environmental nightmares?

What Carole James and he NDP must do is come up with a policy and that policy must be to eliminate the secrecy and permit citizens to be heard not after the approval in principle has been given, but before. I realize that consulting the people is a shocking thought but not, I can tell you, to the people! Municipalities must be given back their right to zone power plants by repealing Bill 30. It strikes me as odd that people get to say their piece if the issue is a new building or a shopping centre or even it the proposed development is a store they don’t like, such as Walmart – but have no say when a private power producer wants to bugger up a river and the ecosystem it supports.

Governments generally, but especially this one, are scared of people participation in policy that directly gets in the way of government plans.

The public ate not to be trusted, says Mr Campbell – we know best!

A government that operates secretly and tries to shut out the public is begging for serious civil disobedience.


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

2 thoughts on “BC’s Energy Future: What to do with Private Power Contracts and Site “C”

  1. Up in the Peace river area ,we understand the need for power and are not against developement.Everything we do has an impact somewhere on something,so we need to look at creating the smallest footprint possible for future energy projects.BC Hydro has listed a number of sites in BC that are ready for Geothermal Power plants which have a small footprint in comparrison to Site C.

  2. The recent Clean Energy Act pushes through Site C and other additions to BC Hydro’s system, as well as more IPP power.

    I figure that additions to BC Hydro’s capacity (eg. Site C, new turbines at Mica etc.) are needed to back up the unreliable run of river and wind energy from IPPs, to make energy exports more feasible.

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