Tag Archives: ipp

Newly Obtained Documents Reveal Private River Power Projects Killing Fish


Read this exclusive story from the Vancouver Sun on documents obtained by the Wilderness Committee that demonstrate private river power projects are killing fish. (Match 10, 2012)

The Mamquam River pours cold and fresh off the Coast Mountains, forming pools and canyons and chutes of white water on its way to the Squamish River and Howe Sound.

It was a natural place for federal fisheries biologists to assemble on an August 2010 weekend for swift-water safety training. Like the river itself, however, their exercise took an expected turn.

Rather than watch the Mamquam flow predictably to the sea, the biologists were dismayed to witness the water levels fluctuate wildly — and with dire consequences.

Young steelhead were dying, stranded without water.

The culprit? The Capital Power run-of-river hydro plant, located just upstream.

The independent power industry bills itself as green, sustainable and environmentally responsible.

But more than 3,000 pages of documents obtained separately by The Vancouver Sun and the Wilderness Committee through freedom of information requests show water-flow fluctuations caused by run-of-river hydro projects are killing fish — and the problem is not isolated.

While independent power producers insist their sector remains the cleanest energy option, the documents bolster environmentalists’ long-standing concerns about the industry.

“I’m seeing significant environmental problems,” said Gwen Barlee, policy director for the Wilderness Committee. “And that runs completely counter to what the companies are saying, which is essentially, ‘Trust us with your wild rivers and there won’t be any problems.’ ”

The documents detail repeated short-term fluctuations in water flows, resulting in the stranding and killing of juvenile fish downstream of two plants, Capital Power on the lower Mamquam and Innergex on Ashlu Creek, another tributary of the Squamish.

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Exclusive+river+power+projects+kill+fish/6278890/story.html


Tell DFO to Save Kokish River Steelhead from Proposed Private Power Project


These opening words from Gwen Barlee of the Wilderness Committee which cry out (in my mind at any rate for I don’t speak for the W.C. which certainly doesn’t need my help) for the highest manifestation of protest including civil disobedience:

Tucked away in the wild of northern Vancouver Island, the Kokish River is a treasure for fishers and wilderness lovers alike.

The Kokish River, located 15 km east of Port McNeill on northern Vancouver Island, is threatened by a proposed 45 megawatt hydropower project. The river is renowned for its high fish values including endangered summer and winter runs of steelhead.

Thus has begun yet another rape of a river without any public process at all. The deal requires approval from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which is why the Wilderness Committee is calling on citizens to write to them and demand they reject this project that would unquestionably damage important fish habitat.
The proposal is to divert the river through 9 kms of pipe through the generators then back into the river. This river has 2 steelhead runs and all 5 species of Pacific salmon.
Back to Ms. Barlee:
Kwagis Power, owned by Brookfield Renewable Power and the Namgis First Nation, has applied to dam and divert the 11 km river into a 9 km pipe. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) considers the Kokish to be a high-value river with a sensitive fish population.

The Kokish is a fish-rich river. In addition to the steelhead populations, it is home to five species of wild salmon, coastal cutthroat trout and Dolly Varden.
This is an outrage and it must be stopped.
Let’s remind ourselves what this means.

In the environmental sense, the river will no longer be the home and breeding point for the salmon and trout which rely upon this river. How the hell can you expect anything else to happen? It is indeed “common sense”!

What also happens is the slow death of the river and its ecology which depend upon the fish in the river for its own survival.

On the fiscal side, here is yet another nail in the BC Hydro coffin. It will be required to take this power during the spring run-off when BC Hydro doesn’t need the power, at double+ what it’s worth in the market or use it at many times over what BC Hydro can make for themselves!
Adrian Dix now has a right, and indeed a duty, to speak out loudly and clearly that he and his party condemn this project and that if elected, he will cancel this deal forthwith.
As for the premier and her outfit – who have already approved the project without any public consultation – this demonstrates, as if it were needed, her appalling ignorance of environmental and, indeed, fiscal matters. It also indicates the premier’s lack of courage – she evidently wants no controversial matters to spoil her day, assuming that if she just sticks to photo opportunities, her admitted good looks will sway the voters.

Now she gives us all the finger as she hands over yet another of our rivers to her corporate supporters. (I suppose we should be comforted in the knowledge that the Vancouver Board of Trade always gives her a standing ovation.)

This government has squandered at least 3 billion dollars, tripled our provincial debt and is dumb enough to cost the province $35 million dollars by refusing that sum from Telus who offered that if the dome was called Telus Field.

It has not just shown no interest in the environment, it has encouraged those who would pillage it for profit, to fill their boots.
It has driven BC Hydro into what would be bankruptcy in the private sector and now strikes yet another blow to it by adding the Kokish to the ecological disasters which have been the hallmark of the Campbell/Clark government.
More than fifty organizations and individuals – including NHL star Willie Mitchell and yours truly – have signed onto the Wilderness Committee’s letter calling for DFO to reject the project. They clearly believe that if the public adds its voice to the chorus, there is a real opportunity to make DFO do the right thing.


Rafe Mair – One on One with BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix (Part 1)


In the first of a two-part interview, Rafe Mair grills BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix on private power, Site C Dam and BC’s flawed environmental assessment process. What will the NDP do with existing and future private river power projects (a.k.a. IPPs) if they form the next government – and where do they stand on Site C Dam? Watch and find out…and stay tuned for part 2 Thursday, dealing with Enbridge, LNG and salmon farms.

The Kokish River on North Vancouver Island (photo: the Wilderness Committee)

Power Failure – Part 2: The Folly of the Kokish River IPP Proposal


In the second installment of a two-part series examining the failed private power model in BC, geologist and concerned British Columbian George Gibson focuses on the proposal to dam and divert the Kokish River as a prime example of the flawed BC Liberal energy policy.


An introduction and promotion from the proponents of the Kokish Project – benefits of this project:

Security of power supply: In winter, North Island communities not only utilize more electricity, they also experience a high incidence of power outages. Unlike many BC river systems, where peak flows occur during spring freshet, flows on the Kokish River are at their highest in late fall and winter. These high flows will make it possible for the Project to reliably generate enough power to supply the entire North Island.

Really?…That would be a neat trick. Here are some operational realities courtesy of Environment Canada and BC Hydro:

BC Hydro reports that “cold weather equals peak electricity demand” and makes specific reference to a period of sustained cold temperatures starting November 22, 2010 which placed an additional load of almost 2,000 MW on the system. A review of the Water Survey of Canada historic hydrometric data for the Tsitika River (the basis for a synthetic flow model for the Kokish) shows that this project would have been off line for the entire duration of this cold snap. Furthermore, a review of a less severe cold snap from January 15 – 17, 1970 using historical hydrometric data directly from the Kokish River shows that only a total flow of 4.5 m3/s would have been available. This facility requires a minimum flow of 21 m3/s, over and above minimum in-stream ecosystem requirements, for full 45 MW capacity output. Once again, this facility would have been either off line or at severely restricted capacity.

This blatant collusion is further propagated in a fact sheet example provided by the Clean Energy Association of BC promoting the urgency for IPP development. Colder than normal temperatures between January and April 2008 combined with unscheduled unit outages and other operational constraints created short term energy shortfalls that cumulatively required the import of 2,300 GWh. The Clean Energy BC Fact Sheet on Run-of-River explicitly promotes this technology as “providing a continuous source of clean, green renewable energy with minimal environmental impact.”

Firstly, BC Hydro is not in the business of importing expensive on-peak market electricity unless these imports are intended to cover short term capacity issues. The demand driver in this case was cold weather. How much capacity relief did run-of-river power producers contribute during these conditions? Once again, the hydrometric data for the Tsitika River, over this period, shows meager flows during every single cold snap. The Kokish facility would not have been available to provide BC Hydro with any effective capacity support during these short term capacity shortfalls. Much of the imported 2,300 GWh (about 800 MW of additional average daily capacity over the four month period) would still have had to come from some other non-hydro source.

Even more ironic, is that the only non-hydro source of clean energy capable of providing this level of capacity support, is available right now from the Northwest Power Pool. Would it not make more sense for BC Hydro’s marketers to spend their time securing firm energy purchase agreements from the wind power producers located right on our door step?

Secondly, run-of-river IPPs are far from immune to unscheduled unit outages. We will now consider a major vulnerability unique to this type of infrastructure.

Seismic hazard risk and run-of-river infrastructure: Electricity self-reliance and public safety will be the first casualties.

The energy security mandates of BC’s Clean Energy Act, including private sector promotions of run-of-river development on Vancouver Island and along the coastal mainland, quite literally, have the greatest potential for catastrophic failure. This is for two reasons:

  1.  Proximity to major geologically active fault structures that have a 100% probability of generating a destructive earthquake.
  2. Inherent seismic vulnerabilities in run-of-river infrastructure that precludes cost-effective hardening measures.

Seismic hazards in BC are most severe along coastal regions and include two major offshore threats: “Canada’s equivalent of the San Andreas fault”, running from northern Vancouver Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands, and the Cascadia Subduction Zone, extending from northern Vancouver Island to northern California. The Cascadia Subduction Zone has been the source of massive magnitude 9+ earthquakes at intervals ranging between 300-800 years. The last one was on January 26, 1700….do the math! An even greater threat is posed by strain build up between these intervals that produces, on average, one onshore event per decade. These events are typically smaller in magnitude but occur much closer to built-up areas, as in the June 23, 1946 magnitude 7.3 earthquake centered beneath mid-Vancouver Island.

Infrastructure vulnerabilities to earthquake damage have now become a major consideration for populations in high hazard locations. Experience has repeatedly demonstrated that one of the most vulnerable components of critical  “lifeline” infrastructure are water supply systems. Equally vulnerable are wastewater or sewage systems. Water pipeline infrastructure is vulnerable because it is typically buried just below the surface where destructive surface wave energy is concentrated. Furthermore, analysis from the February 27, 2010 magnitude 8.8 offshore earthquake in Chile demonstrated that water pipelines were particularly prone to rupture when buried in loosely consolidated soils. Specifically it was observed that “areas within 200’ (or so) of river banks often suffered lateral spreads and settlements”. A partial tally of the damage to water supply pipelines in the Concepcion area alone included 72 breaks or leaks to large diameter welded steel pipes and over 3000 breaks in water mains and service laterals. One year later, the repairs were ongoing. In addition to this, wastewater systems suffered heavily, including damage to large diameter interceptor pipes and small diameter collector pipes.

None of the above findings bode well for a power generating facility dependent on a long water pipeline (penstock) to deliver water from an intake weir to a powerhouse. Specific features of the Kokish run-of-river project are supplied by the proponent:

Minimal requirement for new infrastructure: The Project’s proximity to existing roads and transmission lines will minimize requirements for new infrastructure, which will in turn reduce environmental impacts and clearing requirements, and help reduce project costs. The low level weir and intake will be located within 100 m of the Kokish Main Road on the east side of the Kokish River. The 9 km buried penstock will run parallel to the Kokish Main Road for about 80% of its length, and the powerhouse and switchyard will be situated on land that is immediately adjacent to the Telegraph Cove Road.

The Kokish run-of-river project is located only 150 km from the Nootka Fault, one of BC’s most seismically active regions. This is located essentially at the confluence of the “San Andreas of the north” and the Cascadia Subduction Zone. This is also very close to the location of BC’s most recent wake up call that rattled Vancouver Island last year.

In light of the information presented above, it should be obvious that not only is this project susceptible to catastrophic earthquake damage, it poses the additional risk of damaging or interfering with access to critical road and highway infrastructure. This is no trivial matter: A rupture anywhere along the 9km length of the Kokish facility’s penstock could cause the uncontrolled release of nearly 6,000 gallons of water per secon Damage at or near the powerhouse would be compounded by very high water pressure: 2,140 KPa or about 300 psi.

Where’s the value?

BC Hydro will be obliged to purchase 180 GWh/year from the Kokish run-of-river facility. This amounts to approximately 1/3 of 1% of BC Hydro’s total integrated system requirements and will contribute 0 MW of capacity support during peak system loads. This energy will cost BC Hydro approximately $18 million dollars/year, nearly the same amount of capital dedicated to vegetation management for Hydro’s entire system. Today, BC Hydro could purchase approximately 580 GWh of on-peak (high demand conditions) market electricity or in excess of 1000 GWh of off-peak (low demand conditions) market electricity for the same $18 million.

Proponents of the $200 million Kokish Project list additional benefits as the full-time employment of  approximately 70 people over the two year construction phase of the project. Like all other run-of-river facilities, the subsequent operation of this facility would be automated, requiring no further significant employment opportunities. The argument that this is an effective job creation strategy is a slap in the face to the ecotourism businesses established in the area. A single whale watching operation based in Telegraph Cove has contributed at least this number of man hours of employment with many more to come. Furthermore, their customers contribute to a cascade of economic spin-offs for the community. There is no Clean Energy Act directive to support sustainable family businesses that promote the importance of environmental stewardship.

LNG Exports to Asia to be powered by new clean energy projects: A complete loss of integrity and credibility for Government and Clean Energy Producers

This idea is a serious contender for the “Darwin Awards” as the most counterproductive initiative ever conceived. A brief review of one inconvenient reality that both Government and clean energy producers have chosen to ignore: The concept of thermal efficiency. This is the single most effective variable available to combat GHG emissions. Thermal efficiency is a measure of how efficient or wasteful a fuel burning process is. A few examples:

  • typical automotive engine (gasoline) ~ 25%
  • coal-fired power plant ~ 45%
  • modern combined cycle natural gas power plant ~ 60%
  • high efficiency natural gas appliance (furnace or water heater) ~  98%

This demonstrates how extraordinarily wasteful we are with our fossil fuel use. Any use other than for the purpose of heating contributes significant and unnecessarily GHG emissions. It is especially important to note that the use of electricity from a natural gas power facility for heating purposes reflects poor management of this resource.

The LNG proposal promoted by Premier Christy Clark is predicated on the use of natural gas to displace coal-fired power plants. In fact, by supporting this practice, the carbon footprint of BC’s natural gas will be increased dramatically. Pipeline transportation to the coast, conversion to LNG, and shipping to Asian markets all compound GHG emissions either directly or indirectly. It is important to remember, the construction process for the required infrastructure, including building new clean energy facilities, all produce significant GHGs. Furthermore, BC has no control over how this resource will be used at the other end. In a complete twist of irony, China uses a huge amount of natural gas for feedstock in the production of ammonia for petrochemical fertilizer. This is due, in part, to the vast tracts of fertile flood plains that have been sacrificed for massive hydropower projects. The use of natural gas for the production of ammonia has been specifically identified as having one of the highest intensities of GHG emissions.

DSM (Demand Side Management): The only practical, affordable, and effective option

The Smart Meter Program is a specific directive of the Clean Energy Act. It mandates that BC Hydro communicates a very simple message to its customers, in the most expensive way possible! It will cost  BC Hydro close to $1 billion to say “you’re screwed” to those customers unfortunate enough to rely on electricity to heat their homes. We have previously demonstrated a massive potential  reduction in the supply gap that would be possible by getting customers to fuel switch their heating demands from electricity to natural gas. This is already a “no-brainer” by today’s comparative energy costs. Pending future increases in electricity costs will only serve to force the issue. In fact, only about 20% of a typical BC household’s annual energy demands (25 MWh) require electricity: appliances and electronics(15%), and lighting(5%). The remaining 80% is split between space heating(60%)and water heating(20%). Therefore up to 80% of household energy use could be supplied by natural gas.

This option for fuel switching is a significant advantage for BC. A winter peaking energy profile allows for efficient substitution of domestic energy resources. In contrast, large export markets such as California, have summer peaking energy profiles where electricity-dependent cooling demands are the main drivers of energy consumption. The total annual energy requirements for BC’s residential sector are about 45,000 GWh. However, only about 9,000 GWh are dependent on electricity. This presents an opportunity for BC Hydro to once again become a highly profitable clean energy exporter using existing capacity from its heritage assets. These exports would be displacing the much less efficient use of natural gas for producing electricity to power California’s air conditioners.

The most efficient use of BC’s natural gas is for domestic energy requirements in high efficiency furnaces and water heaters. Natural gas committed to household energy use could easily eliminate any anticipated electricity supply gap for years to come. Furthermore, it would eliminate any dependence on private power producers and put a stop to the completely unnecessary sacrifice of our rivers and streams. Perhaps more importantly, BC would be able to ensure the most effective management of GHG emissions from this resource.

The race for BC to become a world leader in new clean energy production was over long ago, when Government and the private power sector blew their wager on run-of-river technology. A failure from all influences on this particularly ill-suited initiative for BC has been offset only by stunning successes in the wind power industry. It defies all logic that BC Hydro should not be able to take full advantage of this already established massive new resource and optimize natural operational synergies with other partners in the Northwest Power pool.

The only things standing between efficient management of BC’s GHG emissions, affordable electricity, and a highly profitable public utility are the Clean Energy Act and the boneheads behind it.

Lessons learned

A fitting conclusion is provided by David Freeman, appointed chair of The California Power Authority during the California Electricity Crisis. This submission was made to the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, Foreign Commerce and Tourism, on May 15, 2002:

There is one fundamental lesson we must learn from this experience: electricity is really different from everything else. It cannot be stored, it cannot be seen, and we cannot do without it, which makes opportunities to take advantage of a deregulated market endless. It is a public good that must be protected from private abuse. If Murphy’s Law were written for a market approach to electricity, then the law would state ‘any system that can be gamed, will be gamed, and at the worst possible time.’ And a market approach for electricity is inherently gameable. Never again can we allow private interests to create artificial or even real shortages and to be in control.

George Gibson is a retired geologist from Courtenay, BC , who applies his passion for science and the environment to wilderness preservation, and the promotion of environmental stewardship through ecotourism.


Power Failure: BC’s Clean Energy Act on Shaky Ground – Part 1


The following is the first in a two-part series by geologist and concerned British Columbian George Gibson examining the failed private power model in BC.


Dedicated to my 4 year old daughter who asked, “Dad, can BC Hydro make electricity from ice?”

We were on a family walk along one of our favorite rivers. She had just heard her parents lamenting that this river was one of many in the area slated for private power development. It was a crisp January day and her parents had failed to notice that there was only a trickle of water in the main channel.

The recently awarded Environmental Assessment Certificate for the Kokish River hydroelectric project provides a fitting backdrop for a review of disastrous and increasingly relevant flaws in BC’s Clean Energy Act. Premier Christy Clark’s complacency and Energy Minister Rich Coleman’s failure to address glaring new realities has resulted in increasingly desperate collusion by government and corporate influences to justify obsolete policy. The ongoing explosive growth of wind power capacity in the Pacific Northwest Power Pool, the collapse of natural gas prices, and a timely reminder of infrastructure vulnerabilities from the earthquake in Japan are all examples of evolving conditions where adaptability is key to survival.

Inherent flaws in BC’s Clean Energy Act are an inevitable consequence of a policy committed to the paradoxical agendas of economic growth and reducing GHG emissions. The invariable result of this combination is that neither will be done well. Furthermore, many of the specific directives of the Clean Energy Act reflect private sector influences that are both self-serving and profit driven. This private sector influence is therefore in a direct conflict of interest with value-based solutions that honour the best interests of the public.

Clean Energy BC (formerly the Independent Power Producers Association of  British Columbia) and the Green Energy Advisory Task Force are prominent influences on policy. Both groups are dominated by expertise in business and corporate finance. Perhaps the most troubling attribute of these advisory groups is the near absence of engineers, scientists (including ecosystems and fisheries biologists), and environmental researchers. Those most qualified to build an effective policy and assess the legitimacy of “green” qualifications have been largely bypassed.

Government policy embracing a profit-based, finance-driven corporate agenda for the clean energy sector has had the unfortunate side-effect of introducing deceptive and questionable marketing and promotion practices to a generally wholesome industry. Sadly, these promotion strategies are driving development in projects tailored to maximizing profits rather than effectiveness in reducing GHG emissions. Adding insult to injury, The Clean Energy Act burdens BC Hydro with outrageous and conflicting expectations to both facilitate IPP development and maintain obligations to ratepayers. The following analysis will detail how inherent defects in this legislation will result in little meaningful reduction in GHG emissions while transferring senseless risk and expense to the ratepayer.

The Clean Energy Act: A suicide mandate for BC Hydro

“The Clean Energy Act sets the foundations for areas of priority”, as per the Ministry of Energy Shareholder’s Letter of Expectations presenting government mandated directives to BC Hydro. These directives must then become the basis for BC Hydro’s Service Plan. The Letter of Expectations for BC Hydro’s 2011/12 Service plan includes the following areas of priority:

  • Ensuring electricity self-sufficiency at low rates
  • Supporting the development of clean private power projects to enable economic growth and create jobs in every region
  • Securing long-term export power sales by partnering with private power producers without risk or cost to BC ratepayers

Furthermore, this Letter of Expectations contains an explicit directive from government for BC Hydro to “explore and identify opportunities to facilitate access for independent power producers to sell clean, renewable electricity in western North American markets”. ( That’s right…the same government that accused BC Hydro of being over-staffed is now expecting their marketers to do legwork on behalf of private power producers!)

The mandates referenced above are absurdly inconsistent with the realities of the challenges facing BC Hydro. BC Hydro’s obligations to ratepayers are to provide  reliable, secure and sufficient supplies of electricity safely and cost-effectively. The most significant challenges to these obligations are to provide reliable service under conditions of maximum demand and stress on the system.

The conditions for peak electricity demand and largest risk to the system are explicitly identified by both BC Hydro and the Northwest Power Pool as “cold weather” or “significant weather events” where temperatures drop more than 10°C below normal. This is for the simple reason that in BC, space heating requirements are responsible for about 57% of total household energy use. A legacy of the era of cheap hydro power is that between 200,000 and 500,000 of BC’s 1.8 million households use electricity as either a primary or complementary source for space heating. This calls for a staggering amount of capacity: approximately 2000 MW over and above typical usage patterns.

This causes unique problems for jurisdictions where electricity is generated primarily from hydro power facilities. Freezing temperatures stall the process of precipitation runoff, and within a matter of hours, river and stream flows are reduced to minimum levels. Hydro reservoirs are taxed by maximum withdrawals and minimal refilling. Capacity support from run-of-river facilities during these conditions is not effective. Furthermore, capacity support from wind generation may or may not be available depending on the location of those facilities and whether or not temperatures at those sites drop below standard operating limits (typically -10° C). Cold weather limitations on electricity supply from hydro power sources, including run-of-river, have been a major contributor to historical requirements for BC Hydro to offset short term energy supply shortfalls with market imports. It is therefore unrealistic to expect clean energy electricity suppliers to meet demand driven by cold temperatures.

The conditions for greatest stress with maximum potential for service interruption are caused by winter storms. BC Hydro explicitly identifies the single greatest cause of power interruption as damage caused by trees and branches falling on power lines. In the wake of major service disruptions caused by this type of damage, BC Hydro has managed to reduce these occurrences on a measly annual vegetation management budget of approximately $20 million. The proliferation of private power facilities will require significant expansion of transmission infrastructure and only serve to exacerbate this issue.

Added to the challenge of hardening a system against winter storms, is the requirement to harden against seismic risk. BC Hydro bears the responsibility of managing complex and capital intensive requirements for operating a power supply and distribution network of critical infrastructure in an area threatened with the inevitable occurrence of a major earthquake. In fact, much of the $6 billion worth of capital that BC Hydro has committed to spending on renewing or replacing aging infrastructure is related to seismic upgrades. This stems from the fact that at the time these facilities were built, our knowledge of seismic hazards and vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure was limited to only a handful of documented events. In light of the numerous devastating earthquakes that have occurred since then, and the vast amount of data available for identification of earthquake hazards and infrastructure vulnerabilities, it is completely unreasonable to criticize the economic efficiencies of these expenditures.

The challenges mentioned above are largely reflected in a summary of significant costs for BC Hydro in supplying domestic needs, as stated in the BC Hydro Service Plan 2010/11 – 2012/13:

  • The cost of buying energy accounts for between 35% and 40% of BC Hydro’s overall domestic costs. This includes the cost of net market electricity purchases, IPP purchases, and natural gas costs for thermal generation facilities.
  • Capital investment costs account for approximately 33% of overall domestic costs. This includes system upgrades for reliability as well as capacity additions.

The Clean Energy Act has alarming implications for the future escalation of these costs.

The act mandates BC Hydro will loose the flexibility to augment supply with net market imports beyond 2016. This will restrict access to approximately 13,000 MW of wind power capacity in the Northwest Power Pool. The Northwest Power Pool Assessment of Reliability and Adequacy 2011-2012 Winter Operating Conditions reports on a situation that has been completely ignored by the BC Government: There is already a problem with surplus clean energy capacity in the spring and fall when wind and hydro generation may exceed load plus the capacity to export. This supply surplus has resulted in downward pressure on Pacific Northwest wholesale electricity markets, creating bargain prices during the freshet and periods of mild wet weather. February 2012 wholesale prices are trading around $24/MWh for firm, on-peak delivery. Despite this fact, BC’s Government and the IPP sector justify The Clean Energy Act mandate for electricity self-sufficiency with repeated reference to wild price volatility and potentially exorbitant costs of importing electricity from external markets.

In a perverse display of deception, both parties make specific example of the California Energy Crisis as the calamitous consequences of any dependency on external supply. Any degree of familiarity with this event reveals that this example had very little to do with real supply shortages and everything to do with market manipulation by fraudulent private sector participants such as Enron. Any contribution to real supply constraints was caused by the combination of cold weather and drought conditions which critically reduced hydro power capacity in the Pacific Northwest.

These inherent limitations, and in particular cold weather limitations on hydro power generation, pose a conundrum for BC Hydro. An increased dependency on hydro power in a hydro power dominated market only serves to exacerbate supply gaps during times of peak demand. Nevertheless, the IPP sector and the BC Government continue to press the urgency to build more run-of-river facilities in order to fulfill increasingly speculative and illusory future supply gaps. BC Hydro is left to deal with the paradoxical realities.

BC Hydro will lose even more operational flexibility and incur additional affordability challenges as the option to offset peak system loads by purchasing cheap natural gas for thermal generators will be restricted by limitations on GHG emissions.

Future capital investment will be committed to transmission infrastructure expansion to facilitate IPP development and the highly controversial Site C project. The end result is that BC Hydro’s single greatest cost, buying energy, will be almost entirely dedicated to an exclusive group of private power producers. Furthermore, a significant portion of capital costs will go toward facilitating this. To date, over 70% of BC Hydro’s contracted electricity purchases for clean energy have been awarded to private run-of-river and limited storage hydro power projects. BC Hydro’s yearly cost for run-of-river power alone, currently stands at $340 million (assuming 3,400 Contracted GWh/year at a weighted average of $100/MWh). This contribution amounts to about 6% of total annual electricity demand. However, as previously explained, cold weather limitations shift the timing of this supply to periods of low demand. The value of electricity supplied to BC Hydro is indexed to market pricing only when timing of delivery corresponds directly to periods of daily peak demand.

The wisdom of these directives, including expectations for new clean energy to supply economic expansion, and the implications for BC ratepayers will be considered in the context of the Kokish run-of-river private power project, which we’ll examine in detail in part 2 of this series. This project provides an excellent opportunity to assess glaring deficiencies, blatant collusion, and unacceptable costs for both ratepayers and the general public.

George Gibson is a retired geologist from Courtenay, BC , who applies his passion for science and the environment to wilderness preservation, and the promotion of environmental stewardship through ecotourism.




Fighting the Corporate Take-Over of BC


I write this not just as a New Year’s thought but also as one looking personally at his ninth and presumably last decade. And a sad scene I see.

From the commencement of time ownership and control of societies have been shared, preposterously unfairly, between “them that has and them that doesn’t”.

It continues today as never before. What the super rich don’t own, they control. 100s of thousands of jobs, thanks to the computer, have been exported to lands where labour is dirt-cheap and where benefits are minimal if they exist at all.

We are witnessing the corporatization of our government by the powerful. It’s an easy task, for the ordinary MP or MLA, by reason of our rotten system, does what his or her leader orders. The decisions of society are no longer made by parliaments – if they ever were – but in the corporate boardroom.

A question or two:

What say did you have re: fish farms? What say have you about the huge damage these farms present? What say have you now on new licenses?

What say have you had in the destruction our rivers by large and very rich foreign companies? Have you agreed that it’s a good thing that these private sector companies get a sweetheart deal, where they sell power to BC Hydro for more than twice what it’s worth, forcing Hydro to buy this power at a huge loss when they don’t need it?

BC Hydro is technically bankrupt – is that what you thought you would have when the Campbell government set forth its private energy policy, turning over power production to rich companies like General Electric?

What say did you have in the privatization of BC Rail where the Campbell government gave our railroad away in a crooked deal that the government hushed up?

What about the Enbridge Pipeline scheduled to ship hundreds of thousands of barrels of Tar Sands gunk (aka bitumen) from the Alberta to Kitimat? Have you had a say in this matter? The only reason to send this gunk to Kitimat is so that it can be shipped down our coast through the most dangerous waters in the world – have you had a say in this?

Of course you haven’t and it’s instructive, I think, to note that Premier Clark will only express her opinion after the rubber stamping National Energy Board has deliberated.

Premier Photo-Op doesn’t seem to understand that the approval of the pipeline means oil tankers at almost one a day sailing down our pristine coast line.

Is the premier that dumb?

Or is it that her government is prepared to approve tanker traffic?
The companies and politicians talk about minimal risk – the plain, incontrovertible fact is this:


The issue facing BC can be simply stated: will we give up our land and resources to the private sector and, while we do it, will we accept the destruction of our environment?

The Corporations say that these efforts, fish farms, private power, pipelines and tankers will being lots of money and lots of jobs into BC.

I ask two questions – what money and what jobs? Building fish farms, private dams and pipelines bring construction jobs, mostly to off shore crews, and leave behind a few caretakers to watch the computers. The profits go out of the province into the pockets of Warren Buffet and his ilk.

This is the fact Premier Clark must ponder and soon: will the public of BC simply accept these destructions of our beautiful province? Will they just simply shake their heads and go quietly?

In my view they won’t. Through the ages the long-suffering public takes so much and no more. Read your history, Madame Premier – there comes a tipping point where the public will take no more and in my judgment we have reached that point.

I beg of you, Premier, shake the scales from your eyes, look and think! This isn’t a right wing versus left wing matter but a question of right and wrong.

The last thing in the world I want to see is violence but I tell you fair that the decision rests upon you – if you don’t deal with the fish farmers, the energy thieves, the pipelines and tankers there will be violence, and that will be the legacy of the Campbell/Clark government.


Rafe Reflects on Common Sense Canadian – And Why 2012 is Make-or-Break Year for BC


It’s customary at this time of the year too look back, comment, and look to the New Year. Why should The Common Sense Canadian (CSC) be any different?
We’ve been going for about a year and a half so my comments may take us a little earlier than last January but let me start by saying that both Damien Gillis and I are pretty proud of our progress.
Neither of us believes in some commonwealth of environmental people and groups. That’s not practical as we all have issues we feel more strongly about than others. We do, however, like to feel that we can bring a vehicle into being that helps all environmentalists and groups find a place to air their feelings. As one would expect, the particular passions of Damien and me will stand out in the work we do but we also support many other groups. Because of the history we bring to the CSC, we tend to look most in four areas, in no particular order: fish farms, private power, pipelines and oil tankers – the latter two being bound together but still two separate issues; but you can’t have one without the other.
What we’ve seen happen in the past year or so is a sense of all environmentalists feeling part of the same general battle – and battle it is.
Let me expand on that last thought a bit. All of us, whether trying to save forests, or a river, or a coastline or whatever are met with the cry “aren’t they in favour of anything?” If they’re not hugging trees they’re against jobs for the young and prosperity for communities. These and similar questions have been raised since the first day someone declared that there were other issues than just monetary ones. To show you how ridiculous this gets, supporters of the proposed “Prosperity” Mine allege that this mine will give employment to 71,000 people! Why not 710,000 if you’re going to be ridiculous?
What we try to do is challenge people to make a value judgment on what is done and place the environmental issues securely on the table. The main reason we do that is that damage to the environment is permanent while the economics diminish as time goes by, leaving only the scars.
Let’s look at a so-called “run-of-river” project. We’re told that these are necessary to create jobs yet when the deed is done there are only a bare handful of caretakers left behind while the river, and the ecology that depend upon it, are permanently and seriously impaired.
Now we are democrats. If the public, fully informed, wish to create permanent environmental damage, that is their right. What happens, however, is that the public, if they are informed at all, only see the glitzy ads by the company and the smooth assurances of the politicians.
Public hearings are, frankly, bullshit. The decision has been made and, like a trial in the old Soviet Union, a “show” trial must take place.
Let me give you a recent example: when President Obama refused to authorize the Keystone XL project which would take “gunk” from the Tar Sands to  Texas, Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty instantly responded and said that we would have to put the proposed Enbridge pipeline from the Tar Sands to Kitimat, BC, on “the front burner”! Before the National Energy Board hearings even get off the ground the Finance Minister is assuming the result! Yet, he’s right to do so because the “fix” is well and truly in.
This takes me to the meat of the matter for, in the past couple of years there has been an astonishing cooperation of environmental organizations to fight these things together.
I’ve been all around the province making speeches and often the stage has been shared with COPE union spokespersons, the Wilderness Committee, Alexandra Morton and her Raincoast Research Society, the redoubtable Donna Passmore and her work on highways and farmland issues, CoalWatch Comox Valley regarding the proposed Raven coal mine, citizen groups fighting local issues like overhead transmission lines and numerous grassroots organizations in the Kootenays in Northern BC, on the Sunshine Coast – and the list goes on.
Of enormous consequence has been the work all the different environmental groups have done with First Nations on the issues I have mentioned. One of the most touching moments in my Roast of November 24 last were the speeches given by Grand Chief Stewart Philip, Chief Bob Chamberlin and Chief Marilyn Baptiste; and I tell you truly that I wept when they spoke and sang and considered how far down the road to true understanding of their concerns I had come – something, I might add, Chief Philip commented upon with a twinkle in his eye to match my tears.
Let me pause here to note that I have left out many people and organizations that have every right to stand out in front as those I have mentioned and I deeply hope that I haven’t offended any of them.
Let me speak out clearly on political matters. The Campbell/Clark government are enemies of the public at large. The destruction they have caused, and which will happen because of their policies, beggars description. Not unnaturally, the NDP have been the beneficiaries, often accidentally, from this public disgust with the government. I can tell you that at my “Roast” were people I knew from my old Socred days – people who a year ago would have preferred to be found in a house of ill repute than be seen with the CSC helping us in our fundraiser.
I must say this: the NDP gets no easy ride from us. It’s simple to jump on a bandwagon but we demand commitments from them – not airy, fairy crap that passes for commitment in political jargon.
I’m going to end now with this look ahead. 2012 will be the year that decides where we go in BC.
Will we have more rivers destroyed for private profit? Will we see our province, my homeland and yours, turned over to the 100% certain destruction by pipelines? And to the 100% certainty of catastrophic oil spills on our coast and in Burrard Inlet? Will we continue to allow fish farmers to annihilate our sacred Pacific Salmon? Will we watch idly as Fish Lake is destroyed to set the precedent of more of the same?
Will we do nothing as we lose more and more farmland? Will money promised and jobs pledged suck the wind out of our ability to see what’s really happening to us, our children, our grandchildren and for some of us great-grandchildren?
That is the advantage, you see, of old age – right before your eyes are the people we hold BC in trust for. The wisdom of the ages, in the soul of our First Nations, is the wisdom we must listen to and apply if we want to save our province from those who would convert it into cash for private use, leaving us with nothing but the scars to remind us what damned fools we’ve been.
The Common Sense Canadian will be in this fight in 2012 and in the years to come and, along with those we march alongside, do not intend to lose the battles nor the war.


Mark Hume: Tyson Creek Private Power Project a Disaster That Shouldn’t be Repeated


Read this story from Mark Hume in The Globe and Mail on one particularly bad example of ecologically disastrous private river power projects (IPPs) in BC. The Tyson Creek project in Narrows Inlet on the Sunshine Coast actually involves a lake with a massive hole drilled at the bottom – resulting in major siltation problems in the fish-bearing streams and inlet below.

“There have been growing concerns in British Columbia about the impact of private power projects on streams and rivers. But
we should worry about our lakes, too, according to a file of internal
government documents related to the Tyson Creek hydroelectric project.

documents, obtained by Gwen Barlee of the Wilderness Committee, track
the licensing, development and subsequent but temporary closing of the
project when it caused the usually clear Tzoonie River to turn the
colour of mud.” (Nov. 27, 2011)

Read article: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/mark-hume/tyson-creek-experiment-ought-not-to-be-repeated/article2251369/

Jimmy Pattison recently plucked Dave Cobb from BC Hydro

Could Jimmy Pattison Have an Eye on BC Hydro? Rafe Speculates Wildly


How about a bit of totally nonsensical speculation of the order of “Hitler is alive and well living in Argentina”. Something utterly absurd. I bring to this speculation a very unique history – I’m the only person in captivity who’s been fired twice by Jimmy Pattison.
I rather like Jimmy – going out for dinner with Mary and him on his yacht, Nova Spirit, tells you a lot about the way Jimmy’s mind works, for the guests are from different genres and, as often as not, don’t speak with one another. It’s clear that Jimmy enjoys watching the way they interrelate or don’t interrelate at all. Certainly a big man in accomplishments, Jimmy carries with him, dare I mention it in this age of politically correctness, the usual symptoms of, shall we say, height challenge, which accounts for his need to be the big guy at all times, even as he is over 80, to succeed.

Stories about employees abound – the late Bill Sleeman, to whom he gave a new Rolls Royce on his retirement. Long term employees like Enzo (sorry, Enzo I’ve forgotten your surname), Bud Eberhart and Maureen Chant, to name a few, feel or felt a great loyalty to Jimmy who, when concentrating on his car company, routinely fired the month’s lowest salesman saying, “I do them no favour keeping them in a job they can’t succeed in” was his theory.
You know the saying, “When a husband sends his wife flowers for no reason, there’s a reason.” Enter Dave Cobb, retiring from BC Hydro after 17 months as CEO; I have no trouble understanding why Cobb would leave. You will remember Cobb’s leaked conference call to employees, in which he slammed independent power projects (IPPs); his predecessor Bob Elton evidently bit the dust on the same subject.
In assessing this unfolding story we must know that the BC government is bankrupting BC Hydro, and in fact have already done so. As economist Erik Andersen has explained, if  BC Hydro was in the private sector it would be in bankruptcy protection now! The reason they are not is that they can keep raising their rates.
From the outset, the government’s IPP policy has been to force Hydro to buy power it doesn’t need thus must either sell it at half to a quarter the price they paid for it or use it instead of their own power at a huge loss.
Why would a government do so silly a thing?
There are only two reasons: The Campbell/Clark government wants to bankrupt BC Hydro because of The Fraser Institute’s embedded “values” in the right wing unassailable tenet that there should only be private corporations because they are better business people; or, I suppose, they’re dumb as a sack full of hammers and don’t know what the hell they’re doing (I suppose we must admit of the possibility of both being true!).
This is the point I take leave of my senses. Jimmy Pattison has bought the services of Dave Cobb, for whom he must be paying a pretty penny – I mean this guy’s in the million a year range. What reason is there for this? (NDP leader Adrian Dix got off a good one saying that perhaps Cobb has found a Premier Clark he can work with!)
What if Pattison has an eye on BC Hydro? Yes, that’s what I asked – what if Jimmy Pattison, an acquisitor par excellence, buys out the jewel of the BC Crown!
If Jimmy were planning that, he would need someone close to home that knew where the bodies were hidden and Cobb squarely meets that criterion.
In the first place, Cobb is the only man in Hydro today who has admitted that these IPPs are going to wipe out Hydro’s assets. Knowing this and being the sort who can see the writing on the wall, saying, “Get the hell out before you’re tossed out”, he decided to do that.
Taking over Hydro is not a money-winner – at least not now – and won’t be as long as it has liabilities like $50 billion for money-losing (big time) IPPs. But what if Pattison could buy Hydro’s hardware and longstanding customers only, leaving the IPPs in the lurch with no legal rights against the government (the IPP deals were, after all, made by Hydro), nor the new BC Hydro which has no legal connection to the original one.
I’m admittedly groping in the dark here – I’ve never seen these private contracts. But what if the government said, “We’re expropriating your companies. Here’s the deal – take it or leave it, thanks a lot and good-by”?
Who better than Dave Cobb to help the lawyers and bankers to sort all this out?
Probably simply fantasy, idiotic conjecture. Certainly it’s just guesswork. But there have been worse conjectures…I think!
This for the closer – Jimmy Pattison has never winced from taking on an unusual proposition.
And what was that about the husband and the flowers?


Private Power by the Numbers: Hugely Overpriced IPP’s Mean Soaring Hydro Bills


This article was originally published in the Alaska Highway News.

Dave Cobb is president and CEO of BC Hydro. In August, he confirmed what Hydro watchers have been saying for some time: that provincial energy policy is forcing Hydro to buy electricity it doesn’t need at prices higher than it needs to pay. Mr. Cobb said that if the government’s policy doesn’t change, BC Hydro would be “spending hundreds of millions of dollars per year of ratepayers’ money with no value in return” and that Hydro would be required “to buy far more long-term power than we need.”

That means that without changes, your BC Hydro bill will be going up – a lot – when it doesn’t need to.

Cobb was talking about restrictions imposed on BC Hydro by the province’s policies, especially electricity self-sufficiency. Legislation passed last year requires that Hydro hold enough electricity by 2016 to meet all BC needs. By 2020 it must hold 3000 gigawatt hours extra. It must be able to do that in the lowest water year on record. That means BC will have surplus electricity in all years except the very worst one, which might occur once every fifty or more years.

The theory, apparently, was that all the surplus power could be sold to the United States and Alberta. But abundant low-cost natural gas has allowed them to develop their own gas-fired generation, so the export market isn’t as large as anticipated and what market there is won’t command the prices that Hydro needs to cover off the cost of what it’s committed to buy.     

Besides having to acquire more electricity than needed, Hydro is also required to buy that electricity from private independent power producers (IPP’s) operating in BC. Hydro could buy it cheaper on the open market both now and in the foreseeable future.  

Purchases are classified as non-firm, meaning electricity that isn’t available all the time such as wind or run-of-river; and firm, meaning electricity that’s always available.  

Bids from IPP’s to supply electricity to BC Hydro recently came in at an average of $100 per megawatt hour for non-firm and $124 for firm.  Recent spot market prices ranged from a low of  $4.34 for non-firm to a high of $52.43 for firm. Firm power with delivery in 2012 was recently listed at $27-35 on the Pacific Northwest wholesale market. The further into the future you go, the less reliable the price predictions. Keeping that in mind, the 2030 price is suggested to be in the range of  $81-85 per megawatt hour. So relying on the best information available, it seems BC Hydro is being forced to pay artificially high prices for electricity.  

Buying high and selling low doesn’t work for long. So who will pick up the shortfall between what Hydro is paying and what it can sell the electricity for?  

Well, that would be you, BC Hydro customers.

That Energy Act requires that the electricity rates be high enough that Hydro can recover the costs of that electricity it is required to buy.  So your rates go up to cover “spending hundreds of millions of dollars per year of ratepayers money for no value…”

Although rate-payers are on the hook for the costs, they have been noticeably absent from creating the policy that’s pushing up Hydro rates. If there’s to be a change in provincial electricity policy, then rate-payers will have to stand up and insist that seeing as they’re footing the bill, they want their interests to be protected.  

Gwen Johansson has served on numerous energy-related endeavours. She co-chaired the Northeast Energy & Mines Advisory Committee; served on  BC Hydro’s Integrated Electricity Planning Committee; is a former BC Hydro Director and a former member of the BC Energy Council. She lives in the Peace Valley near Hudson’s Hope.