Climate leadership would attract clean energy investment to B.C.
Author — Jeremy Moorhouse Category — Electricity
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During the next few months, shipment after shipment of enormous steel tubes and fibreglass blades will snake from the port of Stewart, B.C., towards a construction site 33 kilometres north of Tumbler Ridge.

These pieces will be assembled into turbines at the Meikle Wind energy project, British Columbia’s largest wind farm. The project will contribute more than $70 million in provincial taxes, fees, and community benefits during its lifetime. It is expected to cost $400 million to build, has been designed to operate for a quarter-century, and will meet the energy needs of about 54,000 B.C. homes.

The province is considering a plan that could unleash billions more investment dollars for clean and renewable energy over the next 10 years — and for decades to come. But the government’s indecision over what to do next is putting that investment in jeopardy.

The Meikle Wind energy project will require concrete, steel, electrical equipment and skilled workers to install turbines that stand as tall as 60 storeys. As many as 275 people will work on the project during peak construction as labourers, technicians, truck drivers, and dozens of other specialties. The work will be steady and lucrative until the turbines are up and running, and close to a dozen full-time jobs will remain after that. In a region where more than a 1,000 workers were recently laid-off from the coal mines, projects like this offer a much-needed economic boost that helps diversify the local economy and buffer, as the mayor of Tumbler Ridge said, the “devastating shocks” from the regular boom-bust cycle of the traditional resource sectors.

The Meikle Wind project is one story among many in B.C.’s clean energy sector. Twenty other renewable energy projects are currently being developed across British Columbia, including an 81-megawatt run-of-river hydro project in Pemberton, a 36-megawatt biomass power plant being built in Fort St. James and a trio of 15-megawatt wind farms going up near West Kelowna, Summerland and Taylor. These projects — which also must be built in a way that respects aboriginal rights and title and the local ecology — will provide affordable, clean energy and long-term employment for local communities.

All told, more than 14,000 people worked in B.C.’s clean electricity sector last year, the Pembina Institute estimates.

B.C.’s decision nearly a decade ago to fight carbon pollution with actions like requiring new electricity development to come almost entirely from renewable energy drove much of this investment. But B.C.’s carbon pollution is climbing again. B.C.’s renewable energy could be harnessed to fight this trend, while delivering job and economic benefits across the province, but only if the provincial government commits to a meaningful climate plan this spring.

The province is considering a plan that could unleash billions more investment dollars for clean and renewable energy over the next 10 years — and for decades to come. But the government’s indecision over what to do next is putting that investment in jeopardy.

The plan comes from the Premier’s Climate Leadership Team, a diverse team of business leaders, community representatives, First Nations and environmentalists. The team recommended a package of government actions — ranging from creating standards for cleaner buildings and vehicles, to gradually raising the carbon tax while protecting vulnerable people and industries — that would grow B.C.’s economy while cutting carbon pollution.

If the Province adopts the recommendations, British Columbia’s homes, vehicles and industries would increasingly be powered by clean and renewable energy — a shift that would attract up to $5 billion in additional investment spread across British Columbia. This shift would help all industries from manufacturing to resource development compete as the world drives down carbon pollution. To realize the full benefits of this shift, these projects would need to respect local ecology and First Nations rights and title.

But if the government decides against the recommendations we will see far fewer clean and renewable energy projects in the future. This investment and the jobs that go with it would move to other jurisdictions. And British Columbia’s carbon pollution would keep rising, as it is today — despite B.C.’s legislated requirement to reduce it.

The government will be listening to British Columbians and industry leaders over the coming months as it weighs these recommendations. As the 20-odd renewable energy projects currently under construction across the province illustrate, we have much to gain by remaining a climate leader — and much to lose if we fall behind.

As they say, fortune favours the bold.


Written by Jeremy Moorhouse and Paul Kariya, executive director of Clean Energy B.C. Both authors are on the steering committee of the Energy Forum, a collaboration between British Columbia’s power producers, industry associations and non-government organizations working to address energy, climate and ecosystem challenges in B.C.

Originally published in Vancouver Sun on March 27, 2016.

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