The prospect of serious climate disruption and increased fossil fuel dependence is troubling, to say the least. But here in British Columbia, it is also spurring new alliances as diverse parties step forward to collaborate on solutions.
Take power producers and environmental organizations. For years, these two camps have often eyed one another warily across the room. The greens have always considered themselves watchdogs — keeping a close eye on the pace, scale, impact and appropriateness of power projects. The industry didn’t always trust them, and sometimes with good reason.
But about two years ago, the Clean Energy Association of British Columbia, an industry association representing generators, reached out to Clean Energy Canada at Tides Canada — a solutions-focused NGO — to see if the two solitudes could come together. With the guidance of a skilled facilitator, a collection of B.C. firms, including Sea Breeze, Innergex, and Finavera, met environmental groups, including World Wildlife Fund Canada, the Pembina Institute and the David Suzuki Foundation, to name just a few.
That’s when something unexpected and actually pretty cool happened. From Day 1, it turned out that the two sides discovered they had more in common than they knew. For example, both are keen to slow climate change, reduce our province’s fossil fuel dependence and accelerate the province’s low-carbon transition. Both regard First Nations as critical partners in any discussion of the region’s energy future. And both support a vision of a healthy and vibrant economy that respects defined environmental limits and contributes to sustainability.
Last week, our dialogue group, which we have called The Energy Forum, released a Statement of Shared Principles, at energyforum.ca. We hope they will help guide discussions about B.C.’s energy future, and the opportunity to transition to a low-carbon economy. Our group hopes to serve as a shared voice to promote better climate, energy and environmental policy and practices.
To be clear, Energy Forum meetings don’t yet begin with a group hug. There are still plenty of sticking points. These include whether B.C. should be developing electricity for export, the adequacy of our province’s current environmental assessment process, and whether natural gas should be considered a “clean” source of energy, among others. While these differences remain, Energy Forum participants have agreed to build on the shared principles by asking difficult questions of one another.
For example, what is our mutual vision for the future of our province, particularly in light of climate change? How will B.C. meet its energy and electricity needs in a cost-effective manner? What sort of environmental assessment and regulatory permitting and monitoring systems should govern energy development? What are the impacts from cumulative projects and can they be properly addressed? How can we protect our vital freshwater resources while developing new sources of renewable energy? Is the government doing enough to facilitate development of the kinds of energy projects that are best suited for our needs? Is First Nations involvement adequately prioritized in clean energy development proposals?
The sheer enormity of our challenge can at times feel paralyzing, especially when one tries to square rising global CO2 levels with a mounting number of proposals that would further tie our economy to resource extraction. But we’ll never solve this puzzle by staying inside our comfort zones and digging in our heels. The tougher but more rewarding response is to ask the hard questions of one another — questions that challenge us to reconsider our deepest convictions. That allows us to identify and build upon meaningful common ground.
The current challenges to our province’s future security and prosperity are not going away, and while the conversations are often difficult, they must be had. We started The Energy Forum to learn from one another and open ourselves up to new perspectives. It is in that spirit that we will continue to meet, and also, on April 15, host a public conversation at the Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue in Vancouver on B.C.’s liquefied natural gas ambitions.
We invite British Columbians to pull up a chair and join us.
Merran Smith is the director of Clean Energy Canada at Tides Canada. Paul Kariya is the executive director of the Clean Energy Association of British Columbia.
This article first appeared in The Vancouver Sun, co-authored by Merran Smith and Paul Kariya.