Power producers say criticisms costing B.C. billions of dollars
Firms complain NDP imperils investments
By Scott Simpson, Vancouver Sun
March 6, 2009
A panel of independent power producers went on the attack Thursday at a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon, accusing their critics of clinging to antiquated ideas at the cost of billions of dollars of economic development.
Jim Gemmill, chairman of the board of the Independent Power Producers Association of B.C., said private-sector development of green energy can lessen BC Hydro's dependence on imported power, support global efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and create thousands of new jobs.
"Clean energy development is a rising star on our province's economic horizon," Gemmill told the audience at a panel discussion on clean energy.
Other panellists included Pristine Power vice-president Harvie Campbell; Sea Breeze Power vice-president Resja Campfens, and Plutonic Power CEO Donald McInnes.
All expressed a similar message -- IPP critics don't understand the economic opportunities independents can create, nor the business risks they face.
Plutonic, in particular, met a storm of opposition from environmental groups in recent weeks following acceptance by BC Hydro of the company's bid to locate 17 run of river hydro projects in streams in Bute Inlet on the B.C. central coast.
The Bute project is the largest cluster of small hydro projects in B.C. history, with an estimated $3.5 billion in construction costs, and the potential to collectively generate as much electricity as one of Hydro's own mega-dams.
Public information meetings on the project have attracted dozens of highly vocal opponents who suggest the province has failed to consider the cumulative environmental effect of small hydro development.
Plutonic's project is likely to become a hot issue in the provincial election coming up in May -- particularly with the NDP suggesting a moratorium on new IPP development.
"The potential for a dynamic clean energy industry in B.C. is almost limitless given our provincewide resource endowment," Gemmill told the board of trade audience.
"However as everyone here knows, this issue is stirring debate in B.C., debate that will likely heat up as we approach the provincial election in May."
Gemmill said the debate centres on whether BC Hydro should have sole responsibility for power generation in the province, or whether the private sector should have the opportunity to generate power.
"Unfortunately, one side of the debate draws on old ideas and false assumptions that could threaten our province's position as a North American leader in clean energy."
Plutonic's Donald McInnes noted that the proposed Bute project would pay over $35 million in property, school and water taxes, and that critics are overlooking B.C.'s emergence as a North American leader in clean energy development.
"Few are aware that one of the world's fastest growing clusters of clean energy companies and related professional services firms is taking shape right here in B.C," McInnes said.
Pristine's Harvie Campbell noted that across North America, coal, with its attendant greenhouse gas emissions is "becoming the power nobody wants."
Demand for clean power generated in B.C. will expand in the United States, where President Barack Obama has stated that the U.S. will double its supply of renewable energy in the next three years, Campbell said.
"There are business risks and substantial costs at every stage of a project's life cycle," said Resja Campfens of Sea Breeze.
"If a project incurs cost overruns during construction, the IPP and its shareholders are left holding the bag, not BC Hydro's ratepayers," she said, noting that ratepayers took the hit when Hydro lost $120 million on an aborted generation project on Vancouver Island five years ago
"Almost every jurisdiction in the developed world has opened up their electricity grid to some form of competition, all for the benefit of the ratepayer.
"Yet, the [NDP] opposition has called for a moratorium on IPP projects in B.C. In the least, a moratorium would drive away clean energy investment to other jurisdictions ..."
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