First nations fume over BCUC's sudden coolness to green power
- First nations fume over BCUC's sudden coolness to green power
Native leaders insist clean energy is the way to go
By Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun
August 1, 2009
Several first nations have challenged the B.C. Utilities Commission for putting up a regulatory roadblock to development of wind and water power within their traditional territories.
They were reacting to the commission's decision to withhold endorsement of B.C. Hydro's latest call for proposals to build wind farms, run of the river developments and other "clean power" projects.
Instead, the commission ruled that Hydro could make do with increased reliance on power from Burrard Thermal, the seldom-used-because-polluting, natural-gas-fired generating station near Port Moody.
This apparent preference for "brown power" over "green power" provoked a major push-back from the leaders of the Squamish and Sechelt nations, both of whose territories included projects that were submitted for consideration as part of the clean-power call.
"Burrard Thermal and similar greenhouse gas emitting facilities represent the past," wrote Squamish chiefs Gibby Jacob and Bill Williams in a letter that went out Thursday to BCUC headquarters in Vancouver. "Wind, solar and micro-hydro represent the future and you have fundamentally disadvantaged them."
"For all intents and purposes, you have attempted to turn the clock back a generation," read a similar missive from chief Garry Feschuk and councillors Jordan Louie and Tom Paul of the Sechelt Indian Band.
"(You are) completely ignoring both provincial government direction and the current reality of global warming and the need to move towards clean, green and renewable sources of electricity."
The native leaders were particularly incensed that from a list of more than $600 million worth of spending proposals from Hydro, the commission rejected only the funding for the clean power call, budgeted at $2 million.
"The paltry $2 million expenditure represented the one and only opportunity in the entire proposed mix that had ... direct and specific benefits to those first nations who were engaged in private power opportunities with B.C.'s emerging green energy industry," wrote the Sechelt leaders.
"You have, with the stroke of your pen, undermined our opportunities and unilaterally and arbitrarily taken off the table those benefits and opportunities that we were negotiating, on behalf of our people, with green energy companies undertaking responsible developments on our territories," continued the Squamish natives.
It must be galling to those and other native leaders. After years of relying on government handouts, they get actively involved in private investment and job creation, only to have the door slammed on them by a government-appointed regulator.
Their frustration was evident in an over-the-top comment from the Sechelt leaders:"This is unacceptable and appears to be nothing less to us than regulated racism."
The Squamish letter was probably closer to the mark when it speculated: "We strongly question if you were aware of these implications when your decision was made."
Probably not. The commission did not say anything one way or another about the merits of native involvement in development of the province's electrical potential. Likewise it did not specifically veto clean power, green power, run of the river power or privately generated power.
The three commissioners who issued Monday's lengthy decision simply said they were not persuaded of the need for the current clean power call at this time. Hydro was invited to resubmit its energy acquisition plan next spring, presumably with better arguments.
The commission is straitjacketed by a legislated mandate that requires it to consider cost ahead of most considerations in deciding whether to green-light Hydro's plans to acquire new sources of power and upgrade older ones.
Those economic considerations can readily trump concerns about greenhouse gas emissions, witness the commission's expressed view, elsewhere in this week's decision, that Hydro should encourage people to heat their homes with natural gas as an alternative to electricity.
Whatever one thinks of a museum piece like Burrard Thermal, it might be cheaper to operate (though some experts dispute this) than taking a flyer on intermittent sources of power like run of the river and wind farms.
But the commission's terms of reference do not incorporate the government's preference for giving first nations an expanded role in developing emissions-free power in partnership with private operators.
"You have essentially pulled the rug out from under those first nations throughout B.C. who are seeking accommodation and opportunity through private power green energy partnerships," as the Sechelt leaders put it.
"These green power private partnerships form the basis of our ability to create a future running our own businesses within our traditional territory using a sustainable and clean resource," was the view from Squamish.
How to incorporate those worthy objectives into future BCUC decisions? The Liberals, having vowed to protect the commission's independence, should proceed with caution.
But they might consider appointing a native representative to the commission. Or they could direct Hydro to prepare a new call for clean power proposals, this time directly tailored to partnerships with first nations.
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