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D'Avignon: Site C will be a strategic asset for a growing economy in the fight against climate change (Globe and Mail)

Is walking away from Site C really in the best interest of British Columbia’s future? Considering the evidence, including the recent BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) report, we think not. BC’s anticipated economic and population growth, and the associated electricity demand as we accelerate into the digital age and a lower-carbon future, leave us no choice but to advance Site C. If we don’t, we risk our reputation as a place to invest and will add to the uncertainty that is already hampering business investment in some sectors. We are not alone in this view. Support for Site C has also been voiced by other business groups, many First Nations and some union leaders, including the BC Building Trades Council.

Unfortunately, the recent BCUC Site C review, as requested this summer by the new government, falls short. The review’s narrow mandate and expedited timeframe did not allow for a comprehensive examination of the trends shaping the outlook for electricity demand over the medium- and longer-term. The Commission’s low load forecast conclusion is out of step with other evidence, including the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2017 World Energy Outlook, which shows global primary energy demand growing by 30 per cent from today’s levels by 2040. This is despite the addition of renewable energy sources, measures to address carbon emissions and ongoing gains in energy efficiency. 

Closer to home, BC is among the leading Canadian provinces in economic and population growth, two major drivers of energy demand. Our fastest growing industries rely on stable energy sources and include opportunities in health care, film and television, technology and advanced manufacturing. Emerging industries and technologies will further bump up demand into the future, many driven by regulatory changes, including expanded industrial marijuana production, increased use of electric vehicles, data storage and server farms, industrial robotics and carbon sequestration facilities. Not proceeding with Site C would be a short-sighted decision and imperil BC’s lower-carbon future.

BC is in a privileged position, especially in terms of climate change. Our 98 per cent renewable electricity system, dominated by hydro, is the envy of the world. Site C is a valuable addition to these assets, particularly as Canada works towards meeting its Paris Climate Agreement commitments and shifts to a lower-carbon economy. Not only does this benefit our local environment, there are also opportunities to support neighbouring jurisdictions, including Alberta, as they move away from coal as a primary source of electricity. In addition, we can be a more attractive location for new businesses that aspire to reduce the carbon footprint of their operations and products. Finally, there are electrification transitions under way at existing BC industry operations, including at port terminals, mines and metals sites, oil and gas extraction sites and by value-added manufacturers. 

As an example of ongoing electrification, earlier this summer one company began operating two new gas plants in the northeast using electricity instead of natural gas for processing. This resulted in a reduction of annual greenhouse gas emissions by ~ 900,000 tonnes — the equivalent of taking every car registered in Burnaby and New Westminster off the road forever.  The gas from these BC plants can, through future LNG exports, become the lowest carbon gas in a world which will be consuming 45 per cent more gas by 2040, according to the IEA. These kinds of transition projects and related environmental benefits are at risk without Site C.

The City of Vancouver’s Renewable City Strategy targets 100 per cent renewable energy consumption in Vancouver before 2050. The City’s plans, analysed in their October 2017 report, call for 50-75 per cent growth in electricity use over this period, in a city accounting for 14 per cent of the provincial population. In the coming years, other BC municipalities may follow a similar energy path given the role that communities are playing in climate mitigation.

Unfortunately, outside of the real estate and advanced technology sectors, BC today is viewed globally as an increasingly uncertain, complex and costly place to invest. Premier Horgan and his Cabinet must consider the consequences of their decision in this regard. Capital markets do not have allegiances and once undermined, trust is hard to regain. We risk squandering our riches and advantages while competitors, like the United States, benefit from our inaction and confused policies, grabbing hard earned market share. Our collective interests around managing climate issues, reconciling with Indigenous peoples, providing higher income jobs and generating government revenues to pay for in-demand services will suffer.

Our prosperity is greater and the global environment healthier, if BC and Canada work together to pursue integrated climate and energy policies. Strategic assets like Site C can make us leaders in the supply of the world’s lowest carbon goods, natural resources, technologies and services. We are the blue hard hats and blue lab coats of this century’s challenge — global climate change — in the same way Canadians have donned blue berets as peacekeepers amid human conflict.  We can be a leader in smart energy policy and benefit the world while doing so. 

Greg D'Avignon, President and CEO, Business Council of British Columbia

Posted on-line in the Globe and Mail