British Columbia’s emissions reduction plan is “based on a fantasy” of bountiful hydroelectric power, and should be replaced with an effort to expand solar and wind capacity while promoting energy efficiency, a new report urges provincial policy-makers.
Premier John Horgan’s CleanBC Plan to meet Paris Agreement targets “is on a path to fail,” writes Glacier Media environment reporter Stefan Labbé, citing a report by the University of British Columbia Clean Energy Research Centre (CERC).
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“The province’s CleanBC plan is based on a fantasy,” report author Roland Clift told Labbé, leaning heavily on electrification without questioning where the electricity is going to come from.
Clift, adjunct professor in UBC’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and past author with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said it’s a misconception that B.C. has an abundant supply of hydroelectric power.
Only 16.7% of the province’s current energy needs are met by hydroelectricity, according to calculations by Clift and CERC director Xiaotao Bi. Another 70% comes from fossil fuels—including 40% from gasoline and other petroleum products, and 30% from natural gas. So there is no surplus of renewable energy.
“All the low-carbon electricity is already committed,” Clift said. “That means you’ve got to find other energy sources, which are many times the current electricity supply.”
The study found that the CleanBC roadmap doesn’t show the math on how much energy it will take to decarbonize the provincial economy. It concluded that B.C. will find itself 20% short of the electricity needed to meet its 2030 goal of reducing emissions 40% below 2007 levels. “In even the most generous emission reduction scenarios, they found B.C. fails to meet its goals,” writes Labbé.
Another large hydro project like the controversial Site C dam in northeast B.C. is not a feasible solution to make up the energy gap, said the authors. Even if a suitable site could be found, it would be next to impossible to complete it by 2030, said Clift.
Instead, the province needs to build a massive network of wind and solar farms. The CERC researchers found it would take roughly 700 wind turbines or 30 square kilometres of solar panels to match Site C’s power production. Biomass will also be needed, they said, but that means B.C. should cease wood pellet exports and support a homegrown biofuels industry.
But one of the quickest ways to bridge the shortfall is to conserve energy. The authors commended BC Hydro’s ongoing push to get homeowners to switch to heat pumps and stressed the need for a province-wide retrofit program to make buildings more efficient.
This article would be a lot better if it did a more detailed analysis of what the CleanBC plan proposes to do and the wide range of challenges what the plan and society as a whole face in achieving energy transition. It is not accurate to say that the plan is based on a fantasy of bountiful electricity. The plan is well grounded in the costs and availability of electricity resources, as is BC Hydro’s five year electrification plan, which is now being reviewed by the BC Utilities Commission along with Hydro’s F23 – F25 Revenue Requirements Application (https://docs.bcuc.com/Documents/Proceedings/2021/DOC_64328_B-2-3-1-REDACTED-BCH-F23-F25-RRA-Chapter-10-Appendices-U-V-W.pdf). There are lots of people working hard to bring about a sustainable energy transition. I respectfully suggest that this article is focusing too much effort on trying to make government look bad, and not enough effort on giving a clear account of what’s going on with energy and climate action work in BC.