When trying to understand the strange and unhealthy direction our Province is heading, does this help?
First, Peter Ladner in Business In Vancouver, who commits the phrase “political corruption” to electronic form:
I have previously written about the baffling decisions to build the Site C dam and a 10-lane Massey tunnel replacement bridge. Site C, built with an exemption from scrutiny by the BC Utilities Commission, will lose money for 70 years, according to BC Hydro’s latest statements. It has wiped out the domestic B.C. clean energy industry, the biggest business opportunity of our time, while the government hugs the ghost of its failed LNG fossil-fuel dreams. The $3.5 billion Massey project is crashing ahead with scant consideration of the myriad other ways cross-Fraser River mobility could be improved for that price.
Why is our government so keen to see projects like these go ahead?
As we all do, they’re listening to their funders. IntegrityBC reports that almost 75% of Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure contracts went to 52 companies that have collectively donated $1.2 million to the BC Liberal Party since 2005.
Then, Douglas Todd in Postmedia’s Vancouver Sun, who focuses on offshore money in BC politics, alongside local corporate money. He contrasts Australia’s current furor with BC’s seeming indifference:
Australia’s politicians are, in effect, finally facing censure for acting just like another outlier, the B.C. Liberal Party, which has also taken in millions of dollars from companies based in Europe, the U.S. and Asia. . .
. . . Despite international pro-democracy agencies warning against foreign political donations, the B.C. Liberals brazenly go their own way in Canada and rake in large donations from scores of companies rooted in China, Malaysia, the U.S., Dubai, Poland and Indonesia.
Is BC Clean Energy Industry code for the Independent Power Producers who benefitted so nicely at the public expense during Gordon Campbell’s reign of error?
Yes, the “BC Clean Energy Industry” is exactly that: code for independent power producers. This is the same industry that has made substantial cash donations to the BC Liberal party over the last decade, and have forced BC Hydro to buy power at above-market rates. The same industry that has destroyed previously pristine watersheds with small run-of-river hydro projects (rather than harness the potential of existing reservoirs on already dammed rivers, as Site C will do). The same industry that provides infirm and intermittent sources of power, such as wind and solar, that can only supplant the flexible and reliable baseload provided by large hydroelectric generators.
It’s odd to accuse the BC Liberals of corruption and favouritism towards their donors, and then in the same article lament the failing of the so-called BC Clean Energy Industry. Who would profit from this industry? Not ratepayers, but independent power producers who are also BC Liberal party donors.
Is Elon Musk building dams.
Canadians: hewers of wood; builders of dams. What will it take to get beyond this antedeluvian beaver mentality.
What if the Ministry of Transportation was called the Office of Rational Movement. If all the money spent on enabling commuters and moving stuff around was rationally distributed – a stay in place dividend – people wouldn’t have to work so much. Wouldn’t need a bigger tunnel; bigger bridges; fast ferries.
R. Buckminster Fuller wrote many years ago about building a global energy grid for Spaceship Earth – the Sun is always shining somewhere. I don’t recall him ever considering building dams – a primitive, disruptive, anti-ecological approach.
Dam building is big in China – that’s reason enough to object. These mega projects can be mega disasters.
Remember the 98′ Ice Storm in Quebec – a catastrophe. This force majeure wouldn’t have had the same consequences without the industriousness of our charming French dam-building beavers.
People died. Billions were lost – thanks to their reliance on hydro.
Fuller was a pragmatist, a logician, and a dreamer. He was also credble enough to work with one of the greatest architects of our time: Sir Norman Foster.
A global energy grid may be too hopeful; too far into a beaver-eyed future – they are myopic rodents after all. But, from our location on the planet, there should be an energy grid going down the coast to Central America. It’s simpler than pipelines.
We are in the waning years of bully energy megaprojects, but change will not come from within. It will come thanks to geniuses like Elon Musk.
You might have reasons for not liking dams, but the ones you quote aren’t good ones.
The catastrophe from the Ice Storm was because long transmission lines were destroyed. What do you think is the future with renewal energy? Long transmission lines. You put the wind turbines and solar farms where the power is, which is not where people live. By the way, I hope you won’t be protesting all the new transmission lines we’ll need as wind and solar gets built out in the next 20-40 years.
The large Chinese dams are as much about flood control as electricity. Millions of people have died over the years due to flooding, should the Chinese government just let that continue?
And finally, where do you think the power to recharge all those Musk-mobiles is going to come from? You’d prefer it to be coal-fired power plants?
Everything we do on this planet has consequences. If we followed the logic being presented here, there would be no Vancouver, we’d have no electricity (for sure the demand wasn’t there when the first two big dams were built on the Peace River), you wouldn’t have any technology to type your missives on.
The beauty of solar panels is that they can be as close as your roof and reduce demand for more new transmission lines. Wind farms can also be located much closer to population centres than our hydro-electric dams.
I’m doubtful a global grid is practical because of large losses over distance. But a highly resilient, decentralized, renewable grid along with existing hydro to balance fluctuations along with demand pricing and massive improvements in efficiency are all doable today. We just need to stop aiming for bigger and more wasteful as the default position that so many crave.
What is cleaner? The ones we already have.
We don’t need another large dam – the ones we have can meet load when the sun isn’t shining and wind not blowing and they can refill when they are.
I like the look of windmills scattered on small footprints across farms. Newer models make way less noise.
Following up on what bar foo said above, if, as seems to be accepted, we’re moving away from fossil fuels to electricity as a preferred energy delivery system, it’s important to understand that none of this is magic.
Electricity has to be generated somehow, which is why electric cars often wind up just moving the pollutants from the tailpipe to a big generating station somewhere else.
At the end of the day any electrical generating technology has environmental and social impacts.
You can compare wind, or solar, or coal, or hydro, but nothing is free.
Europe has demonstrated that large scale solar and wind can work, but my guess is that when all factors are considered, we’ll wind up thinking that hydro generation is the best choice for long term, large capacity generation in BC.
Which is not to say that Site C is necessarily a good idea, or that any new hydro installation isn’t horridly disruptive to some ecosystem or population.
It’s fashionable to knock hydro these days, but honestly those giant hydro developments pretty much built this province by delivering clean, reliable, cheap electricity.
It’s foolish to turn our noses up at hydro just because it’s “old fashioned.”
Hydro electricity is also GHG free and renewable.
Hardly. It is nearly GHG free only after it is built but it will take a long time to “pay off” the emissions that went into building it.
There’s no doubt that existing dams work well in conjunction with wind and solar but we could meet all growth in demand with the latter. There’s no need for Site C to destroy yet another ecosystem.
I don’t oppose super-clean emission free hydro. I oppose building a new dam we don’t need. We don’t need it to extract bitumen. We don’t need it for LNG. We don’t need clean energy to extract and ship dirty energy. What’s the point in that?
Cool cloudy, economically powerful, Germany produces about half their electricity with solar. We could too.
There is also lots of GHG emissions from the decomposition of the organic matter which is flooded (trees, plant, soil). Probably much of it gets released in the form of methane.
Gee, you’d think Germans are poor with all those taxes and energy costs. How come they’re not Mr. half-the-equation Beyer?
There is no poverty in Germany like the poverty we have here.
“Many Germans are poor, poorer on average than wealthy Canadians…” is a not so cleverly crafted sentence to both deceive and tell the truth at the same time.
We’ll see how well they’ll do compared to our clutching at fossil fuels until the whole industry is bankrupt.
I’ll also add that Canada is riding a low currency.
And home ownership is a cultural thing (frontier mentality) not necessarily a measure of wealth. Investment in a home has also become a big problem here as we’ve seen, whereas they just invest in other things.
Germans are also known as one of the most productive workforces in the world so it’s pretty awesome that they achieve that in such a leisurely way.
And maybe this thread is an example of one aspect of our problem. A post about government corruption on turns into a technocratic discussion of Technology A vs. Technology B. The critique above is not about the end result, it is about the process that forces these discussions to happen after-the-fact on urbanist blogs, and not in the institutions that were meant to be determining the course of our province’s future – the Legislature, the BCUC, the research institutions.
This is why John Horgan describes the current BC Liberal governance model as “decision-based evidence making”.
Well we can always look to Kathleen Wynne and the ON Liberals to show how to foist ruinously expensive electricity rates on the populace if it makes you feel better.
It is important to discuss appropriate technology and when somehing better comes along – it should be used.
Developing countries were fortunate to leapfrog wire cables, for example, when satellite transmission became viable.
Shipping was destined to come to a standstill until someone figured out to use containers.
Sometimes it’s good to build on existing technology; to not reinvent the wheel. Sometimes invention is key.
I like genius Elon Musk’s dismissal of those who opposed Tesla taking over SolarCity: “silly buggers”, he said.
Dams have their uses, but they have huge downsides – enough to go to war over. Battles in the Middle East are not just about land, but access to water that has been appropriated upstream. There is a battle for water in California, and it’s getting worse than when “Chinatown” screened in 1974.
To compare technologies:
Wind power is horrible. It’s expensive to install and maintain. It’s noisy. The stroboscopic effect of the blades is migraine-insanity inducing. It is the dystopian evolution of the windmill.
There is hydro – the evolution of the beaver mindset – except for the Bay of Fundy. No need for beavers there; what with the highest tides in the world. Why hasn’t it been done? Cost.
There is geothermal. Much good can be said of this system, though it’s too expensive for individual applications.
There is solar. Worshipped for an eternity, it is ready for prime time. Its Achilles heel was cost of panels and storage of energy.
The cost of panels keeps dropping; and the size of Elon Musk’s battery factory is as astounding as his plans for Mars.
It would be worthwhile to ask Elon Musk’s opinion on what approach BC should take. I think he is magnanimous and altruistic enough to give us good advice – not just another jackass billionaire. Wouldn’t hurt to ask.
Wind power is horrible, says the man who makes no reference to the fact that solar doesn’t line up with demand in BC or that winter is the windiest period. We need more power in winter, keep that in mind.
When you add in storage, solar in BC is at least double the cost of the highest Site C power cost estimates. Day to day storage is about $0.10 to $0.15 per kWh currently. If you wanted to live off grid in BC, you’d probably be paying many times that though, since you’d need to store huge volumes of power into the winter when there is no way a solar system will produce significant volumes of power.
The panels aren’t even the main cost in many situations. The mounts and supporting electrical infrastructure hasn’t gotten significantly cheaper since rooftop solar became a thing.
Is it better to subsidize war for oil – or solar panels.
There’s a Bloomberg piece on Elon Musk vs Warren Buffet on the installation of solar roofs in Nevada. People invested with Elon, buying outright, or leasing – seeing that the ROI would be within ten years – virtually free after that.
That stepped on Greedy Buffet’s toes. He owned the electric utility. He pulled the rug.
Elon Musk does what’s right. Buffet does what’s profitable.
Buffet also makes a lot of money shipping coal. No US port will let the crap to be shipped through their ports so he ships it via Port Metro Vancouver. And we welcome him with open arms and supply him with a taxpayer paid bridge so that he can ship his coal from Surrey Docks. Let the planet burn.
It would be good to clear up some misconceptions:
Wind is much cheaper than solar today, and accounts for the majority of non-hydro renewables being built at present, and the majority of non-hydro installed capacity.
Household solar is not sufficient to be “off-grid”. Certainly, the combination of solar and battery storage can significantly reduce your demand for grid electricity, but you still need all the infrastructure that exists today.
Wind overwhelmingly does not blow where people live, requiring significant transmission capacity. And not only that, but renewables in general require significant transmission connections because you need many, widely distributed, sources to account for the fluctuations.
If we’re going to reduce fossil fuel use, that means more electricity for cars, trucks, trains, heating etc. Hydro has a big part to play in that whether you like it or not. You have to wonder where we’d be if our forefathers had the same attitude to building infrastructure as some have today…
Bar foo has some excellent points. I would add that “base load” power (i.e. stable power on demand) is theoretically possible with a regulator to balance incoming intermittent with steady flows in a hydro station in real time. In effect, wind, tidal solar and geothermal would be instantly supplemental to our existing hydro.
Because the wind is always blowing somewhere, a large enough transmission system should be able to capture it and send it downstream from a number of locations. Undersea transmission cables are out of sight.
High voltage DC lines minimize resistance losses to about 3% per 1,000 km. In effect, a trans-Canadian smart grid using HVDC transmission can balance demand with supply on a national level with only a ~10% loss. It’s possible that clean power from BC can be sent to Ontario and Quebec in time for their peak morning demand at our lowest night time rates. The flows can reverse so eastern provinces are shipping affordable non-peak power west during the western peak periods. This means that all provinces and territories can save hundreds of billions on new generating capacity if they coordinate their demand peaks with cheaper non-peak rates while taking advantage of the differences in the time zones.
There is one overriding issue that seems to get overlooked in these discussions: the laws of physics. With an overall energy demand turbocharged by cheap fossil fuels, which are now on an undulating plateau of unstable prices as expensive sources seep into the mix, and considering the oncoming impact of international carbon pricing, it is likely that the overall energy used by society will decrease, perhaps by a third. That means the perpetuation of freeway-served subdivisions filled with McManions, and car dependency at current rates cannot continue forever.
Cities have to become far more efficient than they are today, and all of us will have to take a hit on things we take for granted, like cheap flights, full lots and multiple car ownership. But if you live in an efficiently insulated house in a comfortable walkable community and local farms are growing more food for the region, who cares?
The Site C dam was projected to cost $8,355,000,000.00.
It’s over budget.
How can one talk about pennies/kWh in the face of a number like that? Is the construction cost included, or is it externalized? This is not even taking into account messing with Mother Nature.
Were there alternatives discussed, or was it just a green light for the techno-beavers? Clearly, France’s nuclear solution was not on the table. Wind power – even Greedy Buffet won’t get behind it without subsidies.
The first R is Reduce. What if this taxpayer money was used instead to build to a Leeds/Passive House standard – in retrofits and new-builds.
What if local geothermal was built instead – installing the piping under parks, for proximal distribution.
What if the money was spent instead on electrically-activated exterior insulated shutters. I’d want those: to retain energy; for blessed darkness; soundproofing (an urban luxury); and security.
The techno-beaver mindset is to get the nine billion $ plus and build a dam. What other approaches, if any, were seriously considered?
When billions is up for grabs, there will be misinformation – pr flacks posting.
Note that former premier Harcourt is saying we should walk away from this boondoggle dam – that it’s a financial and environmental disaster.
We have foodbanks; child poverty; people digging in garbages for cans – and billions of dollars in the damn toilet – flushing good money after bad.
Just to bring some more clarity here:
1. Germany DOESNT get half it’s electricity from solar. It gets almost half from coal, actually; renewables account for 30% (wind 13%, solar 6%, hydro 3%, other 8%)
2. German consumers pay around 35c/kWh for electricity. I’m a firm believer in stepped tariffs to encourage conservation (ie the way BCH charges now), but I suggest any government that tries 35c/kWh electricity in BC won’t stay in power long…
3. The key to making renewables work is large, long transmission lines. That’s how Denmark can produce more wind power than it needs at times – it goes to Germany. Same for Spain with solar and wind. See Texas. See China.
4. You might hate Site C (and I’m not necessarily arguing in favour here, just pointing out some hard truths), but opting for wind/solar/biomass (or heaven, forbid, LNG) over hydro does NOT mean there won’t be serious environmental issues to deal with.
5. If you really want to reduce energy consumption, move away from Vancouver to a warm, temperate location and eschew modern technology.
As a wise senior engineer told me when I was young, if you consume more energy than arrives from the sun on the space you’re standing in, it’s ultimately not sustainable…
You’re right, I meant to say renewables, not just solar. My mistake. And I did say “about half” knowing that they were somewhat shy of half but growing since I last saw figures.
On the other hand, if they can already produce 30% so can we. We’re almost three times the size with less than 6% the population so we should really be able to meet 100% of demand even with only non-hydro renewables (intermitanacy aside).
That they also use coal does not change what we use as a baseline. We don’t get a pass just because of the fortune of our mountains. At least they are advancing the acceptance and technology of less environmentally damaging renewables and that is the only responsible thing to do. Do we have a choice just because it costs more?
Give me your wallet or I’ll try to kill a few of your grandchildren. Your call.
30% and more buys us a lot of growth and negates the need for Site C, for decade at least – if ever.
Finally, should we aim for the requirements of the sustainable world of which the wise engineer spoke? Or should we just say f*** it, not my problem? If it takes 35c/kWh to get there then that’s what it has to be. Maybe there are other ways. But pretending that because it isn’t politically palatable it will just go away isn’t exactly a responsible attitude for grown ups.
Are we able to invest in the future? Are we grown up?
Too many people behaving like children. La-la-la la-la.
“Thanks for mansplaining my own metaphor to me!!! (shakes head and walks away from Price Tags yet again).”
Sorry Chris, your superior intellect and moral capabilities are beyond me. I figured I was contradicting what you said, but apparently I was mansplaining something, but I have no idea what. Never fear, I’ll stay well away from any of your comments in future.
I’m making no claim to be smarter or more moral than anyone. You are free to make that interpretation of course. I chose the idea of a water driven mill on purpose. They are hard to find nowadays aren’t they? Despite being perfectly a serviceable means for grinding grain into flour and of course, a forebear of the modern hydro-electric dam, no one would consider a flour mill a modern idea. That’s the analogy, in service of my opinion that the mega-dam of today won’t be seen as a partic. modern way to generate power in a couple of hundred years.
Many of our advances, both cultural and technical, are in service of disconnection and non-reliance on outside parties. In our silver jump-suited future, who will rely on power generated far away when it can be as close as a rooftop and not subject to lines going down and all the other things that can go wrong with the current hydro system?
Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go plug in the moss and listen to the radio.