Despite widespread opposition from local governments throughout B.C., on Monday the provincial government approved an amendment to the Utilities Commission Act that dramatically changes how decisions regarding independent power projects (IPPs) are made.
Under the omnibus Bill 30, IPPs on Crown land will no longer be subject to local zoning bylaws.
The Liberal government says the bill clarifies a law that was already on the books: that local zoning can’t be used to prevent mining, forestry, oil and gas or other resource developments on Crown land. B.C. Hydro’s power projects are also specifically exempted.
But NDP MLA Mike Farnsworth referred to the bill as the "Local Government is a Conceit We Can No Longer Afford Act."
Susie Gimse, Area C Director for the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) is extremely concerned about the long-range impact of the new legislation.
"Very certainly we know local government insures that the public interest is served," says Gimse. "This makes for a great deal of uncertainty. We have no say were (IPPs) will be. They can now effectively put an IPP wherever they want."
Gimse warns that the decision to place an IPP could now be made without regard to transmission lines, utility corridors, visual impact or effects on watersheds. Furthermore, IPP decisions could be in conflict with recreation and tourism opportunities.
"There is no way to insure consistency with community vision," she said.
Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer confirmed Tuesday what some SLRD members had already suggested: the introduction of the amendment was a result of the board’s attempts to prevent the Ashlu River IPP. The SLRD has twice turned the Ashlu project down.
Gimse is clearly disappointed by the disregard the provincial government is showing for local government.
"We sent a strong message opposing this bill. They ignored it and proceeded with passing it. Clearly, the interests (of IPPs) have the ear of government," she said.
An upcoming meeting of the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) may yield more information on the role, if any, local governments will have in deciding the fate of IPPs. Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Minister Richard Neufeld is scheduled to speak at the UBCM’s May 25 meeting in Richmond.
In the meantime, the Area C director suggests that questions regarding the impact of IPPs be directed to West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA Joan McIntyre.
"Joan McIntyre – or her government – is now the decision-maker."