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Clean Energy Act will mean less public consultation on energy projects



The Province of British Columbia is looking to duck an avenue of public consultation on the installation of power projects, its new energy plan indicates.

The Clean Energy Act, introduced in the legislature on April 28, aims to help British Columbia achieve "electricity self-sufficiency" and ensure that the province is generating 93 per cent of its electricity from clean or renewable resources.

Section 4 of the Act, which governs approval and procurement of electricity, contains a clause that will allow the BC Hydro and others who develop power projects to bypass the requirement to obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) from the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC), a move that allows it to duck an avenue of public consultation.

The certificates are meant to prove that public necessity requires the construction or operation of a utility such as a power generator, gas pipeline or any other facility that produces light, heat, or electricity for consumers.

The commission issues certificates after hearings where stakeholders and members of the public can apply for intervenor status and provide input into whether a utility should receive a certificate. The decision to award one lies with a panel of commissioners.

If the Clean Energy Act goes through in its current iteration, BC Hydro and others will be able to build dams and run-of-river hydro projects without holding these hearings at all. They won't even need the certificates.

Gwen Barlee, policy director with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, said the province is trying to push the B.C. Utilities Commission aside after it gave an unfavourable ruling to BC Hydro's 2008 Long-Term Acquisition Plan, which called for green energy sources to replace gas-fired electricity from Burrard Thermal.

"I don't think they want the scrutiny that BCUC brought to the table," she said. "It's pretty embarrassing for the public when BC Hydro issues a Clean Power Call and the BCUC says it's not in the public interest.

"It's bad policy, bad for democracy and it's bad for B.C.'s environment."

Nigel Protter, an energy consultant working on a run-of-river project that could one day be installed near Pemberton, thinks differently. He said the B.C. Utilities Commission doesn't give enough weight to Part 3.1 of the Utilities Commission Act, a section that states public utilities must meet the province's goal of electricity self-sufficiency by 2016.

The Utilities Commission Act goes on to state that public utilities must pursue actions that help the government meet a goal that 90 per cent of electricity generated in British Columbia comes from clean or renewable sources, ostensibly sources such as hydro, wind or solar power.

Protter thinks the BCUC isn't paying enough attention to that section.

"What the BCUC is always really looking for is the lowest cost," he said. "They're driven by a low cost to the consumer mindset so they completely ignore externalities, things like climate change, pollution, environmental degradation, all the things associated with the environmental externalities of fossil fuels.

"All the negative environmental externalities, they don't cost that."

A spokesman with the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources said that new capital projects needed to meet future domestic demand will still have to obtain CPCN's unless they're listed under Section 7(1) of the Clean Energy Act.

Items listed under Section 7(1) include the proposed Site C project, a 900 MW hydroelectric dam, as well as the Clean Power Call request for proposals, which includes projects like the run-of-river facilities located throughout the Sea to Sky corridor.

Neither will need CPCN's under the new legislation.