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Energy minister fires back at anti-IPP activists

Critics say Lekstrom not telling the whole story



B.C.'s Minister of Energy is firing back at opponents of independent power projects for spreading "false accusations."

Blair Lekstrom, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources since Jan. 19, said in a letter to the editor that a "coordinated effort" backed by the NDP is opposing independent power production (IPP), an industry that brings "jobs to rural communities."

"These critics have waged a war against independent power production with dishonest information," he said in the letter.

Among other things, he says that critics are wrong about a proliferation of IPP projects and insists that there are only 46 in operation - most of them started under the NDP government that preceded the province's successive Liberal governments, according to him.

He also said that IPP critics are incorrect when they state that public bodies such as B.C. Hydro and other Crown corporations cannot develop new power projects.

Groups such as the Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC) have asserted that the provincial government has prohibited B.C. Hydro from developing new sources of "green power" and that all new hydro must come from the private sector.

Lekstrom says in his letter that Columbia Power Corporation, a Crown entity, unveiled its Brilliant Dam Expansion in 2007, providing enough energy to supply 50,000 homes. He also mentions "extensive consultations" that Hydro is taking into building the Site C hydroelectric project in the Peace River region.

The WCWC makes no mention of any Crown corporations related to power generation, besides B.C. Hydro, on its website.

Independent power production is a pressing issue in the Sea to Sky corridor. Most recently, there has been opposition to a 145-megawatt power project proposed for the Ryan River north of Pemberton.

Approximately 200 people, many of them from outside the corridor, packed a public meeting at the old Pemberton Community Centre last December that was hosted by Regional Power Inc., the Toronto-based company that's proposing the project for the Ryan.

Groups such as the WCWC and the Save Our Rivers Society argued vehemently that IPPs were "privatizing" B.C.'s rivers and that people didn't have enough opportunity to say "no" to the projects.

Rafe Mair, a prominent radio broadcaster and activist with the Save Our Rivers Society, thinks Lekstrom is lying. He took particular exception with Lekstrom's assertion that B.C. has depended on imported power for seven of the past 10 years.

"He's simply not telling the truth," he said. "We have not been importing energy for seven of the last 10 years, in fact we've been exporters for eight of the last 10 years. He's just plain not telling the truth."

Tom Rankin, also of the Save Our Rivers Society, cited the same statistic.

"There's no way in the world that Blair Lekstrom could have written that letter because he just got dropped into that spot," he said. "There's no way he could know the details of what's been going on with that whole thing, all the way through."

Mair's statistic was corroborated by a 2006 report from B.C. Stats. The release contains a graph that shows between 1995 and 2005, B.C. exported more electricity than it imported from the United States. When it comes to interprovincial trade, another graph shows that for seven of those same years, B.C. was a bigger exporter.

The report notes that years when imports exceeded exports coincided with years when B.C. had lower than average water levels.

"In other words, when there was not sufficient precipitation to adequately generate enough electricity to meet the needs of B.C. residents and businesses, it was necessary to import power not only during low-peak times, but also high-peak periods," the report states.

Gwen Barlee, policy director for the WCWC, said there's "nothing really new" in Lekstrom's letter.

"It has been a little bit misleading with some of his statements," she said. "The other thing he's trying to do is sort of calm people down about the gold rush of power projects that are happening across the province.

"What he's not saying is there's currently about 700 licenses... and that represents 819 river diversions. This is all happening without looking at cumulative impacts."