Local politicians are concerned about the impact recent changes brought about by Bill 30 will have on independent power projects (IPPs) throughout the Sea-to-Sky corridor. Later this week many of those politicians will be meeting with the minister responsible for Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources at a Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting in Richmond.
As MLA for the IPP-rich riding of West Vancouver-Garibaldi, Joan McIntyre does not share the concerns of her local counterparts. Reached at her Victoria office last week, McIntyre was candid about her reasons for supporting the controversial legislation that will remove local governments from the decision-process surrounding IPPs on Crown land.
Asked about what factors she weighed when deciding to support the amendment to Utilities Act included in Bill 30, McIntyre cited self-sufficiency and the fulfillment of the province’s 2002 energy plan.
"I think the really important thing for people to understand is that British Columbia is currently a net importer of electricity. We’ve been committed to returning B.C. to self-sufficiency while at the same time improving energy quality. In our energy plan in 2002 the IPPs were set to play an important role in achieving those goals," she said.
B.C. is defined as a net importer because energy is treated as a commodity, which means the province aims to sell high and buy low, with the U.S. West Coast being our primary trade partner.
"We’re obviously looking for ways to produce our own energy. And our region has many opportunities to do this with our beautiful rivers and our terrain."
McIntyre says that this move to self-sufficiency will help the government maintain its commitment to low-cost energy.
"Some of what we’re importing is brown energy and that can be pricey," explains the rookie MLA. "I think the public would be on board with this move to self-sufficiency.
Brown energy is defined as energy that comes from a non-renewable source, whereas hydro-electric is considered green energy.
"Another important point is that the public needs to know that projects that could be developed by B.C. Hydro are already exempted from local government input.
"My view is they (IPPs) are essentially agents of B.C. Hydro. They have to meet three criteria: they have to have an energy purchase agreement with B.C. Hydro; they have to pass all the federal and provincial regulations, and that would include environmental hoops, and that the project be entirely on Crown land."
McIntyre points out that with only one decision-maker there is more certainty to the process.
"One of the things I see actually as a bonus is that this government is committed to ensuring that local governments are still involved – that their interests and opinions are still involved – and there’s already an agreement to collaborate with UBCM to ensure this involvement.
"When we ask the power producers to go through these hoops, the provincial and federal regulations, what I think this is going to do is advance local governments’ involvement because it will be at the beginning of these approvals," she said.
The effect is that prospective independent power producers will no longer be subject to an expensive and lengthy process only to be denied approval at the 11 th hour.
"To my mind the process was flawed. Sometimes the process took years. You asked producers to go through the hoops for approvals, then they have to bid, then they get to local government and find out its been nixed," the MLA said.
McIntrye did not have any particulars on how the new process would work in terms of local input, but stressed that the Liberals saw it as being very important.
Questioned about speculation that the legislation was fast-tracked because of conflicts with the Ashlu River IPP, she was firm that this was not the case.
"This is not a one-off, that’s the important thing about this legislation. We have other tools we could have used. If this was an Ashlu-only thing, we could have enacted Bill 75 which, in the provincial interest, allows the government to override local decisions."
McIntyre admits that land use decisions in the West Vancouver-Garibaldi area are complicated.
"We have so many land use conflicts in this riding, my position is we have to come to a position where we can share the resources. What we’re trying to do is find a balance. I think regional and local governments are very earnestly trying to do this, but the provincial government also has a role in this."
She says she sees both sides of the issue, but has to side with her party.
"I understand how local politicians are feeling, but I was elected to act in the provincial interests."