Potential legislative changes regarding independent power producers (IPPs) on Crown land has incensed the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD).
Bill 30, the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, introduced in the legislature April 27, will effectively cut municipalities and regional districts out of the decision-making process when IPP projects are on Crown land.
The amendment means approval of a project under the Utilities Commission Act cannot be superceded or impaired by anything done under the Community Charter of the Local Government Act.
The Independent Power Producers Association of B.C. (IPPBC) sees the move as a positive.
"Our province needs more electricity for our growing economy, but some local governments have made it difficult for some green projects to go ahead. That doesnt make sense after federal and provincial approvals have been given," said Steve Davis, IPPBC president.
The SLRD is the primary target of the legislation, having rejected a proposed run-of-river IPP on the Ashlu River in Janaury 2005. That proposal, by Vancouver-based Ledcor, was supported by the federal and provincial governments and the Squamish Nation, but strongly opposed by residents of the area.
The Ashlu IPP was later re-submitted to the SLRD. The board didnt reject the proposal outright but earlier this year called for development of a regional IPP strategy.
On Tuesday the SLRD board viewed the provinces proposed legislation as insulting, to local governments, their staffs and the people they represent. The matter was discussed at an emergency board meeting. With the exception of Squamish director Raj Khalon, the board was unanimous in its opposition to the proposed amendment.
Russ Oakley, director for Electoral Area A, opened up comments by saying he was "disgusted by the bully boy tactics" and called the amendment "a travesty." He pointed out that now the fate of IPPs was at the sole discretion of the provincial government.
Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed concurred with Oakley.
"The position of the regional district has been defensible and reasonable. I dont think NIMBY is a bad or ugly term, its good citizenship. I agree with Russ, we have to object in the strongest possible manner," said Melamed.
That objection came in the form of a motion fired off to Victoria before second reading of Bill 30 on Tuesday afternoon. The motion, developed by Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland, called for suspension of the bill, consultation with affected local governments and an immediate meeting with the SLRD.
This is not the first time Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Minister Richard Neufeld has been invited to meet with the SLRD. According to Electoral Area C representative Susie Gimse, the SLRD has been requesting a meeting with Neufeld for more than 18 months. She wryly pointed out that in that time the minister or his representatives had had no problem speaking with the local media.
Gimse also noted that the proposed legislative change disregarded a number of positive steps taken by local governments.
In September 2005, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities and the province entered into a memorandum of understanding to resolve the issues around IPPs, she said.
That MOU outlined potential mechanisms for review and an appeal processes, effective communications and the development of an energy strategy for the SLRD.
The board instructed staff to develop a document entitled Concepts for Developing a Regional Energy Strategy. According to a letter from SLRD Chair John Turner, the report was developed in consultation with the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. The letter went on to invite the minister to meet with the SLRD to discuss the report. Three days after the letter was sent to Neufeld and other MLAs, including regional representatives, Joan McIntrye and Harry Lali, the legislation was introduced in Victoria.
Tuesday, in remarks prefacing his motion, Squamish Mayor Sutherland speculated about the sudden rush to push through Bill 30.
"If this is about the Ashlu (proposed Ashlu River IPP), then make it about the Ashlu," he said. "This government said they were going to give more power to local government and theyre taking power away from us."
Director Gimse voiced disappointment at the far-reaching implications of the bill.
"This is legislation that will affect every local government, municipalities and regional districts, in the province. First it was fish, and then it was energy. Whats next? I dont think local governments are fully aware of that," she said. "We have to be responsible to raise awareness, get the red flag out and let people know whats going on."
Neufeld is tentatively scheduled to speak to the concerns of the UBCM at the organizations May 25 meeting in Richmond.