David Suzuki: Run-of-river power projects may offer green energy solutions

If we want to put the brakes on global warming and reduce our reliance on nonrenewable fossil fuels, we must look to renewable energy such as solar, wind, hydro, and sustainable bioenergy. Given what the world’s leading climate change scientists are saying about the consequences of continuing to burn fossil fuels, we have little time to lose.

But the rush to develop new sources of clean energy has created surprising division among groups that should be allies in the fight against global warming: “tree-huggers” who focus on the need to protect wildlife and wilderness and “smokestack pluggers” who advocate for a rapid and massive increase in renewable-power production.

In my home province of B.C., a coalition of environmentalists, resource nationalists, and public-sector unions is calling for a moratorium on new renewable-power production, citing concerns about impacts on biodiversity and the absence of proper government regulation, among other issues.

In response, Andrew Weaver, a Victoria scientist and lead author for the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, argued in a Vancouver Sun article that “some environmental groups have chosen to abandon science and campaign against clean energy and climate policies.” Dr. Weaver went on to argue that, “We need staggering amounts of energy conservation, emissions cuts and renewable energy. And all need to be deployed at an unprecedented rate.”

He’s not alone in criticizing opponents of wind and run-of-river power. American environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben said in a recent article that “the environmental movement has reached an important point of division, between those who truly get global warming, and those who don’t.” He added that “when local efforts to delay or stop low-carbon energy projects come into conflict with the imperative to act urgently on global warming, they have to take second place.”

I’m worried about the escalation of rhetoric on both sides. Yes, it is urgent that we find ways to tackle the problems caused by fossil-fuel use and excessive energy consumption. And it is true that some opponents of technologies such as wind power are motivated more by NIMBY self-interest than science or true environmental concerns.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry about the impacts of these projects and technologies. Nor does it mean that we should allow run-of-river power projects or windmills anywhere without proper government oversight and planning. Panic shouldn’t guide policy.

It’s ludicrous to think that we must sacrifice all environmental considerations to get green energy onto the grid. It’s not green if it causes negative ecological impacts. In British Columbia, B.C. Hydro and the B.C. Transmission Corporation have identified more than 8,200 potential sites for run-of-river hydro projects in B.C.’s 291,000 watersheds. That should give us plenty of choice, and surely we don’t have to harness all of them.

What we need, in B.C. and elsewhere, is to guide development toward areas that have high energy potential but are less susceptible to environmental damage. Governments must also act quickly to ensure that renewable-energy options are considered as a whole rather than in isolation. An individual project may appear to be environmentally benign, but the cumulative impact of many could be detrimental.

We also need a better system for water licences and Crown land licences to avoid the gold-rush mentality that is leading numerous private interests to stake claims on rivers for power projects. And we need strong environmental regulations, along with monitoring and enforcement, to ensure impacts are minimized.

It’s in our best interests to act quickly to get as much renewable energy into play as possible. As well as getting us off fossil fuels and combating global warming, renewable energy is also one way to dig ourselves out of the economic mess we’re facing. It’s good for business. But that doesn’t mean environmental safeguards should be relaxed in the name of green energy.

Global warming is, without a doubt, the most critical environmental issue we face. Clearly, there’s no time to waste, but unless we tie our shoelaces before we race out the door, we’re guaranteed to trip ourselves up long before we get to our destination. We need to ensure that our solutions don’t lead to the destruction of the very thing we're trying to protect.

Take David Suzuki’s Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org/.

Comments (19) Add New Comment
Here we have have more Liberal party claptrap from neocon apologist Da Gucci Suzuki who should know better. In case he has forgotten how to do research.
1) The first objection to run of the river is the 40 billion in 12 cents a kwh welfare cheques handed out to Gordo's Pirate Power buds or the next 40 years of so. Given green power alternatives such as nuclear (2 cents a kwh), solar boiler (3 cents), wind (5 cents), and ten years from now pulse fusion (.5 cents) the 12 cents a kwh welfare cheques will result in taxpayer taking a 30 to 40 billion dollars bath.
2) Because Suzuki's pirate power welfare bum buddies borrow from New York hedge funds at 15 % while BCHydro can borrow at 4%, the Pirate power projects cost 3 to 4 times per kwh what BChydro could build them for using best bids from experts like SNC Lavelin and Bechtel. Letting BChydro build them would interfere with Gordo and gangs campaign donations and trouble their dreams of lucrative post election corporate directorships and consulting contracts.
3) Run of the River is for export only as the power appears when BC Hydros dams are full and it is already exporting as fast as it can.
Rating: +1
fred bass
Fred Bass

What Andrew Weaver and David Suzuki have missed is that the BC government fails to require the assessment of the ecological impact of the Run-of-the River Projects 1) indivudally if they are under 50 Megawatts and 2) cumulatively, because they do not require estimation of the collective impact of multiple projects within one ecosystem, eg, the many projects planned for Bute Inlet have only been evaluated individually.

Ecological ignorance is killing the planet.

Furthermore, the cheapest, most accessible megawatt is the one gained by not using the energy. Where is the call for a radical cutback to our profligate consumption?

As a boy I saw rationing of gasoline, meat, sugar; recycling of paper, metal, rubber; victory gardens; and, most of all, the ever-present reminders from the government that all of us were together in a struggle to survive. That was World War II and what we face now makes WWII look like a picnic.

It's past time for our leaders, especially the scientists, to point the direction we collectively must take to survive. It's time to do with less, a lot less.

Ironicallly, Wall Street may have accomplished what environmentalists have not.
Rating: -4
ezekiel bones
I doubt that climate change is less important than habitat loss David... and if you were honest with yourself you would realize the two are intertwined.

We need to preserve the few remaining wilderness areas we have left. Period. You also know, or ought to know, that large carnivores (Grizzlies) and ungulates (Caribou) struggle to survive when their habitat is disturbed by powerlines and roads.

You know as well as I do that the current government has spawned the "gold rush mentality" (which doesn't give a hot damn about climate change, habitat or salmon). Yet, you have fawned over Gordon Campbell because of his pitiful "carbon tax" to the point where you have lost almost all credibility in my eyes.

I first saw you at an antiwar rally, I sat atop one of the stone lions on the back side of the Vancouver Art Gallery. I believed in you then.

But times have changed. You lost the pulse of what is important.

This article was less biased than I expected it to be, but I still hoped for more.

I believe that you can earn your credibility back David. Do you think that oil tankers are an important part of stopping climate change?

No? Maybe you should consider making up for fawning over Gordon Campbell.
Rating: -2
Perhaps one should know the facts before taking the position that we need to "act quickly to get as much renewable energy into play as possible".

BC currently produces 90% of its energy from renewable sources. A statistic envied by our neighbours south and east of our province.

It is true some run of the river projects could be of value to remote communities now relying on fossil fuels for their energy sources and that's where the focus of this policy should have been placed.

I know of many individuals and small communities that years ago installed non-invasive run-of-the-creek type energy generation systems that didn't entail constructing roads, removing trees and diverting whole streams into their penstocks.

Before proceeding further on any of these projects, Suzuki should be campaigning like the rest of us for the "environmental safeguards", "better system for water licences", "strong environmental regulations along with monitoring and enforcement" that are needed now before any more licences are approved by a politicized environmental assessment (acceptance) office in BC.

His comments only fuel the divisions and with his public role as defender of the environment he should be calling all environmentalists together for dialogue before trying in a clever way to marginalize a grassroots movement calling for a moratorium on all further applications for run-of- the river hydro energy projects in BC.

I think Dr. Suzuki said it best in an interview in 2007 with Kerry Lonergan, Landline, Australia's national rural affairs weekly,

"The water has got to determine what we do, not vested interests of the stakeholders. And the way we do it is crazy. We divide humans like straight lines, so we draw straight lines and say this is the state boundary, or this is the city boundary - it's got nothing to do with the way water flows. Water flows like this: the land opens up and lets the water flow. We don't respect that. So we put these lines all over the place and then, if you draw a line here the people on this side might manage their water one way the people on the other side manage it a different way. They've got conflicting interests, you make damn sure the water will never be managed properly, because the water isn't the central piece - it's humans, human uses and human priorities -- you've got it backwards.
Rating: -5
Oh and before the good doctor accuses those of us who want a moratorium on run-of-the river projects as those who don't get global warming he might want to get that many of us got it over 40 years ago and have been living our lives accordingly. Perhaps though he could defend his travel habits and his blind promotion of the use of dubious carbon offsets which is turning our atmosphere into just another item of human trade. The Rogue Primate should not cast the first stone.
Rating: -5
First he shills global carbon tax and cap and trade and now this?
Climate change is not the biggest threat, no matter how much the IPCC wants us to believe their apocalyptic climate models. Guess what? Sea levels haven't risen in last 50 years. And guess what? It's going to keep getting colder, in this part of the world anyway, for at least two decades. Who you gonna believe, a bunch of political appointees with big computers or scientists who actually go out and do observations? Google/YouTube Mí¶rner and Maldives for the real deal on sea level. No need to fear the carbon boogeyman.
Rating: -9
Travis Lupick
Regarding sea levels, see Rising sea levels to exceed expectations, climate change congress hears (March 12, 2009).

On colder temperatures in North America: Snowstorms don’t mean climate change threat has passed (January 9, 2009).

For more stories on climate change and the environment, check out the Straight's Earth Day page at www.straight.com/green.
Rating: +5

All you have provided is more "evidence" based on climate models, which simply don't cut it because observed results (i.e. what's actually happening) do not support those predictions: in fact they often show the very opposite, which is exactly the case with the sea level:


Your second article, on colder temps. in NA is equally worthless as again, all it can cite is a climate modeller from the IPCC and the article doesn't even mention Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which is responsible for periodic warming and cooling of the Pacific Ocean.

We have just entered the cool phase so you can damn well expect cold winters will endure.
Rating: -2
Travis Lupick
Some background on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

From About IPCC: The IPCC was established to provide the decision-makers and others interested in climate change with an objective source of information about climate change. The IPCC does not conduct any research nor does it monitor climate related data or parameters. Its role is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the latest scientific, technical and socio-economic literature produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change, its observed and projected impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. IPCC reports should be neutral with respect to policy, although they need to deal objectively with policy relevant scientific, technical and socio economic factors. They should be of high scientific and technical standards, and aim to reflect a range of views, expertise and wide geographical coverage.

The IPCC is a scientific intergovernmental body set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Its constituency is made of :
* The governments...
* The scientists: hundreds of scientists all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC as authors, contributors and reviewers.
* The people [UN]...

See also, Criticism of IPCC, which includes argumentsthat the IPCC is too liberal in its claims that climate change is caused by humans, but also claims that the IPCC is too conservative and tends to underestimate dangers associated with climate change.
Rating: 0
Chris Hatch
Whoah!: Did someone really say "BC currently produces 90% of its energy from renewable sources."

You are confusing electricity with energy. And that confuses the whole point. Electricity is a small portion of our present energy use. 75% or so of BC energy use is fossil fuels (natural gas heating, gasoline cars, diesel, coal etc) -- all of that has to be switched to clean energy. Which means we have to do a lot of conservation and build a lot of clean energy. A lot!
Rating: -1
Independent Power Producer (IPP) Run-of-the-River Technology FACTs:

Independent Power Producers pay 3 times more social benefits to government than BC Hydro does.

Private power IPPs pay $25 per MWh in taxes, water license rental fees, and community benefits to the government. Half of that is paid to the local government as property tax, while BC Hydro pays no local property taxes for 25 billion dollars of assets that it owns.

BC Hydro, on the other hand, pays only $8 per MWh as dividend and taxes to the government (2008) while most of that power is produced by dams that have permanently altered the Columbia River and Peace River basins with cumulative environmental impacts. To meet our current energy shortage, BC Hydro wants to build yet another dam (Site C) at 3 times the cost per MW, compared to low-cost low-impact private run-of-the-river technology.

A small 10 MW run of river IPP plant pays about $1,400,000 a year to various levels of government, most of it to the local government. BC Hydro pays only $440,000 for the same amount of power to the Province, and none of it to the local government.

No IPP run-of-the-river project is on a salmon bearing reach of a stream, and the environmental impact is minor if any. Run-of-the-river technology can co-exist and share the habitat with fish and other wildlife. IPPs do not build dams – but low weirs or taps on a steep stream that has little or no resident fish. The impact is far less than dams built by BC Hydro, logging, mining, oil and gas, coal, real estate development, transportation, pulp and paper, pipelines, utility telephone and cable poles, etc. And unlike mining, oil and gas, coal, transportation and real estate – run of river technology is sustainable, renewable, clean and significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Rating: +4
Independent Power Producer (IPP) Run-of-the-River Technology FACTs:

IPPs using run-of-the-river technology can produce green renewable electrical energy at about half the cost of BC Hydro.

IPPs generate power at about $50 to $85 a MWh. Ashlu Creek IPP is selling its power to BC Hydro for $55 for the next 40 years (term of the BC Hydro contract). IPPs pay $25 a MWh in taxes, water license rental fees, and first nation royalty to governments – mostly to the local government. BC Hydro pays only $8 a MWh in dividend and taxes to the government.

On the other hand, BC Hydro is a very high cost producer - $110 a MWh, from its own Aberfeldie run-of-the-river project that it has just completed. The cost of production at the proposed Site C mega-dam on the Peace River will be about $160 a MWh.

BC Hydro has extremely high internal overhead and costs. BC Hydro can produce power at less than $6 a MWh from our gigantic heritage dams paid by BC citizens (in the 1960s) with no interest expense – but then sells it at $80 to BC citizens who own these dams. The average salary and benefits at BC Hydro is $100,000 per employee per year. This is 2.5 times the average private salary in the province of $40,000. The average salary at BCTC, a unit of BC Hydro is $130,000 per employee.

BC Hydro charges the ratepayers and taxpayers $1.4 million per GWh in costs to produce non-green power (Site C). BC Hydro is unable to produce power if the project is less than 50 MW.

On the other hand, private power IPPs can produce green and clean power at $0.6 million per GWh, none of that charged to ratepayers - and less than half the cost that BC Hydro charges ratepayers. Private power producers can produce power from projects as small as 5 MW by using local talent and labour.

The cost saving is passed on to the consumer when large number of IPPs compete for the few power purchase contracts offered by BC Hydro. 17,000 GWh of power is being offered by about 150 competing IPP projects to a single buyer, BC Hydro – which will only purchase 3,000 GWh. BC Hydro offers on the average only 3 buildable power purchase agreements a year and no more than 2 or 3 IPP projects can be built in a year. Without a power purchase agreement from BC Hydro, no IPP run-of-river project can get built. There are 12,000 major streams and 270,000 minor streams and creeks in BC and only 40 IPP plants in all of BC (10 under construction). The water license held by an IPP terminates in about 25 years and it is up to the government to renew it.

While a run-of-river plant is producing energy, BC Hydro fills up its gigantic dams, so that the energy production can be shifted to the winter. Run of river complements BC Hydro's mega-dams very nicely. Energy is stored behind BC Hydro dams for low-water periods, and many IPPs also have lakes for winter storage.

It is not possible to export power to the US without the authorization of BC Hydro. And BC Hydro and BCTC demand a cut of at least 25% of the sales to allow exports. The price of power in Washington State is generally same as in BC, and the transmission lines to California are all congested.

Rating: -9

You know that the lowest hanging fruit for tackling ghg's from energy in BC is in transportation - which means saying "no" to Gateway and yes to public transit - and I do mean a lot of public transit. A lot!
Rating: +14
Mr. Hatch,

According to the David Suzuki Foundation, 40% of our fossil fuel energy use comes from the transportation sector. The provincial government is planning to expand highway capacity in the Lower Mainland via the Gateway Project, which would cause this sector to use even more energy and increase greenhouse gas emissions. I note no transit strategy or opposition to Gateway from your group.

Fossil fuel production in BC accounts for 21% of our total emissions, and this is a sector that our government is looking to expand as rapidly as possible. I note no opposition from you or your group.

Meanwhile, our electricity sector produces something on the order of 2% of our total emissions. BC Hydro reports state that we could be using the same amount of power in 2027 as we did in 2007 through conservation, and there is an entire palette of production options that do not require the destruction of biodiversity (expansion of existing BC Hydro dams, the installation of generators on existing flood-control dams, taking back our Columbia Treaty benefits, etc.). Import/export data indicates we don't actually need the power in BC. Your group is all over this issue.

Two questions spring to mind:

1) Why are you fighting so hard on the 2% while ignoring the 61%?

2) Do you support damming rivers in BC to feed energy demands in other jurisdictions?
Rating: -34
Interestingly Suzuki doesn't mention *CONSERVATION *once in his article (besides a quote from Dr. Weaver). What Suzuki, Weaver, and the American scientist cited in the article repeatedly ignore is that those who oppose this private river power regime primarily do so because it represents a green-washed heist of our most valuable and vital natural resources by private global capital - with enormous consequences for our energy security, sovereignty, economy /and, /above all, environment. This misleading oversimplification of the resistance to the secretive, undemocratic Campbell private energy is not unexpected from Suzuzki, but nevertheless appalling. He demeans the values and intelligence of good British Columbians who have every right to be up in arms about this outrageous deal. This whole program is nothing more than a scam and a legalized burglary and has absolutely no demonstrable ecological benefit for the people of BC, our fish and wildlife, or the planet - quite the contrary.

I deeply resent the implication that the growing masses opposed to this program do so because they "don't get global warming." For crying out loud, David! It is precisely /because/ we "get" global warming and its severe consequences that we are intent protecting our water, food sources, and energy security - and focusing on conservation before we hand over our watersheds to the likes of General Electric to destroy for their own wealth, not for ecological reasons. I invite readers to check out an article by Dr. Bill Rees, founder of the eco-footprint concept, "Why Run of River is no green solution": http://saveourrivers.ca/latest-news-mainmenu-38/environment/259-rees1

And the following videos:

Two Top BC Biologists vs. Private River Power: http://saveourrivers.ca/video-library-mainmenu-29/281-langer-hartman
River at Risk: Bute Inlet: http://saveourrivers.ca/video-library-mainmenu-29/327-bute-inlet-multimedia

...Then make up your own minds as to the true nature of this program - and be sure to vote accordingly on May 12, 2009: BC's Watershed Election (http://saveourrivers.ca/video-library-mainmenu-29/298-watershed-election)

Damien Gillis
Filmmaker - Save Our Rivers Society

Rating: +4
I'm really glad one of the paid Pirate Power minions has crawled out from under his rock to put on paper the nonsense they get away with on CKNW. Gives us a chance here to squash the odius creature.

"Independent Power Producers pay 3 times more social benefits to government than BC Hydro does."

Plain horsepucky. As is usual Pirate power makes up nonsense cause it sounds good.What does this bug mean by social benefits?

"Private power IPPs pay $25 per MWh in taxes"

Considering we are paying them an average of $120 a mwh for power worth maybe 50 dollars seems like a great deal for the Pirates.

"... To meet our current energy shortage"

We have no energy shortage. According to the National Energy Board we have been net exporters for 9 of the last 11 years and with the recession, we have power in abundance. If we repatriated the Columbia river rights we would have sufficient power for our needs for decades to come.

" BC Hydro wants to build yet another dam (Site C) at 3 times the cost per MW, compared to low-cost low-impact private run-of-the-river technology."

BC Hydro has Site C in planning. Approval is a long way off. Unfortunately BCHydro is not allowed to contract with experts like Bechtel or SNC Lavelin to build "low cost" run of the river

" A small 10 MW run of river IPP plant pays about $1,400,000 a year"

Just a repeat of earlier nonsense. The taxpayer is paying $120 on the average a mwh for power worth $50 so a few nickels in tax benefits is meaningless.

" No IPP run-of-the-river project is on a salmon bearing reach ...s sustainable, renewable, clean and significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions."

Lets leave that one for Suzuki and the Save our rivers coalition to fight out.

"IPPs using run-of-the-river technology can produce green renewable electrical energy at about half the cost of BC Hydro..... about $160 a MWh."

Our neocon bug picks numbers to suit as he has access to the signed contracts and we the great unwashed do not. Why would the PIrates who being basically a bunch of lawyers and stockbrokers with the keys to Gordo's gangland clubhouse and access to hedge fund capital be able to build power stations at a lower cost than BCHydro engineers who can borrow at 4% and can contract out to Bechel, SNC Lavelin or other experts on the lowest bid basis.
Given that the capital costs are more or less than same and ongoing maintenance on these projects is relatively small for every dollar Hydro spends on a 40 year lifetime project it pays about 5 cents a year, pirate power pays 18 cents a year for the same dollar with current Wall Street hedge fund rates. As a result Pirate power costs 4 times as much per kwh than public Hydro power. Some old projects were cheaper some more expensive and some were just plain mistakes. Saveourrivers.ca has John Calvert's 2 year old report which details per kwh contract costs or the next 40 years ie 12 cents per kwh average. It is expected with the flurry of signings before the election in case the Gordo losses that Calvert's figures would have to be more than doubled.

"BC Hydro has extremely high internal overhead and costs. BC Hydro can produce power at less than $6 a MWh from our gigantic heritage dams .....f BC Hydro is $130,000 per employee.

Nothing compared to the salarys of the lawyers and stockbrokers who run Pirate Power. Check out AIG bonus' if you want details.

" BC Hydro charges the ratepayers and taxpayers $1.4 million per GWh in costs to produce non-green power (Site C). BC Hydro is unable to produce power if the project is less than 50 MW .......he cost that BC Hydro charges ratepayers"

Repeated nonsense but matters not. We are still committed to paying an average of 12 cents for the next 40 years for power we must export at 5 cents today and possibly less than .5 cents with 10 years from now nuclear fusion.

"While a run-of-river plant is producing energy, BC Hydro fills up its gigantic....."

BCHydro's dams are already full when the Pirates start producing. BCHydro must export not only its own surplus but its 12 cents a kwh pirate commitments at 5 cents on the open market.

" many IPPs also have lakes for winter storage"

Interesting so they are planning on running lake levels up and down. This is Green? Wonder what the fish think?
Rating: -1
Peter Francis
When i see Gucci Suzuki I just turn it off now. The guy is all about himself and supporting his little empire. but the same goes for Greenpeace, WWF, Sierra Club etc. For example Lizzy May only used the S.C as a spring board to a senate seat. Thats all this gal is out for. Walk into an environmental NGO these days and you will be very impressed by the furnishings and the boardroom. The Enviro movement has gone corporate and abandoned the front porches of the people.
Rating: +6
The Big Maybe.

Supporters of the current rush to build public and privately owned renewable energy projects in BC rely on the questionable premise that our domestic and export markets will soon put aside or dramatically reduce non-renewable, high carbon energy consumption.

As of now, we and they haven't.

And no one, least of all Suzuki, can guarantee this reduced consumption will actually occur purposefully, never mind if it will be timely enough to reduce the threat that global warming promises to bring upon civilization.

Meanwhile, despite this missing and necessary assurance, IPPs are being rushed out the barn door under an elaborate environmental screen that they'll save us from climate change, soon to be followed by BC Hydro's play to build the Site C Dam on the Peace River that will no doubt be based on a similar pitch.

- Coyote
Rating: +3
My apologies to Chris Hatch, I should have said BC currently produces 90% of its electricity from renewable sources. However, that being said, Hatch confuses the issue by bringing in other energy factors that have nothing to do with run-of-the-river projects. The discussion is about generating electricity, not fueling vehicles or heating homes with petroleum products.

There may be run-of-the river projects that may help reduce or eliminate the use of burning fossil fuels to generate electricity in remote communities where the streams are close to human population and would not require extensive road building or deforestation to bring the electricity to the local population.

However, that is not what is being proposed and being built in this province. And I would suspect that Suzuki sees BC rivers and streams as a way to reduce or replace the coal fired power plants in California. That's fair, however, it does not address the fact that consumption in California resembles that of all of Canada and perhaps California can find a solution to its carbon contribution without counting on the destruction of our wild places and wild streams.
Rating: -34
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