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/.




Mar 31, 2009 at 7:11pm

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.

fred bass

Mar 31, 2009 at 10:27pm

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.

ezekiel bones

Mar 31, 2009 at 11:40pm

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.


Apr 1, 2009 at 1:29am

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.


Apr 1, 2009 at 1:41am

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.


Apr 1, 2009 at 11:14am

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.

Travis Lupick

Apr 1, 2009 at 11:20am

Regarding sea levels, see <a href="http://www.straight.com/article-206041/rising-sea-levels-exceed-expectat... sea levels to exceed expectations, climate change congress hears</a> (March 12, 2009).

On colder temperatures in North America: <a href="http://www.straight.com/article-179170/snowstorms-don%3F%3Ft-mean-climat... don’t mean climate change threat has passed</a> (January 9, 2009).

For more stories on climate change and the environment, check out the Straight's Earth Day page at <a href="http://www.straight.com/green">www.straight.com/green</a>.


Apr 1, 2009 at 12:05pm


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.

Travis Lupick

Apr 1, 2009 at 12:21pm

Some background on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

From <a href="http://www.ipcc.ch/about/index.htm" target="_blank">About IPCC</a>: <em>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]...</em>

See also, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intergovernmental_Panel_on_Climate_Change#C... target="_blank">Criticism of IPCC</a>, 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.

Chris Hatch

Apr 1, 2009 at 12:26pm

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!