NDP say Liberals may kill coal-fired plants

Two controversial coal-fired plants announced by B.C. Hydro last July may not go ahead, according to NDP environment critic Shane Simpson.

“I think there’s real challenges in front of the Liberals to try to do these particular coal plants,” Simpson told the Georgia Straight. “They might find it more difficult to do than they had originally anticipated. The opposition is very large, starting with the mayor of Princeton.”

One plant, expected to produce 184 megawatts of power, is planned by AES Wapiti Energy Corporation for Tumbler Ridge. The other, proposed by Compliance Power Corporation, would produce 56 megawatts near Princeton. They would be B.C.’s first coal-fired generating stations.

Simpson was among three NDP MLAs attending a November 9 meeting in Princeton, where most opposed the Compliance Power project. In the room were old Socreds, New Democrats, and Greens, Simpson said.

“This is a whole cross-range of people who are very concerned, both because of global-warming issues and because of air-quality issues—in par ­ticular, mercury,” he said.

Simpson added that Compliance officials attending the meeting were “not very well received”. He claimed that no more than 10 percent of the approximately 200 people there supported the project.

Last weekend in Vancouver, the NDP’s provincial council approved a resolution opposing the two coal-fired plants. The resolution cites the “precautionary principle” as requiring “decisive action now to prevent significant damage to the environment and health of our citizens.” With the resolution’s passage, it is now the B.C. NDP’s official policy to oppose the two plants.

In opposing the coal-fired plants, the NDP has plenty of company.

In a July 28 statement, two conservation organizations, Wildsight and the Pembina Institute, attacked the “dirty coal” projects, calling for more attention to be paid to energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

Pembina Institute legal counsel Karen Campbell noted the damage to human health done by pollution from coal plants, which includes particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides—which cause smog and acid rain. “In Ontario, the government has estimated that air pollution from coal-fired power plants is responsible for the premature deaths of 668 people per year in the province,” Campbell said in the statement.

Casey Brennan, Wildsight’s energy and mining-program manager, noted in the statement that the two plants could set a dangerous precedent. “This decision could be the first of many, as there are coal deposits across B.C.,” Brennan claimed.

Princeton Mayor Randy McLean said in the statement that the plants would use “minimally updated nineteenth-century technology that other provinces are phasing out. How can we promote tourism and real-estate investment under the cloud of a coal-burning plant? I am concerned for the future of our valley and the people who live here. Industry profit at the expense of everyone’s environment is unacceptable.”

In a July 27 news release, the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association said that the two plants would boost B.C.’s emissions of greenhouse gases by 1.6 megatonnes annually. In the statement, association president Guy Dauncey called the projects “unnecessary and backward-looking”.

The preamble to last weekend’s NDP resolution noted that the party “has traditionally led the campaign for the environment”. So where does the NDP stand on Site C? The proposed Peace River dam would produce almost five times as much power as the AES Wapiti project.

Although hydroelectricity might be “clean” in comparison with coal-burning plants, it’s not without environmental effects. For one thing, it would flood more than 9,000 hectares of spectacular agricultural land and wildlife habitat.

Though the NDP has no formal position on Site C, it has informally opposed it. Energy critic John Horgan told the Straight that the NDP’s opposition is somewhat dated.

“That was taken in the 1980s, when there was no [electricity] export policy, there was no sense of urgency around climate change, and fossil-fuel burning was a normal course of events,” Horgan said. The provincial council passed no resolution concerning Site C at that meeting.

Simpson said that views among party members vary.

“When you balance off what is relatively clean power after it’s built versus the significant impact of having to build it and all the implications of that and the flooding, there’s huge challenges on both sides,” Simpson said.

According to its latest integrated energy plan, released last March, B.C. Hydro was expected to have spent $14.7 million by last September 30 on “Stage 1”, a review of the feasibility of Site C.

To proceed to “Stage 2”, meaning “stakeholder engagement and First Nations consultation”, would require cabinet approval. According to the plan, assuming approval would be given, Stage 2 should have begun last month, at a cost of another $20 million over the next nine months.

To date, the cabinet has not given the go-ahead.