The British Columbia (BC) government is prepared to overrule the province's independent energy regulator to make sure that the administration's plans for developing new renewable energy supplies remain firmly on track.
BC energy minister Blair Lekstrom says that the government is drafting a special direction for the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) that will bar the regulator from considering the gas-fired Burrard Thermal Plant near Vancouver as an option for the province's energy future. In July, the BCUC issued a ruling saying government-owned BC Hydro should continue to rely on Burrard rather than buy new renewable electricity supply from independent power producers (Windpower Monthly, September 2009).
The ruling came as BC Hydro was in the midst of assessing bids from renewables developers after the province called for more clean power last year. But the BCUC decision to persist with the Burrard gas plant left green energy developers, who invested an estimated C$150-200 million preparing their proposals, wondering whether or not BC Hydro would actually follow through.
Two years ago, the BC government decided that it would phase out the decades-old Burrard plant as part of its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the province by one third by 2020.
"We're going to carry on with our clean energy call," Lekstrom says. "We are not going to waver from our commitment to the clean and renewable electricity industry in this province. We think we can develop this industry to become a significant player in the North American market. The thought that an outdated gas facility would be part of that came as a bit of a surprise." What the special direction will deal with is clearing up any misunderstanding."
Lekstrom says that removing Burrard Thermal from the power supply equation will definitely bring some security for developers participating in the clean power call. Any contracts that the utility signs, however, will still have to go before the BCUC for its decision on whether they are in the best interests of ratepayers. "But we think that once we clarify the Burrard Thermal issue, it opens up all kinds of opportunity here in British Columbia," he says.
Energy task force
The provincial government's recent Throne Speech, which lays out its priorities for the coming legislative session, promised new strategies for renewable power development. A key step, says Lekstrom, will be the appointment of a green energy task force to recommend a blueprint for maximising the province's clean power potential, including a plan to develop green energy exports.
"We not only have the ability to become energy self-sufficient by 2016 - which is our primary goal - but also to help others," Lekstrom explains. "If you look to the United States, for example, over 50% of their electricity today is generated from coal-fired plants. We certainly think there are alternatives that we can assist with.
"Greenhouse gas emissions don't recognise boundaries as we do, whether they are provincial or international. So if we are going to truly make a difference to the environment in which we live, we are going to have to work together on this," he says.
BC is only now getting its first commercial wind farm, the 102 MW Bear Mountain project, which Lekstrom has watched take shape from the deck of his Dawson Creek home. But he believes the technology will play an integral role in the province's plans. He says: "I think the wind industry is a big part of our future when it comes to clean and renewable electricity generation."