NDP quietly gave BC Hydro two years to work on late CleanBC electrification plan

Budget offers thousands of dollars in clean energy incentives

The missing 25% of emissions targeted for reduction under the BC NDP’s CleanBC plan might be found through electrification of the province’s oil and gas industry – but how that might be achieved won’t be known until 2021.

Those are details that would be contained in BC Hydro’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). The first one was produced in 2013 under the Clean Energy Act, with another IRP due last year.

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However, the Crown utility was quietly given a two-year extension for the IRP to allow BC Hydro to integrate its plans with the government’s CleanBC climate action plan.

The NDP budget delivered Feb. 19 outlined plans to reduce emissions and offered incentives for greater electrification but a missing piece remains how that power would be delivered – a piece that sits with the IRP.

Finance Minister Carole James’ budget documents say $902 million is earmarked for CleanBC initiatives over three years. The funds cover air pollution reduction, a clean-energy vehicle program, incentives for residential energy-saving improvements, a net-zero building code and programs to assist communities transition to cleaner energy sources.

“CleanBC will help B.C. seize new low-carbon opportunities, mobilize our skilled workers, and reduce climate pollution,” the budget plan said. “By moving to clean, renewable energy – like our abundant supply of B.C. electricity – we will power our growing economy.”

Among initiative James introduced in the budget are:

• $107 million to help British Columbians switch to cleaner transportation, funding for new charging stations, training and research, and a new zero-emission vehicle standard;

• $58 million in addition to capital funding to make buildings more energy efficient;

• $18 million to work with Indigenous and remote communities to move to cleaner energy sources;

• $168 million over three years to assist large industry in reducing greenhouse gas emissions through an industrial incentive and clean industry fund to make their operations cleaner;

• Up to $6,000 rebate for the purchase of a zero-emission vehicle, and approximately $1,500 per year in fuel costs for switching to electricity;

• Up to $14,000 for homeowners to switch to high-efficiency heating equipment;

• $2,000 to replace a fossil-fuel heating system with an electric air-source heat pump;

• Up to $1,000 to upgrade insulation of windows and doors;

• Up to $700 toward a high-efficiency natural gas furnace, and;

• Up to $400 in the coming year through the enhanced climate action tax credit.

CleanBC involves heavy electrification of homes, infrastructure and industry in B.C. to reduce emissions. But, those plans are, to a degree, contingent on an IRP, which covers energy demand forecasts, energy capacity requirements, new construction and energy exports among other items.

BC Hydro was granted the extension in December when the NDP cabinet passed an order in council signed by Minister of Energy Petroleum and Mines Michelle Mungall and presiding cabinet member Attorney General David Eby – five days after the CleanBC plan was released.

BC Hydro spokesman Kevin Aquino said the change was made to allow the Crown corporation to incorporate parts of a government review of the utility into the IRP and also so that work could be added to support the CleanBC plan.

The missing 25%

The CleanBC plan accounts for 75% of emissions reductions required by 2030 but notes the remaining 25% will be identified over the next two years.

“The remaining 25% to close the gap to our 2030 carbon reduction goals will certainly have a large component based on electrification of upstream gas development, which would include emissions associated with gas produced for LNG Canada,” said Pembina Institute regional director Karen Tam Wu.

Wu said some reductions from electrification of gas production in the Peace region are already accounted for in planning but other specifics are lacking.

And, BC Hydro spokeswoman Mora Scott confirmed that, adding uncertainty around LNG projects has made planning difficult.

“The Peace Regional Electrical Supply project is part of the IRP,” Scott said. “Electricity demand in the South Peace Region is increasing as a result of natural gas exploration and development, and the existing transmission infrastructure is reaching capacity. The project will increase transmission capacity to the South Peace Region by approximately 600 megawatts and help ensure BC Hydro can reliably provide electricity to large industrial customers who want to use clean energy rather than self-generate.”

Scott said the Site C dam project on the Peace River would be part of BC Hydro’s new supply when it comes online in 2024.

“Our next IRP will also be looking at new generation, transmission, and demand-side-management options beyond Site C to meet any expected future need for electricity,” Scott said.

The delaying of the IRP came after the October announcement that LNG Canada would proceed with a Kitimat liquefied natural gas plant.

 It’s a factor BC Hydro acknowledged in 2013 as key to determining how its resources are allocated. “Forecasting future need for electricity in B.C. is very challenging given developments in the oil and gas, mining and LNG sectors combined with external events,” the 2013 IRP said.

BC Hydro signed an agreement to provide auxiliary power to LNG Canada in 2014. Other systems are to run using natural gas, a power source former premier Christy Clark in 2012 declared green if used to power LNG facilities.

When the plant got the go-ahead from the NDP government, the David Suzuki Foundation called the approval flawed “in that it allows industry to use fracked gas to power the LNG terminals instead of clean electricity.”

Advocates of electrification agree BC Hydro has a role to play in emissions reduction.

“BC Hydro will need to be one of the province’s primary delivery bodies for action on climate change,” a Clean Energy BC October 2018 white paper said.

Part of that, the paper said, is a need for electrification in the LNG industry.

And that fits with one of the what-ifs in the CleanBC plan.

“While LNG Canada is working to make its Kitimat facility the world’s cleanest in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensity, the project could add up to 3.45 megatonnes of carbon emissions to the province’s total,” the plan said. “Recognizing that natural gas can be a transitional fuel on the path to less carbon-intensive options, the CleanBC program for industry will encourage the use of the greenest technology available in the sector to reduce emissions and encourage economic and job growth. More reductions from LNG’s climate impact will be achieved through investments in electrification of upstream oil and gas production so extraction and processing are powered by electricity, instead of burning fossil fuels.”

Reporter Jeremy Hainsworth can be contacted at jhainsworth@glaciermedia.ca

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