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British Columbia and Alberta negotiating Site C dam-TransMountain pipeline deal

The “clean energy” Site C dam under construction. Photos by Garth Lenz in DeSmog Canada.

Could the Site C dam become a critical part of the strategy to get the TransMountain and Northern Gateway tar sands pipelines built?

The Financial Post reports, “Premier Christy Clark’s Liberal government [has] made an unexpected proposal to export Site C power to Alberta and asked for $1 billion in federal government aid [for transmission lines] to better connect the two provinces’ electricity systems. Alberta, which is in the early innings of its own controversial transition from coal to renewable energy, has said it won’t buy B.C.’s power unless it can get bitumen pipelines to the B.C. coast — something its western neighbour has given it a lot of grief over. But if the two provinces and the federal government can pull off an agreement, the result could be a grand bargain that gives Ottawa more green energy, Alberta its pipelines and B.C. its dam.”

The Globe and Mail adds, “Until now, the Energy East pipeline to the East Coast had been seen as Alberta’s best hope of getting its oil to tidewater, but the ground appears to be shifting. B.C. is rich with hydroelectric power – the new $8-billion Site C dam in the northeastern corner of the province is now under construction – and sees in Alberta a customer that could benefit from purchasing clean energy. Alberta is looking for ways to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and B.C. has tried to sell its neighbour on the notion that buying clean electricity would be one way to do it.”

That article also notes, “A spokesman for B.C. Premier Christy Clark confirmed that energy talks between the two provinces are under way and agreed that there is renewed optimism around the Kinder Morgan pipeline project, in particular. Ben Chin, executive director of communications and issues management for Ms. Clark, said that while the five conditions the province has imposed on any pipeline project to B.C. would still have to be met, there is more optimism now that this can occur. …He said the B.C. government understands Alberta’s position regarding an electricity deal; that it would have to come with a pipeline. He said that clean electricity would help its neighbour ‘brand their product better’.”

A few points to keep in mind:

– the Site C dam will not produce “clean energy”, it would produce the equivalent of adding 27,000 cars onto the road every year;

– the $1 billion that BC is asking the federal government for would likely come from the federal infrastructure fund, we have stated that not $1 of that funding should be used on projects that worsen climate change;

– B.C. exporting so-called “clean electricity” to Alberta cannot “green” the Northern Gateway pipeline (which would produce 27 million tonnes of carbon pollution a year) nor the TransMountain pipeline (which would produce 270 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over a 35-year period);

– the federal-provincial review panel finding that B.C. “has not fully demonstrated the need for [the power that would be generated by] the project on the timetable set forth” seems to be confirmed by this new proposal to now export Site C energy.

In February, the Council of Canadians co-signed a letter Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that stated, “When the federal and provincial governments approved the project, they claimed that the severe harm that would be caused by Site C was ‘justified’ by the energy and the jobs it will produce. We strongly disagree. Ignoring the rights of Indigenous peoples can never be justified. Furthermore, in this day and age there are far less damaging and less costly methods that could be used to meet British Columbia’s energy needs – many of which would create more jobs than Site C.”

DeSmog Canada has reported, “When B.C. agrologist Wendy Holm examined agricultural values that would be lost if Site C goes ahead, she calculated that 1,800 hectares of the best farmland on the Site C chopping block could produce enough fruit and vegetables to meet the nutritional needs of one million people a year. …[And] as climate change brings drought to California and other parts of the world, including to the Canadian Prairies, Holm says B.C. will need the 6,500 hectares of Peace Valley farmland that will be destroyed by Site C. An additional 5,900 hectares of valley farmland — more than all the farmland in Richmond — is [also] at risk of being lost to the $8.8 billion dam and its 107-kilometre long reservoir.”

The Council of Canadians endorses the Leap Manifesto which calls for respecting the inherent rights and title of Indigenous peoples, no new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future, a more localized and ecologically-based agricultural system, and an end to fossil fuel subsidies.