B.C. Climate Plan Lays Out Rapid Shift from Fossil Energy to Electricity
Higher carbon prices and measures to shift individuals and industry off fossil fuels are key pillars of CleanBC, the new climate action plan unveiled last week by the provincial government in British Columbia.
“The plan aims to cut almost 19 million tonnes of GHG emissions annually from transportation, industry, and buildings by the year 2030,” the Globe and Mail reports. “The rising carbon tax will be used in part to help B.C. industries become global leaders in low-carbon energy and commodities. The building code will be revised to ensure new energy-efficient designs. Infrastructure to support zero-emission vehicles will be expanded. And new power transmission lines will offer heavy polluters the opportunity to convert to cleaner energy for production.”
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All of which “still leaves the province looking for another six million tonnes of GHGs to cut in order to meet its 2030 targets,” the Globe notes. “A second phase of the plan will be rolled out over the next two years.”
Financial details for the first phase will be included in the provincial budget in February.
Fossil news outlet JWN Energy says the plan appears to factor in emissions from liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects that are already under way in B.C. “While there was no mention of the LNG sector that poses a challenge for the government in meeting its climate change objectives at Wednesday’s announcement, it appears that the plan absorbs the increased emissions from the LNG Canada and Woodfibre LNG projects,” JWN states. “Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver wholeheartedly endorsed the plan, although he continued to express skepticism that it will work if additional LNG projects are approved, or if the LNG Canada project moves to a second phase, which would expand from two trains to four.”
A pre-release report in the Globe had indicated the new plan would require the province’s fossil industry to “slash emissions” by shifting its operations to electricity. “Most of B.C.’s 110 gas processing plants still use fossil fuels to power their facilities because there are few transmission lines delivering electricity across a vast region in the northeast corner of the province. Just 13 gas plants in British Columbia use electricity for processing.”
That means “the province’s Crown-owned utility, BC Hydro, is likely to play a major role in the electrification of the province under the new climate plan. To meet B.C.’s legislated targets to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 2030, the province will need more electricity, more transmission lines, and more distribution services to make the transition from fossil fuels.” Yet “delivering a major infrastructure expansion will be challenging for BC Hydro, which already carries a dangerously high debt load.
Even with construction of the massive and massively controversial Site C hydroelectric dam under way, the Globe says B.C. will need more new electricity supply “to power cars, homes, and industry” under the new plan.
B.C. Premier John Horgan “promised the plan will be affordable for families, and that the province’s climate action tax credits for low-income families will be expanded over time to take the sting out of the planned increases to the B.C. carbon tax,” the Globe reports. “The provincial budget will include a major expansion of incentives designed to encourage homeowners to swap out fossil fuel heating sources for electric heat pumps, and to improve conservation by replacing poorly-sealed windows, for example, with more energy-efficient models.”
The announcement earned nearly unanimous support from the climate and energy and business communities.
“British Columbians should be excited,” said Clean Energy Canada Executive Director Merran Smith, co-chair of the provincial panel that helped draft the plan. “Electric cars, more efficient homes: don’t think of these as green alternatives—think of them as upgrades. The B.C. government is helping British Columbians transition to better versions of the same thing with a smaller carbon footprint—not to mention a lower monthly energy bill.”
“By leveraging our low-carbon assets, including renewable hydroelectricity, British Columbia can play an outsized role in reducing global climate impacts in high-emission jurisdictions, while building a competitive and innovative economy for British Columbians and reducing emissions here at home,” said Business Council of B.C. President Greg D’Avignon.
“This forward-looking plan signals an exciting vision for a clean economy,” said Pembina Institute B.C. Director Karen Tam Wu. “In just over 10 years, all new homes and buildings will be low-carbon. More electric vehicles will be on the roads; in just over 20 years, all new cars sold will be zero-emissions. Going forward, we will generate more clean electricity and renewable fuels, and burn less oil and gas.”
Tam Wu listed five bright spots in the plan: more clean energy with less pollution; support for low-carbon buildings and zero-emission vehicles; support for social housing and to help remote communities get rid of their diesel generators; a jump-start for green jobs and clean innovation; and a “transparent process” for tracking progress.
“British Columbians need to work together to put today’s plan in motion and take action to close the 25% gap” in meeting the province’s 2030 target, Tam Wu wrote. “Let’s show Canada, once again, what climate leadership looks like.”
West Coast Environmental Law called the plan a roadmap to a new economy and climate leadership. “With some governments moving away from real climate action, we are excited to see our provincial government with a credible and ambitious map of how it is going to achieve its 2030 climate targets,” said staff lawyer Andrew Gage. “There are still details to be filled in and hard questions to be answered, but we finally have a plan and a transparent process for making sure that the plan gets completed and implemented.”
While there was only limited critical comment on the plan, North Shore News picked it up. “They’re re-gifting it just in time for Christmas,” said Liberal environment and climate change critic Peter Milobar, who noted that plans for one-quarter of the province’s emission reductions are still in development, and none of the work will be costed until the new year. Dr. Kent Mullinix, director of Kwantlen’s Institute of Sustainable Food Systems, said the strategy understates the importance of food production and consumption, while the Urban Development Institute had reservations about some aspects of the province’s building retrofit plan.
Sierra Club British Columbia, which did not participate in the provincial advisory panel, “said the plan would have a better chance of success if liquefied natural gas development were to be removed from the energy mix,” the News notes. “Sierra Club spokesperson Jens Wieting said the plan does not address how much carbon footprint for LNG is acceptable. Auditor General Carol Bellringer said in a February report that meeting future emission reduction targets will be partly dependent on the size of whatever LNG industry develops, and that large-scale LNG production will substantially increase provincial emissions.”