Save Burrard Thermal, reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: Mark Jaccard
By Charlie Smith
A former B.C. Utilities Commission chair, Mark Jaccard, has said he supports the B.C. government’s decision to issue a directive to the BCUC. But in a phone interview with the Straight, the SFU professor of resource management added a caveat: he supports phasing out the burning of natural gas—which creates greenhouse-gas emissions—to generate electricity as long as there is no carbon-capture-and-storage facility. However, he added that B.C. Hydro should not sell the site, and he thinks Burrard Thermal should be kept ready to operate on natural gas in case this is needed in an emergency.
Jaccard emphasized that the plant should be retained because it might be possible to generate electricity without creating emissions by burning hydrogen. “Burrard is fantastic because of where it’s located,” he said. “It’s got transmission lines right there. It’s got a substation. It’s got loading terminals. There is no development around it.”
In the August 25 throne speech, Lt.-Gov. Steven Point stated that the BCUC—which is B.C.’s energy regulator—will “receive specific direction” and that “clean, renewable power generation will be integral to our effort to fight global warming.” On July 27, the BCUC rejected B.C. Hydro’s 2008 Long-Term Acquisition Plan, which undermined its plans to buy power from private companies operating run-of-river generating plants. The ruling also declined B.C. Hydro’s plan to reduce its reliance on Burrard Thermal’s 3,000 gigawatt-hours per year of firm energy.
Jaccard said he thinks it is appropriate for the government to issue a directive to the commission in light of the July 27 order. “I see nothing wrong if the throne speech is suggesting a special direction and that it be specific with respect to Burrard Thermal,” he said.
When Jaccard was the BCUC chair in the 1990s, the Glen Clark government issued a directive to the commission not to investigate B.C. Hydro or hold any hearings into the Crown utility as long as it didn’t seek a rate increase. “From 1996 to 2001, Hydro never came forward for a rate increase, so the BCUC had no authority to go in,” Jaccard recalled.
At the time, the B.C. Liberal critic for B.C. Hydro, Gary Collins, condemned the NDP government’s actions. Collins told the legislature that the NDP government’s move cleared the way for any government to make political decisions about electricity rates. “That’s wrong, and it’s wrong for all the reasons that we drafted a Utilities Commission to take those decisions to set rates outside the cabinet and put them on an independent body,” Collins said in 1996, according to Hansard.
The organization that represents many B.C. Hydro employees, Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union Local 378, issued a statement on August 25 describing the closure of Burrard Thermal as a “mistake” that threatens the security of energy supplies in Metro Vancouver. COPE 378 also stated that most run-of-river projects are unable to produce electricity in the winter because of their elevations and due to weather conditions. “This is an ideological decision that is bad for business, bad for industry, and bad for all of B.C.,” COPE 378 acting president David Black said in the statement.