By Elizabeth James, North Shore News, May 9, 2012
“A term sheet is a bullet-point document outlining the material terms and conditions of a business agreement. After a term sheet has been executed, it guides legal counsel in the preparation of a proposed final agreement. It then guides, but is not necessarily binding, as the signatories negotiate . . . the final terms of their agreement.” en.wikipedia.org
Whatever we knew, or thought we did, about BC Hydro, one thing is clear — its business is not just about power in the electrical sense, it is about the tacit power the corporation has been given to control what happens to our provincial waters.
With the blessing of the Campbell-Clark government, and while British Columbians have been engrossed with the imposition of a billion dollars-worth of Smart Meters, BC Hydro has converted its 2011 term sheets into the final terms of a Non-Treaty Storage Agreement with the Oregon-based Bonneville Power Administration.
“Originally required as a side agreement to the Columbia River Treaty, today’s agreement renews an ongoing 27-year pact which expired in January 2011.”
Few British Columbians are familiar with its details. Indeed, until last week, when I received an email from a stranger in Newfoundland and Labrador who mentioned it, I had never heard the phrase “term sheet.”
The definition I found online will give no comfort to those of us who value, not just our public power asset but also the pristine waters of our province.
Retired economist Erik Andersen noted recently, “This was and should only be an agreement that facilitates the management of a shared water asset for the purposes of recreational, flood control and power generation purposes.”
As I write while an unrelenting rain pours down my windows, it is tempting to wonder why we don’t just profit from it by selling the water this region endures to the highest bidder.
Better that, some might suggest, than to watch the North Shore’s depressingly-renewable resource being poured over the Cleveland Dam spillway.
Once begun, however, a precedent for third party control of B.C. waters would have been set and it is doubtful whether British Columbians — including First Nations — could ever regain that control.
So while the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement between British Columbia and Alberta specifically excludes “measures relating to water,” no-one can predict what legal influences could be brought to bear on our sovereign waters by the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Some idea of the enormity of the resource and its financial potential for any corporation given access to it can be found in BC Hydro’s discussion of the reservoirs behind three dams — the Mica Creek, Hugh Keenleyside and Duncan Dams — that were built to satisfy the terms of the 1984 agreement with the Bonneville Power Administration.
In its 2012 Fact Sheet, Hydro states: “BC Hydro designed and built Mica dam to store more water than was required under the (Columbia River Treaty).
“As a result, an additional five MAF (million acre feet, or approximately six cubic kilometres) of usable storage is available at Mica. This extra storage is referred to as Non-Treaty Storage and the water can only be released from Hugh Keenleyside Dam across the Canada-U.S. border under agreement between both BC Hydro and their U.S. counterpart, Bonneville Power Administration.
Comforting us with the claim that British Columbia “benefits from a new long term agreement,” Hydro goes on to note it is “committed to a transparent negotiation process” and that, “In 2010, two engagement sessions were held with public stakeholders in the region.”
That’s a good start; but Hydro fails to acknowledge that transparency should go a lot farther than the 30 Lower and Upper Columbia representatives of government, business and property owners who attended the one-and-a-half-day sessions in Castlegar and who were provided with a copy of “the draft definitive agreement” with Bonneville Power.
Via this agreement, “stakeholders” includes all British Columbians.
When I wrote, Today Private Rail, Tomorrow Private Water in the News on Aug. 24, 2011, I quoted a comment made by BC Transmissions Corporation director David Emerson 25 years ago. In his April 1987 report to the corporation he said: “An examination of the privatization possibilities within BC Hydro should give consideration to future opportunities . . . with regard to the sale/export of water and the role BC Hydro may play in that.”
That Emerson may have company in his vision is suggested by the fact that similar issues have been swirling around the provinces of Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and others.
Indeed, it was his concern about the threat of privatization of water coast-to-coast in Canada that persuaded the gentleman from Newfoundland to email me out of the blue and to bring the phrase “term sheet” to my attention.
He has my sincere thanks because, whether or not BC Hydro is being transparent, I have little doubt that similar strategies are being used throughout our provincial and federal governments.
Andersen accurately notes that the public is extra sensitive in these days of smart meters and rising rates, and concludes:
“BC Hydro should alleviate public anxiety by stating on record that this new agreement does not confer water access rights beyond those needed by Hydro and Bonneville Power to properly manage a seasonally variable resource.”
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