Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun, February 16, 2012
The proposal to build a hydroelectric dam at Site C on the Peace River is getting a big boost from Premier Christy Clark, who says power from the estimated $8-billion project will be critical to the long-term development of a liquefied natural gas industry.
Site C is still subject to extensive environmental review and other approvals and not expected to be completed before the end of the decade at the earliest. But Clark says the projected 1,100-megawatt generating station would be perfectly timed for the third and largest of three proposed terminals planned for Kitimat and intended to provide LNG for export to China, Japan, Korea and other Asian markets.
"We're very confident that the first one can go ahead with existing sources of power," Clark told reporter James Waterman from Pipeline News North, based in Prince George.
"We can power most of the second one as well. But when we get into the third one, which is likely the proposal from Shell [Canada], and then their second phase of that - I'll just give you a feel for how big that is:
"Powering the second phase of the current Shell proposal would require 100 per cent of the power that could be produced by Site C. So, it's a very energy intensive process."
LNG terminals, being giant refrigerators, are major consumers of power. When Clark announced her strategy for developing the industry earlier this month, she emphasized that the terminals would, in the main, be powered by energy from renewable sources (wind, water) and free of greenhouse gas emissions.
She did allow that it might be necessary to fall back on the source of power used for LNG plants elsewhere in the world, using natural gas itself as a feed-stock for compressors and electrical generation.
Clark said, in B.C., that would only be done to provide backup for intermittent sources like wind and run-of-river.
Still, the reference raised speculation that if enough renew-able power were not forthcoming, LNG terminals might be forced into heavier reliance on gas-fired turbines.
That, in turn, would compromise the government's green-house gas-reduction targets.
Gas-fired generation could provoke a backlash in Kitimat, located in a narrow valley with an easily compromised airshed.
Also, some of the gas being released from shale deposits in the northeast produces unusually high emissions when burned. But none of that would be in the cards were Clark to have her way on Site C.
"We support it pretty clearly," she told reporter Waterman, "and I'm hopeful that it will receive the approval required to go ahead."
Clark's comments under-scored a re-purposing of the project itself. Her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, wanted to build the dam as a possible source of power for export south of the border; a non-starter now that sliding natural gas prices in North America have produced a power glut. Ever mindful of the political dimension, Clark also took a swipe at Opposition leader Adrian Dix.
His New Democratic Party supports the construction of at least one LNG terminal in Kiti-mat, but has opposed both independent power projects (particularly run-of-river) and Site C.
"I don't understand where the NDP are coming from on this, because they say they sup-port the LNG strategy, but they don't support IPPs and they don't support Site C. And, so, I wonder if they think that we're going to be able to power these plants by plugging them into an electrical outlet in somebody's kitchen in Dawson Creek," she said.
Indeed, Site C may turn into a double-wedge issue for Clark. The project has generated a steady amount of opposition in the Peace, the view being that the region has already sacrificed enough of its geography to pro-vide hydroelectric power for the rest of the province.
One of the harshest critics of Site C, because of the proposed flooding of a sizable swath of agricultural land, has been Arthur Hadland, a director of the local regional district. In the 2009 provincial election, he ran as an independent in Peace River North, capturing 31 per cent of the vote and finishing second to B.C. Liberal Pat Pimm. Speculation has Had-land, or someone of like-minded views, mounting a right-of-centre challenge to the Liberals in the next provincial election.
Thus, the makings of a three-way political showdown. But the actual payoff on this one, if any, would be a long way down the road. As it happened, Clark's comments touting Site C were reported on the front page of the Alaska Highway News on Mon-day. Later that day, the provincial and federal governments announced an agreement on a joint review process for what is now being called the Site C Clean Energy Project.
The process is expected to take three years and environmental approval is not the only obstacle to proceeding. Consultation with first nations is also ongoing and will likely necessitate a generous agreement to share jobs, benefits and perhaps even a royalty on the power.
Assuming a go-ahead, construction could take the remainder of the decade. By the time the project would be finished, none of today's leaders would necessarily be around to throw the switch for the power to flow.
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