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B.C. Energy Minister says clean power projects aren’t the priority

Bill Bennett said British Columbia’s electricity requirements this year are the same as they were eight years ago, a trend that means new clean-energy capacity is not a priority.

Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

B.C.'s Energy Minister says the province does not need federal dollars for new clean energy projects, saying it is more interested in other green infrastructure.

Bill Bennett said British Columbia's electricity requirements this year are the same as they were eight years ago, a trend that means new clean-energy capacity is not a priority.

Instead, B.C. will be looking to Ottawa for help paying for new transmission capacity so it could offer to sell surplus power to Alberta, and for expanding the range for electric cars with new charging stations. Mr. Bennett also said he would welcome investments in rapid transit or new building standards that enhance conservation.

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"We would be grateful if the feds would help with the costs," he said on Monday.

Mr. Bennett's comments came as Navdeep Bains, the federal minister for Western Economic Diversification, announced $5.4-million for clean-energy projects in British Columbia's aboriginal communities. Many similar infrastructure spending announcements are expected across the country as the federal Liberal government develops its climate-change policy.

But Mr. Bennett said British Columbia's needs are different from those of provinces such as Alberta that have to wean themselves off coal-fired power generation. Building more capacity in this province, where clean energy is already in surplus, does not make sense, he said.

"It is unfair to suggest that we should be facilitating the construction of developing new renewable energy projects if we don't need the electricity right now," Mr. Bennett said in an interview on Monday.

"What we are focusing on is electrification." That means his government is putting more money into encouraging people to switch to electric vehicles, and more opportunities for the natural gas sector in the northeast to operate using hydroelectric power.

Canada's first ministers are meeting in Vancouver this week to talk about climate change and the economy. Although the goal is to set the stage for a national climate policy, each of the provinces and territories will advance proposals to secure a share of the green infrastructure dollars Ottawa has put on the table.

Paul Kariya, executive director of Clean Energy BC, which represents private energy producers, said B.C. should not pass up the opportunity to encourage more renewable power generation.

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"We need to let some sanity prevail – we have to maximize those federal investments," he said in an interview. He attended Mr. Bains's funding announcement and was encouraged that Ottawa is supporting new investments in clean energy.

"We need more and we better start dialling it in. I'm a little disappointed in Bill's comments."

Last fall, BC Hydro signed a pact with the independent power producers to try to develop opportunities to build new private energy projects. However, the Crown corporation has not issued a major new call for clean energy bids for seven years. Hydro's construction of the massive Site C hydroelectric dam on the Peace River is expected to serve new demand in the future.

Hydro lost a number of large industrial customers in the recession that began in the fall of 2008, and is only now expected to return to previous levels of demand. Although its latest financial updates show demand is lower than forecast, the corporation maintains that it needs to build the Site C dam to meet future increases. In the interim, however, Hydro is not expected to look for much from the private sector for new power.

"Site C won't be built for almost another decade, but it's not just about Site C," Mr. Bennett said. "The forecasts that Hydro has done indicate it won't need much, if any, new generation in the next 10 years either. It's the current situation in the province, where we are using about the same amount of electricity in 2016 that we were using in 2008."

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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