B.C. climate change plan aims to build economy around renewable energy

By The Canadian Press
December 5, 2018 - 11:09am Updated: December 5, 2018 - 5:45pm

BC Government

VANCOUVER — The British Columbia government has introduced a strategy to shift away from fossil fuels and build the provincial economy around reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also leaves portions of the plan to be determined.

Premier John Horgan said Wednesday the plan called CleanBC will rely on cutting emissions from buildings, industries, vehicles and organic waste, while boosting the carbon tax and the production of clean hydroelectricity.

The plan will move the province to a low-carbon future, said Horgan, who introduced the plan with Green Leader Andrew Weaver.

"We want to make shifts: shifts in our homes, shifts in our vehicles, shifts in our industry to move away from burning fossil fuels and towards a cleaner, greener approach using British Columbia's abundant electricity and other abundant opportunities that are now emerging and will emerge into the future," the premier said.

The climate-change plan will require all new buildings to be net-zero energy ready by 2032, meaning they would need to generate on-site energy to power their own function.

The government says new buildings will be 80 per cent more efficient by then compared with homes built now.

The plan also includes diverting 95 per cent of organic waste from landfills and converting it to other products.

By 2030, 30 per cent of all sales of new light-duty cars and trucks are expected to be zero-emission vehicles, rising to 100 per cent by 2040.

The plan also includes phasing in more renewable fuels to consumer gas products by ramping up new production of 650 million litres of renewable gasoline and diesel by 2030 and increasing the low carbon fuel standard by 20 per cent. That means gas at the pump could include a mix of biofuels and other cleaner fuel products, one official said.

Horgan said the challenges of climate change mean people must move away from burning fossil fuels.

"Every year, we're seeing the unprecedented wildfires and floods that hurt so many people, communities and businesses," he said in a statement. "We need to begin changing how we live, work and commute to put B.C. on a cleaner, more sustainable path."

The cost of the plan will be outlined in next year's budget, Horgan said, and officials said it will be fully funded.

The government has said the climate plan will be designed to meet legislated targets, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, 60 per cent by 2040 and 80 per cent by 2050.

Overall, the plan aims to reduce the province's dependency on fossil fuels by more than 20 per cent and increase its dependence on clean energy by 60 per cent by 2050.

When LNG Canada said in October it was proceeding with its plan to operate a $40 billion export terminal at Kitimat, Horgan said the government would still meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

The plan says one of the conditions for liquefied natural gas development is that it fits in the climate commitments, noting that the LNG Canada project could add to 3.45 megatonnes of carbon emissions to the province's total.

"More reductions from LNG’s climate impact will be achieved through investments in electrification of upstream oil and gas production so extraction and processing are powered by electricity, instead of burning fossil fuels," it says.

Weaver's party has an agreement that supports the province's minority NDP government and he shared the stage with Horgan in making the announcement.

"I look forward to working with government, business and other stakeholders to action this plan, so that British Columbians can count on a bright future where all our communities enjoy a thriving economy and a high quality of life for generations to come," he said in a news release issued by the provincial government.

Horgan's government already boosted the carbon tax in this year's budget to $35 per tonne and will increase that by $5 a year until 2021. As the price rises, CleanBC will offer tax reduction incentives to further reduce emissions, and a carbon tax exemption for any company that proves it's the cleanest in its sector globally.

The switch to cleaner energy means increased biofuel consumption and a shift to hydro-generated electricity.

The government's plan says by 2030, its new policies would require an additional 4,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity over the current demand.

"This is equivalent to increasing BC Hydro’s current system-wide capacity by about eight per cent, or about the demand of the city of Vancouver," the plan says. 

The added demand up to 2030 can be met by existing and planned projects, however, it will require new energy sources that could range from geothermal to wind power beyond that date.

Auditor general Carol Bellringer released a report on Wednesday that said Hydro's generating facilities are running at near capacity and some of them are more than 85 years old. Her audit didn't cover the $10.7 billion Site C dam project, which is under construction on the Peace River in northeast B.C. and not slated for completion until 2024.

How the province will achieve one quarter of its emission reductions is still unclear. The government says the initiatives laid out in the plan combine to reduce the province's emissions by 18.9 megatonnes, getting it 75 per cent of the way toward its 2030 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent of 2007 levels.

Strategies for achieving the remaining 6.1 megatonnes in reductions will be identified within the next two years, officials said.

Some environmental groups backed parts of the plan but questioned how the future liquefied natural gas industry fits into it.

"It's one of the most important steps we've seen in years and yet we believe it doesn't quite go far enough," said Caitlyn Vernon, campaigns director with Sierra Club BC.

"We're yet to be convinced how LNG and fracking will fit into this plan, how you square the circle of increasing emissions on one hand while on the other hand working to decrease emissions."

Vernon said she's looking forward to seeing the complete plan beyond 75 per cent. The speed of the plan's commitments aren't fast enough to meet what the science says is required to prevent excessive wildfires and other climate change effects, she added.

The B.C. Business Council said CleanBC begins to position the province and its businesses as a supplier of choice for international markets seeking lower-carbon intensive energy and commodities.

It also said there's a need for greater understanding of the plan's cost implications for both employers and individual British Columbians, but the council will work with the government to ensure policy solutions meet economic realities.

"By leveraging our low-carbon assets, including renewable hydro electricity, 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," president and CEO Greg D'Avignon said.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Man 'scared straight' as teenager gets $175,000 in damage award from B.C. court