Monday, November 3, 2014

Should BC taxpayers promote fossil fuels?

If British Columbia continues to encourage the production and transport of coal, gas and oil, we are blowing poisons into the faces of earth's future generations. I know something about that, I did it to my children.

When a young adult, I smoked tobacco. Initially, it was an effort to look mature and conform with contemporaries; after a while, an addiction, continued even though it threatened my health and the well-being of people around me. They had to share the dependency but I was insensitive. That there were consequences began to register but risks were distant and current day pleasures seemed preferable. Regrettably, for too long I preferred transient self-indulgence despite the potential of enduring harm. With the usual difficulty, I eventually stopped smoking, an ordeal that was only difficult for the first ten years.

Today, I am alarmed by Canada's pursuit of material pleasures from fossil fuels with little regard for enduring harm to the world we live in. Industry, its agents and our governments ignore or minimize the science of climate change, just as seven CEOs of big tobacco did when in 1994 they testified to an American Congressional sub-committee that nicotine was not addictive.

This week another report was issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of 195 member nations, established "to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts." The Guardian reports,
"Climate change is set to inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on people and the natural world unless carbon emissions are cut sharply and rapidly, according to the most important assessment of global warming yet published."
The New York Times adds,
"The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report.

"Despite growing efforts in many countries to tackle the problem, the global situation is becoming more acute as developing countries join the West in burning huge amounts of fossil fuels, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said here on Sunday.

"Failure to reduce emissions, the group of scientists and other experts found, could threaten society with food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major cities and entire island nations, mass extinction of plants and animals, and a climate so drastically altered it might become dangerous for people to work or play outside during the hottest times of the year.

"'Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,' the report found."
Like smokers who choose a healthier lifestyle, we can withdraw from our addiction to fossil fuels and choose clean energy. We can even have more jobs by doing so. That was the conclusion of a study by a California university,
"Investing in renewable energy such as solar, wind and the use of municipal and agricultural waste for fuel would produce more American jobs than a comparable investment in the fossil fuel energy sources in place today, according to a report issued today by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

"'Across a broad range of scenarios, the renewable energy sector generates more jobs per average megawatt of power installed, and per unit of energy produced, than the fossil fuel-based energy sector,' the report concludes. 'All states of the Union stand to gain in terms of net employment from the implementation of a portfolio of clean energy policies at the federal level.'"
However, changing course would offend wealthy and powerful energy interests and senior level governments in Canada lack the necessary courage. Consequently, this country's fight against climate change will be nominal, mainly waged in studios of government advertising agencies.

Barry McGuire had a hit record in 1965 that included a chorus that seems apt today:
And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
of destruction.
Inertia and lack of political courage will cause Canadians to continue down the fossil fuel road but elsewhere in the world, things are changing. That presents a risk to British Columbia taxpayers who are asked to spend billions to grow an industry that the world believes must shrink. Some of the changes follow:

While You Were Getting Worked Up Over Oil Prices, This Just Happened to Solar, Bloomberg, October 29, 2014
"After years of struggling against cheap natural gas prices and variable subsidies, solar electricity is on track to be as cheap or cheaper than average electricity-bill prices in 47 U.S. states -- in 2016, according to a Deutsche Bank report published this week..."
"A new breed of materials for solar cells burst into the limelight this year. Known as perovskites, they are cheap, easy to make, and already capable of converting 15% of the energy in sunlight to electricity. While that remains below the efficiency of commercial silicon solar cells, perovskites are improving fast. One particularly promising feature is that they can be layered on top of silicon solar-cell material to harness a range of wavelengths that neither could capture alone."
Deutsche Bank Predicts Second Solar ‘Gold Rush’,, January 2014
"Leading investment house Deutsche Bank has dramatically lifted its demand forecasts for the global solar industry -- predicting that 46 gigawatts of solar PV will be installed across the world in 2014, before jumping by another 25 percent to 56 gigawatts in 2015.

"It notes that the world’s three biggest solar markets -- coincidentally located in the world’s three biggest economies, the U.S., China and Japan -- are currently booming and are likely to deliver what market analysts describe as more “upside demand surprises.”
Solar Panel Cost & Growth Trends, CleanTechnica, September 2014
"The average cost of solar panels has gone from $76.67/watt in 1977 to just $0.613/watt today...

"...the cost of electricity from solar panels is now lower than the cost of retail electricity for most people..."

Geothermal power sheds its hot-spring roots, The Economist, October 2014
"GEOTHERMAL energy, long a poor relation among the more glamorous renewable technologies of wind and solar power, is poised to smarten its dowdy image...

"It is reasonably clean; leaves behind little in the way of waste; does not suffer the vagaries of the weather or the inevitability of sunset; makes the tiniest of footprints on the land; and is pretty well inexhaustible. Above all, it is more or less free for the taking...

"...scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which examined the potential for enhanced geothermal systems, reckoned ...geothermal energy could be made available—enough to meet the world’s current needs for several thousand years."
Powering the Future, Cambridge University Naked Scientists, October 2014

Innovations in storage boost renewable energy, Christian Science Monitor, October 31, 2014
"Last year, the Solana concentrating solar plant in Arizona began operations using molten salt storage, allowing the plant to keep feeding power to the grid for six hours after the sun goes down. A spokesperson for Solana’s owner, Abengoa Solar, said in an email that the company has another eight big plants involving similar storage under construction or in advanced development around the world.

"More recently, a huge project was announced that will involve a massive new wind farm in Wyoming, hundreds of miles of new transmission lines, and a $1.5-billion compressed-air storage system involving four massive underground caverns near Delta, Utah..."

Recommend this post


  1. This is a wonderful piece you have written, Norm. The bottom half of your article gives so much hope, that there are worthy alternatives to the use of fossil fuels.

    However, there is much work to do, to break the addiction to oil — and the lure of jobs keeps many young people from wanting to stop the gravy train. For example, nine of my son's friends — most of them my former students — are directly employed in the oil patch or on pipeline maintenance. This takes them away from home for many weeks of the year... but the money is very good. (I hope they are wise enough to use their bonanzas to pay off their mortgages, in preparation for the post-oil decades.)

    I don't know where the current slump in oil prices has come from but it is bad news for the energy-sucking oil sands and other "tough oil" projects. Sustained low crude prices — perhaps fuelled by surging sales in solar energy and electric cars — would be the best way to discourage oil production.

    In the interim: many of us could help the world by simply planting a tree. Seriously.

    1. G Barry:
      Here's a piece worth looking at if, for no other reason than it offers up an opinion.

    2. Thanks Norm.
      Will your new site recognize contributors hyperlinks?

    3. After highlighting any http address, a right-click should provide a go-to choice. Works with Chrome and Firefox, at least.

  2. This connects dots and answers the title question. Government has to promote and subsidize because the financial risks are beyond what capitalists will take. Therefore, taxpayers will share the risk, even absorb the risk. Of course, taxpayers won't share profits in the same way. Those belong to the private sector.

  3. BC has the advantage of BC Hydro, which is 95% renewable hydro power. Big reservoirs like Williston and Kinbasket are like batteries which can store energy. Thousands of rooftop solar panels in the sunny interior can feed energy into the system, for example.

    Some water from Williston is being drained for fracking though:

    As a huge source of non-fossil energy, BC Hydro is staggeringly important. Part of it was privatized in 2002.
    When a class-action suit was brought up against that privatization, the BC Govt responded by making the deal not subject to common law. Which I find scary. Not to mention the burden of BC Hydro owing over $50 billion to IPPs.

  4. Norm, you've spoken in the past about BC's geothermal potential. Here's a link to a company that claims the Meagher Creek site (near Lillooet) could produce 1,000 MW. Site C is pegged for 1,100 MW.

    As well, I just recalled that there's a large greenhouse operation near my home, which was selected for a geothermal research project in 2008. We are relatively close to Harrison Hot Springs and it was deemed that this energy source could be tapped. I haven't been able to find what happened to the project. Perhaps I need to go knock on their door.

    Grower going geothermal

  5. The government of BC is incredibly shortsighted and dense IMHO.
    Almost sixty years ago, the little country of New Zealand with a population of around 2.000.000 souls, embarked an a journey to harness geothermal energy for the future electrical generation needs. It worked and worked very well - I was lucky enough to have worked in the Wairakei power station in 1966.
    Today, British Columbia is out to lunch with all things related to electricity generation with the present BC Liberal government - where their main purpose seems to be making theire main supporters rich at the expense of the people of this province.
    If a small country of 2,00.000 people can do a sensible and profitable project, why on earth can't the BC government owned BC Hydro ?

    Check out the links for further details:

    Who knows, maybe we will get lucky and someone in BC Hydro or even the BC government will read the links and learn something really useful - though I am not holding my breath on that one.

    Bottom line is that BC Hydro and BC government are just plain stupid and are pandering to big businesses in a shocking way.

    OK - off soap box for now.


  6. Shut down H bay .make way for LNG super ships.



This is an archive only of items published before April 22, 2016. These and newer articles are available at:

If you read an article at this blogger site, you can comment on it at the new site.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.