BCUC decision opens door to First Nations energy projects, but stifles economic opportunities

BCUC Indigenous Utilities Regulation Inquiry Final Report was released on April 30th 2020

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Clean Energy BC hosted a webinar on the  final report with Dr. Judith Sayers

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A decision by the B.C. Utilities Commission will help some First Nations satisfy their own energy needs, but it fails to satisfy the requirements of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The utilities commission’s draft report says First Nations should be able to act as their own power utilities, but not sell excess power off their reserves, which stifles economic opportunity, said Judith Sayers, a member of the board of Clean Energy B.C. and president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

The NDP government tabled a bill in the legislature last month that would implement the principles of UNDRIP, which includes First Nations’ right to self-government and to “freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

“I don’t think the B.C. government quite gets what that means,” said Sayers. “When they talk to us about clean energy opportunities, they don’t talk about clean energy for economic development.”

The BCUC decision suggests that First Nations could sell excess power to other First Nations, she said. “We need to change some legislation so that we can sell beyond the reserve, instead of holding us back.”

A draft report has been released by the BCUC and a series of workshops will be held in communities around the province over the next two months.

Fourteen independent solar, hydro, wind and biogas projects in various stages of planning were left in limbo earlier this year when B.C. Hydro “suspended indefinitely” its Standing Offer Program, which was designed to purchase renewable energy mostly from First Nations-led projects.

That decision came as the Site C Dam hydro project was finally approved and left many nations with millions of dollars in sunk costs.

It also put a sudden chill on about 250 other renewal energy opportunities identified by Clean Energy B.C. and First Nations.

Then in August, B.C. Hydro applied to the BCUC to buy electricity on the spot market “to manage potential electricity shortages.”

“It’s outrageous that B.C. Hydro wants to buy power from Alberta and the United States and that they want to be able to do that permanently instead of coming to us,” said Sayers. “We have all kinds of projects that could be shovel-ready really quickly.”

B.C. Hydro’s cancellation of so many independent power projects, just as the provincial government announced a massive plan for electrification of B.C.’s transportation and industrial sectors, was more than a mere head scratcher.

Premier John Horgan announced a “Clean B.C.” plan last December with a goal of eliminating 18.9 megatonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions, along with further reduction goals to be set over the next 24 months.

At the heart of his strategy: That all new light-duty cars and trucks sold in B.C. will be propelled by zero-emission technology by 2040. Most of those vehicles are projected to be battery electric.

But electrifying B.C.’s transportation sector will require a huge increase in generating capacity, according to a study recently released by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.

The researchers say that solar, geothermal and wind power will all have to be part of the mix to support B.C.’s ambitious goal to electrify road transportation. There are more than three million fossil-fuel vehicles already on the road.

By 2050 the province will need to increase its electrical production capacity to 37 gigawatts from a 2015 baseline of 15.6 gigawatts to meet demand forecast by economic and population growth and all-electric road transportation, the report says.

Site C Dam will add 1.1 gigawatts of capacity to the grid when it comes into service in 2024, according to B.C. Hydro. The Crown utility is predicting a 14 per cent increase in demand for electricity by 2030, when it projects there will be 300,000 electric vehicles on the road.

B.C. Hydro says it is committed to working with Indigenous communities and the province on furthering economic opportunities for First Nations in B.C.

“(The draft report) is intended to be a starting point for further discussion during the upcoming workshop and comment period,” said a spokesperson. “B.C. Hydro is supportive of the inquiry and we look forward to continuing to be a part of the process.”

Original article published in the Vancouver Sun on November 14th 2019 by Randy Shore

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