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B.C. Scales Down Energy-Saving Measures to Manufacture Demand for Site C: UBC Report

Way back in the good ole days of 2010, B.C. released the Clean Energy Act, a plan that required the province to conserve massive amounts of energy.

And, all in all, B.C. has been pretty good at that. But that all changed in 2013 when the B.C. government approved the Site C dam.

According to a new report released this week by the University of British Columbia’s Program on Water Governance, since 2013 B.C. has “moderated” energy conservation measures even though those measures would have reduced B.C.’s power demand, at a significantly cheaper cost than building Site C.

These measures include codes and standards for building efficiency, stepped rate structures to reduce energy consumption, and programs like low interests loans and tax breaks designed to encourage the adoption of more energy efficient technologies and practices.

Report co-author Karen Bakker told DeSmog Canada that B.C.’s decision to back away from energy conservation, known as demand side management, in effect forces B.C. Hydro ratepayers to consume more than they would otherwise.

“The decision to scale back on energy conservation right now is essentially designed to get people to consume more and, yeah, pay higher bills,” Bakker said.

“That makes sense if you consider the very large debt load that B.C. Hydro is taking on to pay for Site C.”

George Heyman, environment critic for the B.C. NDP, said the province needs an aggressive energy conservation program that incentivizes energy savings.

“We need to see change,” Heyman said Thursday during an online webinar hosted by the Pembina Institute and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.

“B.C. had a program that could have continued but B.C. Hydro was ordered by the government to scale back,” he said.

“We need to save energy, which will in turn save taxpayers money by not approving projects before they’re needed as we shift to electric vehicles and an electrification of the grid.”

Andrew Weaver, climate scientist and leader of the B.C. Greens, agreed.

“I agree with the importance of demand side management,” he said. “It’s the lowest hanging fruit.”

Site C is planned to generate 1,100 megawatts of capacity and 5,100 gigawatt hours of electricity per year, starting in 2024. The UBC report calculated B.C. Hydro’s own energy conservation plan from 2013 would have amounted to the freeing up of 600 megawatts and 3,000 gigawatt hours per year — about half of what Site C will provide.

However B.C. Hydro has incrementally scaled down that conservation program, and, according to its own reporting, plans for zero new conservation efforts by 2021, creating the saddest energy conservation graph known to man:

This graph shows how B.C. Hydro estimates demand side management or energy conservation will decline after 2021 without the introduction of new programs and fizzle out completely by 2036. Source: UBC report, Reassessing the Need for Site C, page 84.

“The unfortunate side of this is that energy conservation is a lot cheaper than Site C,” Bakker said. “Energy conservation only costs about a third as much as building Site C.”

The report found that by scaling back energy conservation programs, B.C. Hydro enjoyed short-term savings to the tune of between $50 to $150 million per year. It is worth noting that B.C. Hydro failed to meet even the reduced energy conservation targets it set for itself.

Yet those savings are lost to the extremely high costs of building a large-scale hydroelectric dam. The report estimates the losses, when you factor in the need to sell Site C’s surplus energy, to be between $800 million and $2 billion. Overall, Site C electricity costs about three times as much as reducing demand through energy conservation.

The authors of the report conclude the decision to scrap conservation programs and drive up energy consumption was made “to make [Site C] continue to appear necessary and cost-effective.”

B.C. Hydro did not respond to a request for comment.

Bakker and her co-authors conclude construction of the Site C dam should be immediately halted.

“We’ve met all of our energy needs for the past several years through energy conservation and our analysis suggests we could meet our energy needs for the next decade, approximately, through conservation,” she said.

“It would cost us a lot less and in the meantime it would allow us to explore other cheaper and less environmentally damaging renewables.”

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The Narwhal’s reporting team is busy unearthing important environmental stories you won’t read about anywhere else in Canada. And we’ll publish it all without corporate backers, ads or a paywall.

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