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Q&A with Andrew Weaver: The Future of B.C. Energy Beyond Site C and LNG

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver was never a big fan of LNG, he says, because he never thought the BC Liberal plan for a multi-billion domestic natural gas export industry was even possible. But that was the past: when it comes to the future of clean energy in British Columbia, what is possible?

In the following interview with journalist Christopher Pollon, the climate scientist turned politician expounds on LNG, Site C, and the imminent arrival of energy alternatives like geothermal, “pumped storage” hydro and more.

Weaver conducted this interview via speakerphone as he drove a broken microwave oven to a Victoria-area depot for recycling. Being Green, it seems, is a full-time gig.

Christopher Pollon: Is the dream of a big Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) export industry dead in B.C.?

Andrew Weaver: Yes, at least for the foreseeable future. It was absolutely irresponsible of the B.C. government to raise the expectations of people in the north. People in B.C. made changes in their lives, and in the process, the BC Liberals created an artificial divide between urban and rural in B.C.  

Meanwhile there’s a global market glut, landed contracts in Asia are five bucks and change, and China was supposed to be a market but is now a seller in the market because they are oversupplied. The idea that there was going to be a big mega project like Petronas [Pacific Northwest LNG], was nothing but a pipe dream. 

The real question is, what are we going to do with our resource? 

Bloomberg has forecasted that by around 2024, Asian prices will improve and the global glut could disappear. For the couple of LNG projects holding on, is this a matter of waiting that out, or by 2024 will these projects be obsolete?

We are in the middle of an energy revolution like we’ve never seen before, [so] to think that somehow we are going to continue to produce energy the way we were, is a bit of a myth. 

There are so many unknowns. With LNG, we don’t know [the impact] of the Iranian [natural gas] supplies, the world’s largest reserves, or what Russian supply is going to do.

We also know that the Paris Accord is a game changer. If the world leaders actually want to live up to what they signed, we are on a transitional path away from fossil fuel use…there can be no new investment in fossil fuels infrastructure, and any new investment in energy infrastructure should be transitioning away from fossil fuels to renewables. 

So I’m not clear there’s even going to be a [LNG] market in the 2020s that will need to be met.

Companies like FortisBC are saying there is a huge opportunity for B.C. to use natural gas as a substitute for dirty bunker fuel and diesel in marine ships and transport trucks. Do you agree?

I 100 per cent agree. I pushed for the conversion of B.C. ferries ships to being a domestic market for our own natural gas, and they are now doing just that. 

It’s also an opportunity for long-haul transport, using compressed natural gas.

We have world leading technologies here, through companies like Vedder and Westport Innovations. Getting ourselves off diesel and onto compressed natural gas is cleaner in terms of particulate emissions and it’s frankly cheaper, too.

There are five ferries already transitioned to LNG, what do we need to do to ramp up the fuel switching for more ships and transport trucks?

We need infrastructure to charge and refill, and second, [a mechanism] for pricing emissions, which drives innovation to low- and zero-emitting vehicles.

That’s why I’m excited about our [carbon] price going up in B.C., and across Canada, because this pricing will drive us to innovation. Also, through regulation we can start to regulate tail pipe regulations like they do in California.

Back to natural gas, the NDP has called for a scientific review of fracking — what do you think about this?

To me that’s a wishy washy statement. 

I don’t know what you want to review about it. I don’t understand why they called for a review, I honestly don’t. I can’t defend what I don’t understand.

At the Union of BC Municipalities annual meeting this week, there was a vote on a fracking moratorium. Is this an idea you would support?

The problem in B.C. is not so much the existence of fracking, it’s the ‘wild west’ nature of what’s going on in B.C.  It’s a free-for-all. 

There’s no overarching approach to resource development.

The right approach would be to pause and reflect on the cumulative impacts of our ‘wild west’ approach to resource extraction here in B.C.

Nobody is saying ‘stop producing natural gas,’ but under the BC Liberals it was a get-to-yes approach, and it didn’t matter what the question was. That’s irresponsible.  

We would like to take a detailed look at what we are doing in a cumulative sense. In our platform, we had called for [the creation of] a natural resources board, that we were very keen on.

Changing tracks to Site C, what do you think about the preliminary report from the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) made public last week? 

I’m quite impressed so far, there are not a lot of answers, but there are a lot of good questions. 

BC Hydro numbers are being very effectively challenged, including on the cost of alternatives and for their approach to debt financing. BC Hydro did their typical approach, which was to submit hundreds of pages of documents. 

They’re not very convincing when it comes to their demand load forecast, though. 

It will be very interesting to see what BCUC reports. Ultimately it will be a cabinet decision, but as people who have been following know full well, the economics of Site C do not work right now. 

It was all about producing electricity subsidized for an LNG industry that doesn’t exist. So Site C is all about delivering the impossible. 

In a hypothetical world where Site C is cancelled, what sort of energy mix would B.C. need to look to for the future?

[The future] is a mix of using our existing dams more efficiently, combined with pumped storage, wind, solar, and geothermal. B.C. has it all. 

Learn about pumped storage potential in B.C.

If one jurisdiction could showcase to the world how to move forward, it is B.C.  And we’re missing out on that opportunity.  

That said, the industry is ready to go. I recently talked with a company looking at pumped storage hydro, which will use brownfield quarries, in partnership with First Nations. This is base supply — it’s one of the cheapest ways to meet peak demand. 

Take Vancouver Island for example, where we need to upgrade our transmission capacity to the mainland.  We could build pumped storage on the island, with the avoided cost of building transmission lines. Then look at a place like Valemont — they run out of electrons all the time there, we could build a geothermal plant there.

In the Kootenays there is a grid-scale solar development that wants to go forward, it’s already through the standing offer program, it’s ready to go. 

This is going to be my focus over the next couple of years in the legislature, and it’s ultimately the reason why I got into politics — to actually get us on track. 

It’s a track that was initially laid by Gordon Campbell under his first administration, which fell apart when Christy Clark came in and started talking about the impossible deliverance of LNG.

Image: B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver

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We hear it time and time again:
“These are the stories that need to be told and you are some of the only ones telling them,” John, a new member of The Narwhal, wrote in to say.

Investigating stories others aren’t. Diving deep to find solutions to the climate crisis. Sending journalists to report from remote locations for days and sometimes weeks on end. These are the core tenets of what we do here at The Narwhal. It’s also the kind of work that takes time and resources to pull off.

That might sound obvious, but it’s far from reality in many shrinking and cash-strapped Canadian newsrooms. So what’s The Narwhal’s secret sauce? Thousands of members like John who support our non-profit, ad-free journalism by giving whatever they can afford each month (or year).

But here’s the thing: just two per cent of The Narwhal’s readers step up to keep our stories free for all to read. Will you join the two per cent and become a member of The Narwhal today?

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