The recounts and brokering are still ongoing, and I’m doubly assured none of the provincial leaders read this blog, so I’m going to continue spitballing big ideas that make for interesting conversation, and would support (in my mind) a strong Green-NDP alliance that could rule for a full term. After dispatching electoral reform, I present another vision for the province’s future:
Idea 2: Ministry of Energy and Climate Change
The science on climate change is clear. The causes are known, the implications are serious, and a wide suite of potential policy solutions have been developed and debated. Yet little progress is being made outside of select northern European countries. Under Gordon Campbell, BC was looking to take a lead on this file, but that leadership has slowly eroded for a decade. What now?
For too many reasons related to policy implementation, we need to stop thinking about climate change as an environmental issue, to be managed under the Ministry of Environment. Fundamentally, climate change is an economics issue. The impacts of it come with economic costs and the policies needed to combat its cause are economic policies. At the same time, the Ministry of Energy And Mines marries together two policy areas that will become less aligned as we work towards a post-carbon economy, as our federal government is suggesting is our goal.
Energy and Mines is currently without a Minister. Bill Bennet retired going into this election, and the Legislature will need to sit to put another Minister in place. I would argue that the file is large enough to split into two ministries.
I am one of those people who thinks the fact we had one of the largest environmental spills in Canada’s history on this Minister of Mines’ watch should have been a resignation-level event (and the fact no charges were laid in the spill raises questions about the competence of the Minister of Environment, but I digress). This event shook public confidence in the safety of our mines, just as Environmental Assessments to support new mining projects are ongoing and four new mining projects are pushing forward. The whims of the global metals market and speculative investment have always driven the pace of development in BC mining, but returning public confidence in the industry and its oversight should be job #1 for the Minister of Mines, and could be a full time job.
By taking the “Energy” part of the file out and placeing that new ministry in charge of Climate Change policy, the province can leverage its greatest advantage when it comes to sustainable energy policy and technology development: BC Hydro.
Hydro has a solid grid, and oodles of energy storage capacity in the existing dams across the province (I’m going to avoid wading into the Site C issue here). BC’s electricity is plentiful, cheap, and provides a significant boost to provincial revenues through cross-border sales. We also have a massive potential for solar, wind, geothermal, and other alternative energy production. The storage afforded us by large-reservoir dams connected to an integrated grid also provides the “battery” we need to make these less-consistent power sources viable and reliable through pumped water storage. BC Hydro also has an incredible reservoir of human talent in power technology (through Powertech), managing energy markets (through Powerex), and forecasting demand (through the BCUC). To be world leaders in sustainable energy, BC needs an integrated and coordinated effort that looks at our entire energy regime – from how we power our cars to how we provide cost-competitive power to industry and manage residential rates. Coordinating these efforts under a single ministry would facilitate this process.
And yes, managing our domestic supply of hydrocarbons is also a fundamental part of that long-term planning. The mandate of the Ministry of Mines (facilitating the safe extraction of resources to supply markets domestic and international) is harder to reconcile with long-term planning for a de-carbonization of our energy supply.
Most importantly, BC can again look to be leading the country on climate change policy, which will help keep the Greens on side through what might be rocky political days ahead.
2 comments on “Post-election Idea #2”
When I worked for MEMPR (as it was then called) I was in Energy Efficiency Branch. We actually wrote the first BC government Greenhouse Gas Action Plan. Glen Clark then shut us down, shelved the plan and went back to business as usual. Interestingly the idea was pushed hard by Don Fast, an ADM at Environment and still around.
One of the most effective things we can do is to make better use of the energy we consume – and even then most of the things we were recommending were things that paid for themselves in a relatively short time. And we pioneered Community Energy Planning working in conjunction with the utilities and UBCM. Most of that work still needs to be done too!
The Energy ministry also is supposed to be in control of oil and gas exploitation in BC. Reversing the disastrous policies that have promoted fracking and almost eliminated the former significant revenue stream from tax and royalties should also a great priority for the new government.
Does BC have any pumped storage stations? I’m not sure you can use an existing dam for pumped storage – you’d need a large storage lake at the bottom of the dam.
[I answered my own question: as of July 2016 apparently BC didn’t have any, but there’s many sites currently under consideration]
> The mandate of the Ministry of Mines (facilitating the safe extraction of resources to supply markets domestic and international) is harder to reconcile with long-term planning for a de-carbonization of our energy supply
Absolutely. Whoever’s responsible for energy should be looking forwards, whoever’s responsible for mines is looking backwards.
PS If you’re a Fortis gas customer, you can make a difference today by switching from fracked gas (they confirmed to me that the majority of their standard gas supply is from shale/fracked sources) to renewable natural gas – you can even do it online