March 10, 2016 2:41 am
Updated: March 10, 2016 11:25 am

Baldrey: ‘Green infrastructure proposal’ ties BC Hydro’s electrical grid to Alberta’s energy needs

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has said her province is not interested in buying any power from B.C. unless it can get its major resource product — bitumen from the oil sands — to market via pipelines to tidewater.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
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The B.C. government released its wish list for what it calls “green infrastructure proposals” last week, in the hopes of garnering the attention of a federal government ready to spend billions of dollars on such projects.

There are almost two dozen projects on the list, from big and familiar ones like new Surrey transit lines and a SkyTrain extension down Broadway in Vancouver, to smaller ones that create more bike lanes and replace aging hospital boilers.

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But there was another item on the list that will likely attract more and more attention in the months ahead, even though it ranks as rather obscure right now.

That would be the $1-billion proposal to tie B.C. Hydro’s electrical grid to Alberta’s energy needs. A transmission would run from the Peace River region across the border to Alberta, and power from the Site C dam would flow along it.

The idea, from the B.C. government’s perspective, is to send clean, green hydroelectric to Alberta to help that province wean itself off its coal-fired energy infrastructure. This would allow both provinces to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in significant amounts (three to six megatons).

But the proposal has now been linked to the Kinder Morgan pipeline, courtesy of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

Notley has said her province is not interested in buying any power from B.C. unless it can get its major resource product — bitumen from the oil sands — to market via pipelines to tidewater.

In other words: no pipeline from Alberta, no buying power from B.C. That can also be turned around: an operating pipeline could mean B.C. power sales to its neighbour. This is music to the B.C. government’s ears.

On the surface, the government says it won’t support the pipeline unless its existing five conditions (world class spill response on water and land; clear economic benefits to B.C., concerns of First Nations are addressed, and that it successfully gets through the environmental approval process) are met.

But this does not mean the B.C. government is dead set against the project. In fact, far from it — it would dearly like those conditions to be met as quickly as possible, so it can attach its approval in time for the next provincial election in May 2017.

The Kinder Morgan pipeline issue was crucial to the B.C. Liberals’ election win in 2013, as the NDP unexpectedly announced in the middle of the campaign that it would oppose the project. This flip-flop provided a neatly defined fault line between the two parties.

The B.C. Liberals would dearly love that fault line to remain in plain sight when provincial voters next head to the polling booth.

Notley’s position and comments have provided yet another dimension to the B.C. NDP’s position on the Site C dam.

By linking the Kinder Morgan project to the Site C dam, Notley has tacitly accepted the dam’s existence, a position opposed by her B.C. NDP brethren. She has also opened to the door to partly satisfying one of the B.C. government’s five conditions: that the province receive significant economic benefits from the pipeline.

Presumably, sales of B.C. generated electrical power could be seen as the kind of economic benefit the government is looking for. No dollar figure has been placed on any future arrangement, but it’s conceivable we could be talking about hundreds of millions of dollars over a number of years.

It’s quite conceivable that in the months ahead, the premiers of B.C. and Alberta and the prime minister himself could be on the same stage, announcing a deal that sees the Kinder Morgan pipeline getting the green light for construction while Alberta agrees to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions courtesy of the Site C dam.

The tremendous irony here is that an NDP government in Alberta is giving a significant boost to the creation of two energy projects that the B.C. NDP adamantly oppose, a seemingly bizarre conundrum the B.C. Liberals likely can’t wait to exploit.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC

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