VICTORIA The private power protest road show is rocking the Kootenays, whipping up factually challenged opposition to the next capitalist assault on Mother Earth, the Glacier/Howser run-of-river project.
After screeching for hearings in Nelson that would be more convenient to disrupt, the local and imported eco-scare talent did a fine job in Kaslo. As reported by Aaron Orlando in the Arrow Lakes News, the 900-strong mob shouted down the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office staffer who tried to keep order.
Anne Sherrod of the Valhalla Wilderness Society allowed that like her fellow eco-warriors, she’s done with science. I’ll say. She conflated the power project with the long-running Jumbo Glacier Resort debate, and dismissed the EAO as “part of the crime.”
Among the project’s alleged crimes is a power line in the Purcell Range. Not in a park, mind you, and it’s here where the power pole politics gets weird.
There were no protests, orchestrated or otherwise, on June 9 when Environment Minister Barry Penner and Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom signed off on an EAO approval for a much bigger power line. The huge steel towers of this 500 kilovolt behemoth will march down from Merritt to Coquitlam, through Pinecone-Burke Provincial Park and over the upscale homes and fairways of Westwood Plateau. So far no marching moms or tinfoil hats in the fashion of Tsawwwassen’s awful power line.
Yes, this is the same park where Penner vetoed a line with seven wooden poles to connect a proposed project on the Upper Pitt River. Penner hastens to note that Merritt-Coquitlam is a twinning of the existing line, running through the low end of the park with less wildlife impact. No park boundary adjustment needed, just fire up the concrete trucks and heavy-lift choppers. The proponent is B.C. Transmission Corp., which is girding its provincial grid to handle more people, more independent power sites and possibly the Site C dam.
Back in the Kootenays, the rock drills and rippers have finally fallen silent on the Bull River near Cranbrook and another big run-of-river project has quietly come online. No protests here either, because the Aberfeldie power station is owned and operated by BC Hydro. A massive reconstruction of this 1922-vintage generating facility, with its thick concrete intake dam, came in just under its $95 million budget, and BC Hydro says it will produce mainly freshet (spring and summer) power at a cost of $87 a megawatt-hour.
The evil capitalist Ashlu River project near Squamish is also nearing completion, even as protesters slap their kayak paddles in grief. It’s going to produce about twice as much power as Aberfeldie at around the same construction price, and there are even suggestions that a net improvement in fish values may occur.
This will be discouraging news for the brain trust over at COPE 378, the BC Hydro union that attacked private power before the May election. (They finally went nuclear on the premier with their drunk-in-Maui video and kill-your-grandma postcards.)
These days COPE 378 is content to push the notion that private power is more expensive. According to testimony at the B.C. Utilities Commission last fall, and the Aberfeldie results, that’s simply not true.
And finally, let’s not forget what all this electrical activity is about. The U.S. government is dragging Canada by its beaver tail into a future of continental energy independence and greenhouse gas reduction. Americans squawk about our run-of-river projects by the light of their 600-odd coal plants. B.C.’s bet on a future of natural gas and hydroelectricity is looking better by the day.
Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press newspapers. firstname.lastname@example.org.