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Dialogues For Legal Innovation - Op Ed

Clean, Green Power for the Future of our Province

Original Printed in the Okanagan Sunday , Sun Feb 7 2010

Byline: Josh Paterson
Source: Special to The Okanagan Sunday

Few environmental challenges have been as difficult to resolve as the future of independent power production in our province.

British Columbians are deeply concerned about climate change, but they differ on how to solve the problem. Many believe that we need to quickly and massively scale up renewable energy generation as one way to deal with climate change. Others are worried about how renewable electricity is being developed and argue that the numerous proposed run-of-river and wind energy projects will unjustifiably harm our rivers and wilderness areas.

This debate has gone on for years, pitting government, industry, First Nations, communities and environmental groups against each other.

Much of the concern stems from the province (a) allowing rapid development of independent power projects without any strategic planning as to where and under what conditions they may be built, and (b) failing to engage the public in meaningful involvement in decisions. Proposals have been laid out so quickly that they outpace any opportunity for public support and are frequently opposed due to unaddressed concerns.

The provincial and federal review processes to date have been far from rigorous: they tend to take a narrow view of environmental impacts, ignoring cumulative impacts of multiple projects in the same watershed, and failing to ensure ecosystem integrity.
Recent consensus in the debate is an encouraging sign of positive change. This was highlighted last month by an inclusive public forum on emerging solutions for clean, green power hosted by West Coast Environmental Law. It brought together representatives of provincial and local governments, First Nations, industry, B.C. Hydro and environmental groups to discuss solutions to advance environmentally responsible renewable electricity generation in B.C.

Despite differing views on who should generate renewable electricity, how much power B.C. needs to generate, and whether any of it should be exported, it was agreed that these projects need to be planned right.

The dialogue built on recommendations developed by West Coast Environmental Law the David Suzuki Foundation, Pembina Institute, and Watershed Watch, and endorsed by 25 other conservation groups.

Among them is the need to create provincial and regional plans for renewable electricity that clearly establish where IPPs can be built and where they can't. This process should meaningfully include communities and First Nations, acknowledge and address their concerns, and be transparent, credible and authoritative. The report further recommends that B.C. strengthen the existing environmental assessment process for IPPs, and prioritize energy efficiency and conservation. This could be done relatively quickly, and the investment made in getting the planning right today will save heaps of time and taxpayer's dollars down the road in ongoing political debate and inevitable legal challenges.

Moving forward, the provincial government must re-evaluate its renewable electricity policies in collaboration with all parties that stand to be affected. The province created the Green Energy Task Force in November 2009 to make recommendations on some of these issues. Its deliberations have occurred behind closed doors, and it's unclear whether Victoria will release any of its recommendations. This is unacceptable - British Columbians deserve an open and participatory process to make decisions that will shape our energy future.

If we commit to a just and equitable legal and policy framework for renewable electricity, B.C. can and should be a model to the world of how to develop clean, green electricity.

Josh Paterson is a staff lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law, a non-profit organization dedicated to safeguarding the environment through environmental law reform. www.wcel.org.