Energy was on the mind of Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett as he addressed the Chamber of Commerce at a monthly luncheon last week.
Bennett, who serves as the Minister of Energy and Mines, was the keynote speaker for the event, who spoke about British Columbia’s leadership in energy conservation and climate action.
Bennett had two central points to his speech—first noting what the provincial government has done on the energy and climate change while wrapping up with what the future looks like in terms of legislative policy.
He began with a history lesson on Liberal policies concerning the carbon tax, greenhouse gas emissions, renewable and innovation technology funding.
He punctuated his speech many times by noting that B.C. was one of the most progressive jurisdictions in North America on the climate action front. However, he tempered that by noting that it is important to remain environmentally conscious while being competitive economically.
“We are so far ahead of the rest of this country and the vast majority of North America and the world. If we get too far out in front of what we’re trying to do, we could easily find ourselves being uncompetitive in our major industries,” Bennett said. “Our major industries are energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries.
We sell all our stuff off-shore for the most part, whether it’s mining, oil and gas, forestry, agriculture…
“We have to be very careful that we don’t get out too far. This is going to be a debate over the next year and a half leading into the next provincial election.”
He gave a nod to his namesake—W.A.C. Bennett (no relation)—the former B.C. premier who was instrumental in building major hydroelectric dams on in the Columbia and Peace River regions.
In large part because of those legacy projects, Bennett said 97.9 per cent of B.C.’s electricity is clean. Some of those major hydroelectric dams can generate power for 100 years, he added.
“It’s pretty cool for us to be able to say that. You look around the world, places like Ontario that are trying to get off coal and now Alberta, which has said they’d like to reduce their reliance on coal to generate electricity,” Bennett said.
“You look in Europe, in Germany—the Germans are working pretty hard to clean up their energy. They want to have 50 per cent of their energy clean by 2050. We’re 97.9 per cent clean electricity in this province already.”
For the future, the government has dictated that for new electricity demands, 66 per cent must be found through conservation and not new generation.
“It’s not a bad thing to use less electricity, it’s a good thing,” Bennett said. “It’s not a bad thing to use less diesel and less gasoline. It’s a good thing, intrinsically, to conserve, and a lot of what we’re doing is based on conservation.”
The carbon tax, introduced in 2007, was designed to be revenue-neutral, meaning that the government gives back the amount collected as tax relief, Bennett said.
Despite a few blips on the economic radar during the Great Recession, the provincial economy has fared well with the carbon tax, Bennett said.
“Our economy has grown, our employment has grown and our confidence has grown during the whole time that we’ve had our carbon tax. We were not only the first province in Canada, but the first jurisdiction in the world, to create a wide application of a revenue neutral carbon tax,” he said. “No one else in the country is doing it; Alberta has announced that they’re doing it, but it’s not revenue-neutral.”
Other policies include legislating a minimum of five per cent renewable content in gasoline and four per cent in diesel. Further initiatives include a Clean Energy fund, where companies looking to develop green technologies can apply for grants. Bennett said he just signed off on a $1 million grant for a company near Whistler developing technology that can extract carbon dioxide out of thin air and turn it into a fuel.
In the larger context of moving towards renewable fuels, Bennett says that the world will still be relying on fossil fuel for the time being, but the transition is already happening.
“We are going to have to bridge towards reliance on renewable fuels,” Bennett said. “We’re going to be relying on fossil fuels in our economy, I think, for a very long time. We can argue, and I do argue, with those from the environmental organizations that the transition has to happen faster, that it can happen faster.
It comes down to cost, it comes down to available technology.”