Rivers are the lifeblood of our natural world, bringing water and nutrients down from the mountains to feed our forests, salmon, bears and our communities. They are iconic symbols of our province.
Rivers also support resource commodities and are an inseparable part of our economy. Tourists visit them, timber is harvested along them, salmon feed us and river flows are dammed and diverted for power generation.
Recently in BC, rivers have become a topic of hot debate. Over the last decade government policies have realigned priorities for BC Hydro. Now what many are terming a ‘gold rush’ has exploded in BC’s river valleys as independent power producers (IPPs) stake out water licenses for run of river development in hundreds of watersheds. Many of them are in remote and otherwise wild parts of the province, including locally in Toba and Bute inlets.
Proponents say these developments are essential for BC’s energy needs and to help combat climate change by generating clean power. Opponents claim the granting of the licenses is the agenda of a government over-eager to oblige their corporate backers and that our rivers are too valuable as natural eco-systems to be dammed for energy production when there are options like wind and solar.
One thing that seems agreed by all is that we need to stop using fossil fuels. Unfortunately the BC Liberals are advocates for the oil and gas industry and clearly state that they want to encourage offshore drilling, which threatens our priceless coastline, along with expanding oil, gas and coal-bed methane production throughout BC. All this will add massively to our global carbon-footprint.
If we are going to make meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions our first priority must be to begin vigourous reductions in production and consumption of coal, oil and gas. Burning fossil fuels dwarfs all other sources of pollution and has to be greatly reduced if not eliminated if we are to maintain a livable habitat here on Earth.
To make these reductions we need concerted conservation measures and a new generating system made up of many small-scale clean power producers. The recent economic crisis has highlighted the need for improved self-sufficiency and reducing our reliance on energy superstructures. By making as many homes and businesses as possible energy-self sufficient we can reduce our dependence on costly megaprojects and inefficient transmission.
Self-sufficiency starts by conserving our energy and extends to ensuring we have reliable, regionally planned energy generation systems that take local interests and energy assets into account. The goal of local and regional self-reliance is important enough that it should be overseen by an elected board who plan, stimulate and deliberate on resource development planning. Regional Resource Managament Boards would ensure that projects meet the needs of the community they serve, and through agencies such as a Provincial Energy Authority, the needs of BC as a whole.
The energy debate in BC can be solved with solutions that fit the mantra of thinking globally and acting locally. We can demonstrate to the world a model path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while creating jobs building clean energy generation with built-in local security. The missing part of the puzzle is the right leadership. Difficult times call for bold decisions and strong leadership to guide the public and enterprise toward common goals. Raising the bar on who we elect and what we expect from them is crucial to solving the river energy dilemma and many other issues our province faces.