On Site C, Pipelines and Noble Cause Environmentalists

I am a pragmatic environmentalist. As an environmentalist I am always on the look-out for how we can make incremental changes to improve the world around us. As a pragmatist, I acknowledge that we need to advance our cause through practical steps that will produce tangible results. Sadly, the pragmatic environmentalist is very much an endangered species in BC. Ironically, the biggest threat to pragmatic environmentalists comes not from the business or political sectors but from their more idealistic kin in the environmental movement, a group I call the “noble cause environmentalists” (NCEs).

We all know the NCEs because they are the activists we see on TV and hear on the radio. They are the ones at the protests, chaining themselves to refinery gates. They are idealists who see the world in black and white and as good vs. evil with themselves on the side of good and anyone they disagree with on the side of evil. As idealists, they tend not to respect pragmatists (often placing us with Team Evil) and are renowned for their unwillingness to compromise. It is that unwillingness to compromise, to accept part of the pie, which is losing the environmental movement their credibility. Historically, I have been hesitant to call out the NGEs on their misstated claims and faulty arguments. Well my thoughts on that have changed over the years. I think we need to start calling out the NCEs for what they are: a hindrance to our goals of achieving a cleaner tomorrow.

So how do NCEs hinder our advances? Let’s start by looking at the Site C Dam. I spent Thursday evening being harangued on Twitter by an NCE from the Sierra Club. He insisted that I did not understand the harm that Site C would cause to our province. Having previously drilled down into the numbers, I explained to him that we will absolutely need the energy produced by Site C (and numerous other projects) if we are to meet our Paris Agreement goals. To me Site C, while flawed, will have a net positive effect for our province. When I asked the NCE what alternatives his organization had to produce a comparable amount of energy as would be produced by Site C; he directed me to his literature. Surprise, surprise, it contained lots of platitudes about moving to a post-carbon society but not a word on how to generate the energy that we will need to replace the energy British Columbia will necessarily abandon by going “post-carbon”.

Then someone brought up the the NDP/Greens’ plan to send Site C back to the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC). Reading their Agreement what stood out for me was that the plan called for them to:

immediately refer the Site C dam construction project to the BC Utilities Commission on the question of economic viability and consequences to British Columbians in the context of the current supply and demand conditions prevailing in the BC market

Notice the trick there? Comparing it to “current supply and demand conditions“. This precludes them considering our Paris Agreement commitments. Moreover, any referral will necessarily depend on existing BCHydro load forecasts (caution big file). They were all produced before Paris and don’t consider what it will take meet our Paris goals. As an example look at their predictions for electric vehicles. They predict that by 2027 electric vehicles will make up 4% of the vehicle fleet in BC with that number moving up to 13% in 2036. It is pretty simple, if only 13% of our vehicle fleet is electric in 2036 then we will have failed to meet our Paris goals, and this is the ambitious goal presented in the forecasts the BCUC will be seeing. If that is the case there is no chance the BCUC will see Site C as being necessary. The deck has been absolutely stacked against Site C under this Agreement.

Our discussions about Site C moved to how Site C is all about the LNG industry and once again I asked: is this a bad thing? As I have already shown that the global climate math strongly supports the development of BC LNG. If BC LNG can be liquefied using electricity, rather than natural gas, then British Columbia would be producing some of the lowest GHG LNG in the world. In a world where India, Malaysia, Indonesia and many other developing countries are building up their electrical systems, either LNG or coal is going to be used, whether the NCEs acknowledge it or not. Given those facts isn’t it better that they use the cleanest, lowest GHG LNG the world can provide?

From LNG he migrated to fracking and another feature of the NCEs came to the fore; their lack of fundamental scientific/technical knowledge. The gent from the Sierra Club kept insisting that Site C was being built to facilitate fracking. I explained to him that fracking is carried out by large rigs using their diesel engines or using massive diesel generators and that fracking pads aren’t typically connected to the electrical grid. Most fracking locations are located too far away from existing power lines to allow them to connect to the electrical grid so the suggestion that Site C electricity will be used for fracking is simply ridiculous. My arguments didn’t sway him. He was not interested in understanding how fracking works. He had made up his mind. I didn’t even mention that fracking is an essential component of most geothermal energy projects.

As for geothermal, I can’t count the number of times DeSmog blog has posted articles with Harry Swain talking about the plentiful geothermal capacity of our interior. Dr. Andrew Weaver of the Green Party has numerous pieces on geothermal energy on his website. Given this, let’s ask a simple question: what have any of these NCEs done to facilitate geothermal development in BC? Well when the former Liberal government tried change the laws to facilitate drilling for geothermal (and simplify the building of an enhanced transmission grid to move that geothermal energy around) the NCEs at DeSmog were against it. Looking at the Green Party election platform there is no mention of any proposals to address the major stumbling blocks that have limited the development of geothermal resources in BC. For those wondering these include how to set up operations in parks (which, unfortunately are where most of the geothermal potential is located) and how to fix our tenure system for geothermal companies.

Over the course of the evening I had several NCEs tweet to me that we don’t need Site C; that we can make up our electricity deficit with solar, wind and geothermal energy. My reply, as always, was: show me how. I have discussed solar photovoltaic electricity on this blog a number of times (most recently here) and there is a simple reason that BC Hydro plans for BC do not include a massive upgrade in solar PV: the term is “solar insolation”. Industrial solar is simply not on the table for most of BC because our combination of climate and position on the globe precludes it. Similarly I have talked a lot about wind and while wind is certainly one arrow in our quiver, the costs of the facilities and their associated transmission lines combined with the intermittent nature of wind means we can’t rely on wind as a primary source of energy.

In my mind the most damaging of the NCEs are the 100% Wind, Water and Sunlight people and the adherents of the Leap Manifesto who not only fight dams but nuclear energy as well. I’ve written thousands of words debunking these plans and would point to Energiewende in Germany where the drive to reduce the use of nuclear has resulted in billions being spent with virtually no reduction in total emissions. Had they spent that money, while keeping their nuclear plants, their emissions would have dropped dramatically but to the NCEs nuclear shouldn’t be on the table. They are willing to cut off their noses to spite their faces.

NCEs aren’t only wrong about Site C, they also seem to not understand the science of pipelines or oil sands. In the public sphere I have been metaphorically eviscerated for my suggestion that pipelines may represent the least worst option when it comes to shipping fossil fuels. My attempts to explain the marine chemistry of dilbit have been met by scorn from people who haven’t even completed first year chemistry. Amusingly, I recently had a dust-up with Ms. Elizabeth May, MP on the topic of pipelines and oil-by-rail. Ms. May was quite certain that bitumen could be shipped in normal rail cars and then transported overseas. I had to explain to her that this was not the case at which point she simply stopped responding to me. Since I have corrected her on this topic more than once, I have no doubt she will continue spreading her misinformation about bitumen-by-rail for the foreseeable future. Since she abandoned the conversation I couldn’t point to the literature about how much lower a risk pipelines pose to our inland waters when compared to oil-by-rail nor that oil-by-rail is far worse than pipelines from a greenhouse gas perspective.

The NCE’s arguments against pipelines aren’t only scientifically unsupported, some of them are simply bizarre. Consider this tweet from a senior bureaucrat from the City of Vancouver:

Does this argument even make any sense? Kinder Morgan is not spending public money building their pipeline they are using private sector money. If Kinder Morgan doesn’t build the pipeline they won’t spend that money building public transit in Vancouver. Moreover, the way the public sector affords infrastructure spending is using tax money. They generate that tax money from private sector organizations spending money in the province and thus paying salaries and taxes. How can someone that senior in a local government not understand this simple truth?

As pragmatic environmentalists, we need to acknowledge that we need to compromise to get to the next phase of energy. We need to develop geothermalallow the construction of transmission lines and we need to find additional sources for the necessary rare earth metals needed for our low-carbon future. If we are going to make major cuts in our carbon emissions in the transportation sector we need to make up that energy from other sources. When NCEs say that we don’t need clean energy from projects like Site C, then you know they either aren’t serious about addressing climate change or simply lack the depth of understanding of what it will take to achieve the goals they profess to desire.

Posted in Canadian Politics, Climate Change, Pipelines, Site C, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

On those proposed Northwest refineries, neatbit and the Trans Mountain expansion project

As everyone interested in Canadian oil production knows, the new NDP/Green coalition (or not-coalition as the case may be) in BC has made one of the core planks of their agreement a promise to block the construction of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (TMX). Combined with the recent US approval of the Keystone XL pipeline (which has drawn a lot of Kinder Morgan’s financial resources) this leaves the future of the TMX at risk. These challenges seem like an opportunity to re-open serious discussion on a couple of competing refinery projects: Kitimat Clean Ltd and Pacific Future Energy both of which propose using neatbit as their source material (I will call them “the Northwest Coast refineries” for ease hereafter). Either of these projects could well satisfy complaints from both the environmental movement and the Alberta oil producers while addressing the chronic shortage of refined fuels on the West Coast of British Columbia and as such deserve renewed attention.

One of the poorly reported features of the TMX was the increase in capacity for refined petroleum products to the West Coast. As anyone who follows BC gas prices can tell you, the West Coast is deeply reliant on a small number of sources for their refined fuel needs. This leaves us at the mercy of the markets and subject to massive price fluctuations. As I have previously discussed, the West Coast’s fuel supplies are supplied via the Trans-Mountain (as refined fuels from Edmonton and crude for refining in the Chevron (Parklands) refinery in Burnaby) or from our neighbours in the Puget Sound to the south. One proposed benefit of the twinning of the Trans Mountain was the ability to free up the original line (called Line 1 in the regulatory submissions) for the transport of light crudes and refined fuels. This would have opened capacity for the transportation of refined fuels from the new Sturgeon bitumen refinery in Alberta while also enhancing the amount of light crudes that could be transported for further refining in the Puget Sound (for those refineries tuned to lighter feed-stock). This would reduce the flow of Bakken crude by rail that is currently taking up the slack in the Puget Sound. As everyone knows by now, oil-by-rail is much less safe for transport than pipeline and we now understand that Bakken crude is much more explosive than many of the other feed-stocks available for use in the Puget Sound refineries. Getting it off the rails represents a good thing from a human risk and environmental perspective.

Assuming the NDP/Green Agreement holds, the completion of the TMX will certainly be delayed. This leaves an opening for one (or more) of the competing Northwest Coast refineries and I anticipate we will be hearing a lot more about them in the very near future. The Northwest Coast refineries have some major advantages over the TMX: an existing transportation route (rail), the mode of transport (neatbit), the economic benefits and “Green” refining technologies, and the product for export (refined petroleum products). I will now address these points in order.

The obvious first benefit the Northwest Coast refineries have over the TMX is that their transportation system is already established. Both refineries are planned to locate close to existing rail lines which means that there will be very little paperwork needed to get them raw materials. As I will discuss below, as an added benefit the product being transported is not a hazardous good which make it possible to be shipped on existing rail lines with minimal additional regulatory approvals.

As for the product being shipped it would not be diluted bitumen (dilbit) but another product called “neatbit” (or the trademarked all capitals NEATBITTM used by Pacific Energy Future). For those not familiar with neatbit here is a great primer on the subject. To summarize, neatbit is simply raw bitumen in a heated railcar. As long as the railcar stays warm, the neatbit will flow, but once the railcar cools down it returns to its almost inert solid form. Neatbit thus addresses the biggest concerns about the overland transport of diluted bitumen (derailments and spills). A train derailment into a river would essentially pose no more danger to the river than a train derailment of any other solid material. Any escaping neatbit would solidify almost instantly upon contact with water and could be cleaned up with shovels and excavators while posing very little long-term risk to the environment. Finally, it would address the concerns about the marine transport of dlibit (including some of the pervasive myths) since almost no dilbit would be involved in the process.

From an economic and political standpoint, the refineries fit the bill in that they keep the economic benefits of the refining process in BC and both projects have been designed as ultra-low emission “Green” projects that include a very high degree of local consultation and First Nations support (note the two refineries’ web sites provide lots of details on consultation and Green technologies so I won’t go further on those topics). Suffice it to say that these projects are not going to be built unless they get community buy-in and as refineries go both include components to make them among the greenest such facilities on the planet.

Admittedly both projects would still require tankers along the north coast to transport their finished products. On the positive side those tankers would be filled with refined hydrocarbons (gasoline, diesel and jet fuels) that, due to their chemical natures, pose a significantly reduced risk to the aquatic environment. This topic could be the Achilles heel of the projects but reasonably speaking if we are going to need to keep using petroleum hydrocarbons for the next 30-40 years then we will need to keep transporting those hydrocarbons. There are no perfect solutions and this seems to represent a reasonable compromise.

My intention in this blog post is to keep it short. I simply wanted to help re-start discussion on this topic so I won’t go into further detail about the two projects here. I will point out, however; that any new BC government needs to be for some economic development rather than being seen as against all economic development. Either of these projects would bring significant investment to the Northwest of our province while addressing serious concerns relating to fuel supply on the coast. Fast-tracking the assessment/approvals process on one or both of these refineries could be a way that our government mitigates the pain associated with their proposed plans re: TMX. If Rachel Notley’s Alberta government saw the BC government working to build one or more of these facilities, it might take the sting out of the TMX part of the NDP/Green Agreement and turn a potential enemy into a potential friend.

Posted in Canadian Politics, General Politics, Pipelines, Trans Mountain, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

More On Renewable Natural Gas and shoot first, aim later environmentalism

In a previous blog post I introduced readers to the concept of Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) and the mindless anti-everything environmentalism of one of my favourite foils  Mr. Ed Wiebe. As I discussed in that earlier post Mr. Wiebe posted the following in February:

Well he followed up that tweet this week with another tweet claiming to have “won” the complaint.

A I will discuss below, his victory was nothing of the sort and just another example of the shoot first, aim later approach the environmental activists of today seem to prefer.

The obvious first question to remind ourselves is: what is RNG? To answer that question I will use the text from my previous post. As Fortis BC (our provincial natural gas supplier) put it:

Renewable natural gas (RNG) is a 100 per cent carbon neutral energy source. When bacteria breaks down organic waste from sources – primarily farms, landfills and wastewater treatment facilities – biogas is created. The gas is captured, purified, and blended into natural gas distribution pipelines and delivered to homes, businesses, transportation fleets, and industry. Customers don’t need to upgrade furnaces, water heaters and other equipment to use RNG.

Sounds pretty cool doesn’t it? Fortis (or any other supplier) traps gas produced by natural processes, that would otherwise be vented into the atmosphere, and makes use of those trapped emissions for energy. Making use of these emissions for energy both replaces the need to get that energy from another source and is a much better alternative to what has traditionally been done with those emissions: flaring biogas like torches in the night or simply letting it waft away like we see at virtually every sewage treatment plant in BC. Imagine harnessing that energy for good? Well that is what RNG is all about.

As anyone familiar with the topic of climate change knows, agricultural and municipal emissions of methane represent a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions (16% of global emissions according to the IPCC). Reducing agricultural and municipal emissions of methane represents a necessary step in achieving our global goal of capping greenhouse gas emissions.

From a climate perspective RNG is considered carbon-neutral. How is this you ask, since it burns a fuel and generates carbon dioxide? To answer that question you have to consider the gases involved. As the atmospheric chemists from the EPA explain:

Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide, but methane is more efficient at trapping radiation than carbon dioxide. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of methane on climate change is more than 25 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period

This means that if we can trap methane before it escapes to the atmosphere and convert it to carbon dioxide (while generating energy) we can actually reduce global climate forcings. This has the effect of reducing the net effect on the atmosphere and meets the definition of carbon neutrality.

As for RNG being sustainable? Well as long as people and animals continue to poo and plants die there will be biological materials that need to decompose. The natural decomposition of human, animal and vegetable wastes generates methane. This is a fact of nature and has been the case since long before humanity began messing with global atmospheric gas concentrations. Since the plan is that humans and animals will be on the planet for the foreseeable future, we have a sustainable source of the gas.

As for burning natural gas being evil; well irrespective of what some will say, natural gas is not readily-replaceable in our modern society. That is why when the City of Vancouver prepared its “Zero Emissions Building Plan” it left open the use of RNG within the City. The City recognized that it had to allow restaurants, which rely on natural gas for cooking, and existing buildings, that cannot be retro-fitted, to continue to use RNG in lieu of the traditional fossil fuel-derived natural gas. You might ask what’s so special about restaurants? Well there is a good reason why the old adage “they are cooking with gas” is used; because for some foodstuffs gas or wood stoves represent the only way to generate a desired culinary outcome and typically gas does a better job than wood at providing a consistent cooking temperature.

So now let’s look at Mr. Wiebe’s complaint. AS I discussed in my previous blog post, I asked Mr. Wiebe about why he complained but, as expected, he did not share the information with me, as I concluded in my post:

In retrospect it appears that he didn’t even know what RNG was when he made the complaint. All he saw was the words “natural gas” and “sustainable” and that was all he needed to make his complaint.

Now that the complaint is closed, the reason is now clear. Since such complaints are public, I sought the info and was provided the information in a telephone call. In the call my suspicions from my earlier blog posting were confirmed. As I suspected, prior to Mr. Wiebe making his complaint to Advertising Standards Canada he appears to have not done the slightest due diligence on the term “renewable renewable gas”. His complaint made it clear that he was not aware of the difference between RNG and normal (geologic) natural gas. So what was his victory?

Well apparently Fortis understands that the public will include environmentalists like Mr. Wiebe,who are unwilling to do any research before they complain. As a consequence Fortis has agreed that in future advertisements they will treat RNG as a “product” which would mean that any advertisement would include capital letters on the term. The original advertisement said “renewable natural gas” (the standard use in the literature) while any new ads will call it “Renewable Natural Gas”. I can understand Mr. Wiebe’s pride of achievement in this case, his victory consisted of adding capital letters to the advertisement. That would be the “changes they will have to make” he is crowing about in his tweet.Well arguably, they are changing three letters so that does represent “changes”.

Isn’t it sad that this is the level the environmental activists have sunk. They reflexively argue against anything they don’t understand and don’t bother to do the research to inform themselves before they complain. Mr. Wiebe saw a positive mention of natural gas and reflexively complained. I don’t want to guess what this little victory cost us, the taxpayers, but it could not have been cheap….all to add capital letters to an advertisement to help avoid complaints from the next low-information complainant.

The funniest part of the whole debacle is that Mr. Wiebe decided to brag about his victory. He clearly believed that no one would go through the effort of discovering what his complaint entailed and what his victory meant. So he felt no embarrassment about crowing over his victory on Twitter. Well now the truth is out, I would love to hear him brag about how he simply had no clue and shot first then aimed later.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

More on that UBC Site C study – I rebut a rebuttal

As readers of this blog my know I was recently asked to produce a short piece for Business in Vancouver titled: UBC Site C dam analysis misses mark on electricity demand. My article highlighted some of the shortcomings of the recent report out of the UBC Program on Water Governance on the Site C Dam titled “Reassessing the Need for Site C” (Link to the full study). This afternoon, I was directed to a rebuttal to my piece titled: UBC professor rebuts criticism of Site C dam economics study prepared by Dr. Bakker, one of the authors of the original report. The “rebuttal”, as I will demonstrate, does nothing of the sort. What it does do is demonstrate quite nicely the basis for my complaints about the original report.

To start this discussion, I will sadly address a point that several people have already noted, that Dr. Bakker pointedly declines to refer to me by my professional title in her article. I know it is a minor point but it speaks to the level of discourse on this topic that she chooses to omit the Dr. in front on my name referring to me (rather abruptly) as “King” in her discussions.

Ignoring the deliberate insult let’s summarize my criticisms which I will expand on in this post. On the topic of wind costs she completely misses the point of my critique – that when comparing energy systems you have to compare like with like. Instead she returns to the analysis used in her report where she compares apples with oranges. Having failed to debunk my wind comments she then proceeds to completely ignore my secondary point, that the the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) and Trottier Energy Futures Project (TEFP) both acknowledge that we will have significant electricity needs in excess of those presented in her analysis. Rather she chooses to dwell on how DDPP and TEFP argue we should address those increased energy needs. This, of course, is completely irrelevant to why these reports were discussed in my piece. In the following sections, I will deconstruct the issues I have identified in her rebuttal in more detail.

Dr. Bakker begins her analysis by repeating her argument that her original report involved a lot of work, therefore they got the numbers right. She makes this statement prior to presenting any details challenging my point which seems rather presumptuous but there you have it.

In her next section (paragraph 3 for those counting) she states:

“King states that our analysis takes into account only the cost of constructing wind turbines and omits the cost of the transmission and storage requirement needed to allow those turbines to supply us with electricity.” This is simply incorrect. On the contrary, our study (in Section 5.4.1) clearly distinguishes between the unit energy cost (UEC) of wind at the point of interconnection and the “adjusted UEC,” which also includes transmission network upgrade costs, transmission line losses and wind integration costs (note 258, page 91).

Now as a well-known skeptic notes, one should be careful to follow the pea when an academic challenges you. In this case Dr. Bakker argues that the note on page 91 of her report addresses my concern. But it does not. My specific concern was that the Site C costs presented in her report include all the costs to connect to the existing transmission system. However, her wind costs merely include the costs to upgrade the transmission system to meet the added strain associated with intermittent energy sources like wind. It does NOT include the costs to build brand new transmission systems to connect our exiting transmission system to these new turbines.  Her report uses the following wording (Section 5.4.1 p.92):

These are adjusted unit energy costs that include the cost of transmission losses to deliver energy to the Lower Mainland, network upgrade costs, wind integration costs, among other adjustments.

In British Columbia, the vast majority of the proposed onshore wind sites are not near existing transmission lines. By ignoring this cost in the assessment, the UBC report mis-informs readers as to the potential costs of wind energy. Once you include the costs of transmission lines into the calculus wind projects lose a lot of their luster.

Dr. Bakker next challenges my inclusion of storage in the cost assumptions relating to wind energy. She does so by pointing out that Ontario uses wind, absent storage. This is, of course, a red herring. In the UBC report the authors compare the Site C Dam, a fully dispatchable baseline electricity source, to wind turbines only. Wind turbines do not represent dispatchable electricity they can only provide the same service as the Site C Dam if they have associated storage to allow them to serve that purpose. Dr. Bakker is once again playing bait and switch. The point I present in my original article is that wind cannot serve the same purpose as Site C which her “rebuttal” does nothing to rebut. Dr. Bakker ends this section of her critique by suggesting that wind can always be associated with additional capacity at a lower cost to address the service to be provided by Site C but that argument, as I discuss in my previous post is simply incorrect. In the UBC report they suggest alternatives like adding generation at existing dams or adding pumped storage at exiting dams, neither of which provide the additional capacity necessary to achieve the energy goal.

Having failed to present a cogent rebuttal for my discussion of wind energy Dr. Bakker spends the remainder of her article completely ignoring my comments regarding the Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) assessment of future energy needs. As I point out in my piece in their report Dr. Bakker and her colleagues attempt to discredit the energy projections from the DDPP and TEFP reports ultimately summarized in the ECCC assessment report on energy needs.

Now read Dr. Bakkers “rebuttal” again. Does she ever address my point? No of course not. She instead argues that DDPP and TEFP provide unacceptable means to address those energy needs. I ask, how is that relevant to this discussion? How they propose to deal with the problem only follows from their describing the problem. I agree with their description of the problem not their solutions. Dr. Bakker spends 1/3 of her article rebutting an argument I never made. Once again follow the pea. She never addresses my point and instead debunks a point I never made. This approach doesn’t even warrant being called a strawman defence because she doesn’t even bother to create a legitimate strawman to destroy.

Ultimately, as I discuss above, Dr. Bakker’s rebuttal does nothing of the sort. Her criticism of my comments on wind power only reinforce the points I made in my original article and her criticisms of the DDPP and TEFP reports do not address the issues I raised in my article. As far as rebuttals go this one simply falls flat. It is clear from this rebuttal that academics who spend all their time in echo chambers can lose the ability to provide intellectually robust arguments in defense of their work.

Posted in Canadian Politics, Site C, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The climate crew: alienating allies and fighting the wrong fights

As readers of this blog know, I am a pragmatic environmentalist. I believe in the dangers of climate change and unlike most of my critics, I live a low-carbon lifestyle and have actually helped achieve policies that reduced my province’s carbon footprint. From my pragmatic perspective, I can only marvel at the blockheadedness of the activists in the climate change community who seem intent on doing everything they can to set back the implementation of the policies needed to achieve our climate goals. They do this by alienating potential allies, demanding absolute purity of thought from everyone who might be interested in helping to advance the cause and showing a bull-headed unwillingness to compromise on energy technologies needed to achieve our common goal.

I have written previously about this topic in a post the climate crew, alienating potential allies and worshiping false idols where I highlighted the folly of Michael Mann insulting and alienating Dr. Andrew Leach, the Chair of the Province of Alberta’s Climate Change Advisory Panel. For those who don’t know, Dr. Leach and his panel spent three months of their lives travelling the province doing the consultation necessary to build up the technical support and political and social goodwill necessary to allow Alberta to put a price on carbon. This is the man Dr. Mann went out of his way to insult calling him a “troll”.

This last couple weeks the climate crew has once again gone out of its way to alienate allies and potential allies while setting back the cause all in the name of intellectual purity and goodthink. In the following post, I will discuss how the climate crew are systematically sabotaging their cause and simultaneously hamstringing our ability to fight climate change.

Let’s start this discussion by talking about the New York Times. As people interested in achieving a low-carbon future know, Brad Plumer was recently hired by the New York Times to work on its energy and climate desk. For those of you who don’t know him, Brad Plumer and David Roberts are two of the writers who turned Vox.com into the place to go for intelligent, but readable, stories on climate change and energy.  For the New York Times to scoop up Brad Plumer is an boon for those interested in seeing intelligent, readable stories on energy and climate in the paper of record. Coincidental to the Times hiring Mr. Plumer, they also hired an op-ed writer by the name of Bret Stephens. Mr. Stephens is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who specializes in international affairs but has also written some controversial articles about climate change.

So how have the environmental activists responded to these two hires? Well as expected they have said almost nothing about the arrival of Brad Plumer while organizing a campaign to cancel subscriptions over the hiring of Stephens. Yes, you heard that right, in a country where the Republicans control Congress and Donald Trump is President the climate activists have decided the organization they want to de-fund the most is the New York Times. A paper that has dedicated more ink to climate than virtually any other news organization in North America. Does anyone wonder which jobs will be the first to go if the environmentalists manage to damage the Times’ bottom line. I’m guessing the climate beat will take the hit as the remaining subscribers will be heavily tilted to other topics.

The most frustrating part of this whole debate is how the environmental activists claim this is all about punishing the Times for allowing contrary voices to be heard. The best way to understand the people you are fighting is to listen to their arguments and formulate responses. Unfortunately, in this era of media fragmentation we see the exact opposite with groups collecting themselves into silos while simultaneously insulting anyone who doesn’t hew to their exact world-view.  Purity of thought is the only thing that matters. In the process these blinkered thinkers stop bothering to even try to understand what the other side is trying to say. Instead they argue against cartoonish strawmen and parade around bragging about how right they are.

Any reasonable read of Mr. Stephen’s first piece identifies some very important arguments that the climate activists have failed to address. The unrealistic confidence the climate activists have placed in their models even though those models are barely able to hindcast, let alone forecast. The growing divide between what climate scientists are saying about climate change and what the climate activists claim they are saying. Most importantly the growing disconnect between what the scientists are saying about the risks of climate change and public sentiment about the topic. Having read numerous “rebuttals” of the Stephens piece let’s consider a top rated one on Google which fails to acknowledge that the climate activists are anything but pure; insists Mr. Stephens is a dumb f..k; and the people who disagree with Mr. Stephen’s critics are too stupid and/or selfish to care that we’re mutilating our planet. Yes, that is how you bring people over to your side call them stupid and selfish.

From a Canadian perspective we see this insane approach to allies clearly with Bill McKibben’s recent Guardian piece where he claimed that Justin Trudeau is a disaster for the planet and no better than Donald Trump. Let’s look at this from a sane perspective. Justin Trudeau was recently elected with a mandate to completely change the political landscape of Canada after over a decade of rule by the Harper Conservatives. This has left Trudeau with dozens of potential issues to concentrate on. Given all these alternatives, one of the first files Prime Minister Trudeau chose to take on was climate change. Our new PM used his political clout to essentially strong-arm a bunch of hesitant Premiers into accepting a national price on carbon. For outsiders a quick note, under the Canadian constitution both energy and environment are provincial jurisdictions so the Prime Minister could not act alone. It took a lot of work and political capital from Prime Minister Trudeau to get this win. He pulled a lot of Premiers along with him and went much father than many thought was possible. It was a tremendous win for the fight against climate change against a backdrop of an Australian Prime Minister who eliminated their carbon tax and a US government under Trump which appears to be actively working against advances in fighting climate change.

So how does the environmental community thank Prime Minister Trudeau for his environmental leadership? They call him an environmental laggard and compare him to Donald Trump. Honestly folks do you think Prime Minister Trudeau is going to spend his remaining political capital on another of your political causes when he has so many other alternatives to work on. Do you expect him to take an international leadership role next time and stake his political career for a group of people that not only don’t have the decency to acknowledge what he has done but instead compare him with Donald Trump.

From a BC perspective, we have another example where the climate folks insist it is their way or the highway. As I have pointed out previously, British Columbia gets approximately 25% of its energy from low-carbon sources. If we are going to fight climate change we need to electrify everything which means we will have a need for new, low-carbon electricity. One of the biggest low-carbon electricity projects in North America is the Site C Dam in northeastern BC. Now climate activists aren’t fans of large reservoir hydroelectric or nuclear energy. They have a mistaken belief that we can achieve 100% renewable using technologies that exclude new large-reservoir hydro and/or nuclear. So when our government starts building a hydro project do they accept that low-carbon energy is better than high-carbon energy? No, they fight the low-carbon alternative tooth-and-nail while spouting platitudes about how we can all do this with wind, water and sun but failing to do anything about it. To argue against this project, they compare the cost of the fully built facility (connected to a newly upgraded power grid) to the cost of an installed wind turbine unconnected to the grid with no associated storage. You see they want to fight climate change, but only if we do it their way; otherwise they would prefer that we do nothing. Being pure is better than being effective.

Look at today’s People’s Climate Marches. They include entire sections dedicated to the anti-nuclear movement. Can anyone tell me what happens when you pull nuclear out of your energy mix? Well Energieweinde showed that the nuclear was not replaced by renewables, but rather by coal. When Diablo Canyon closes in California, the result will be an increase in the amount of greenhouse gases emitted as they will be making up that low-carbon power with natural gas.

So what have the climate crew done for us recently? They are punishing one of their biggest allies in the free press, while alienating political leaders who have gone to bat for them. They are fighting against low-carbon energy alternatives because those alternatives don’t represent their preferred technologies. Rather than accepting compromises that could help advance their cause and implement policies that can provide realistic reductions in carbon emission they are out on the streets holding their protests. Protests where they reserve entire sections for groups intended solely to the task of attacking potential allies. I despair for my cause and have started to resign myself to failure because these people are more interested in political and intellectual purity than they are to fighting climate change.

Posted in Canadian Politics, Climate Change, Climate Change Politics, General Politics, Uncategorized | 41 Comments

No, the area to be flooded by the Site C Dam could not feed 1 million people

One of the reasons I started this blog is to advance the idea of evidence-based environmental decision-making. As such I have spent a lot of time dealing with topics like the Site C Dam project where so much ridiculous information has been spread around that it risks overwhelming the decision-making process. While I have written several posts where I have discussed the Site C Dam, tonight I have decided to take on the most ridiculous factoid being communicated by the anti-Site C activists: that the area to be flooded by the Site C Dam could feed 1 million people and that building the Site C Dam risks our food security in BC.

To start, because people always seem to ask, here is my conflict of interest declaration: I don’t have any conflicts of interest with regards to this file. Neither I, nor my employer, has anything to do with the project. I don’t get paid to blog and I generate no income from this blog. I do not blog for, or on behalf of, my employer. These words are mine and mine alone and I blog in my spare time. I have no more to gain or lose, personally or professionally, from the Site C Dam than any other British Columbian.

It has taken a while to track down the basis for the bizarre claim that “the land destroyed by this dam could produce enough food to feed over 1 million people” and that the dam risks our food security. I have also seen it  quoted as:

As world prices for food escalate in response to inevitable pressure, the land in the Peace River Valley is our food security Plan B…. The land to be flooded by Site C is capable of providing a sustainably produced supply of fresh fruits and vegetables to over a million people!”  

Ultimately tracking this factoid to its source we come to a YouTube video by a retired Professional Agrologist named Wendy Holm who says this:

“The Peace River Valley in British Columbia that will be flooded by this dam is capable of producing sufficient nutrition to meet the needs of over 1 million people a year and that is a very conservative figure. In fact, that figure should actually be closer to 2 million.”  

At this point your science antennae should be straight up and your bunk detector should be blaring like a siren. Two million people could be fed by the land to be flooded by the Site C Dam? How could that be? Well the quick answer is that it couldn’t. The claim is ridiculous on its face but that being said let’s delve into it a little bit so you don’t have to simply trust me on the topic.

According to the documentation about Site C, the reservoir is expected to flood around 5500 hectares of agricultural land. To clarify, the area described as being part of the reservoir includes existing river so when the activists say that 12,000 hectares are going to be flooded that includes existing river bottom that is already underwater. To help you visualize a kind researcher has posted a map of the area to be flooded. As you can see, much of the area to be flooded represents islands in the middle of the river that are inaccessible to farming and riverbank that could never be farmed because it is a river bank. The amount of useful farmland to be flooded is much smaller than the 12,000 hectares suggested by the activists and the amount of actual useful farmland appears to be much smaller than the 5500 hectares presented in the documentation. A professional land use planner familiar with the area reports the following:

The reservoir will have surface area of 9,200 hectares, which is only double the size of the existing river…. building the Site C dam will not create a huge new reservoir, but will simply raise the water level — the river will be deeper, but not much wider. As such, the loss of valley bottom land with agricultural capability is closer to 3,800 hectares, of which only 1,600 hectares has farming potential. I would also point out that little of the land being flooded — less than 400 hectares — was actually being cropped; and that mainly for forage, not food crops.

This now gives us a useful range for our discussion. The farmland to be flooded by the Site C Dam is somewhere between 1,600 hectares and 12,000 hectares. So how many people will that amount of land feed? As I have written previously according to food researchers:

The minimum amount of agricultural land necessary for sustainable food security, with a diversified diet similar to those of North America and Western Europe (hence including meat), is 0.5 of a hectare per person.

I’m informed that if you are only counting calories, then a really efficient farm (with year-round growing seasons) can provide the minimum calories (absent any food variety or critical minerals or spoilage or loss to insects etc.) to support 5-6 people per hectare. Unfortunately for the Peace River District they don’t have a year-round growing season. While it is very rich land it has a relatively short growing season (about 4 months). So pressing the absolute limit and giving the activists the benefit of every doubt the 12,000 hectares they claim will be “flooded” could possibly feed 72,000 people with an absolute minimum vegetarian diet of grains and fruit. Using the mean numbers from agricultural science the 3,800 hectares of agricultural land being flooded could potentially feed 7,600 people. Using the numbers I hear the most, the 1,600 hectares of farmable land could feed 1,600 people with a standard western diet after losses for wastage, spoilage and pests. This gives us a potential range of 1,600 – 72,000 people that could theoretically be supported by the land to be flooded. Neither of those numbers are anywhere near one million, let alone two. We are talking being off by orders of magnitude folks?

Now the farming numbers I am providing are not new research nor are they hard to find. As such I am amazed that activists keep repeating this obviously incorrect figure presented by Ms. Holm? Perhaps the tape was edited, perhaps she meant the entire Peace Valley, who knows. All I can say for sure it that there is simply no way on god’s green earth that the area flooded by the Site C Dam could come close to feeding a million people, let alone two?  This claim is so ridiculous on its face that I am not sure why the activists think it will pass muster…except that I keep hearing it again and again: from the highly educated doctors at CAPE to the world class economists at CommonSenseCanadian. Honestly people did it never strike you as being a number that was simply too good to be true?

Now let’s take a short moment to look at the food security claim. According to research prepared for the Peace Regional District, in 2011 there were approximately 4.6 million hectares in British Columbia’s agricultural land reserve (ALR)  and 27% of BC’s ALR was in the Peace Regional District. Of that 4.6 million, in 2011, approximately 2.6 million hectares of land was being farmed in BC with 825,000 of that land being farmed being in the Peace District. According to the official numbers that means the Site C Dam will flood approximately 0.4% of the agricultural land in the Peace District or 0.2% of the agricultural land in BC. Doesn’t this put these food security arguments into perspective? It is ridiculous to claim that the flooding of the land required for Site C will put our food security at risk? We currently have almost 2 million hectares of ALR that we aren’t even bothering to farm (including 426,000 in the Peace District) and the activists claim we will go hungry if we flood around 5,000 hectares of it in the Peace?

Of further note, the easiest way to demonstrate that this particular area of land doesn’t have mystical properties is to note the following. This land is relatively close to the highway which means there are no significant access issues. This particular area of land is close to a farming community people farm all over that region. Yet given these facts most of the area to be flooded has not been farmed in the 100+ years westerners have been farming the Peace. If this land is so incredible why are people farming land near it in all directions but not farming it? Clearly the people of the community don’t see it as particularly special otherwise it would be studded with farms, but it isn’t. Except for a couple exceptions the area to be flooded has sat unfarmed since the valley was first inhabited thousands of years ago. That, in and of itself, should tell you about what the locals think about the area being flooded for farming.

Because I love playing with numbers let’s look at it another way. Using the most overstated numbers from the anti-Site C proponents that the reservoir will “flood” approximately 12,000 hectares of land and using Ms. Holm’s claim that the land to be flooded will feed 2 million people we can do a simple calculation to establish that the existing 825,000 hectares of ALR land in the Peace should be able to feed almost 140 million Canadians. Losing that 12,000 hectares doesn’t sound all that alarming from a food security perspective does it when using the activists own numbers the Peace District (on its own) should be able to feed the entire Canadian population over four times over.

Looking back at what I have written in this post I simply don’t believe that I had to write this all down. The claims were so obviously over the top and yet they have been repeated again and again and again. One retired Agrologist on YouTube made a wildly inflated (or potentially misunderstood) claim and it has become the go-to fact for the people fighting the dam. I am literally embarrassed for the Doctors at CAPE and the Economists at CommonSenseCanadian that they blindly repeated this easily debunkable factoid without it once crossing their minds that the factoid needed confirmation. But that is the problem with discussions in this day and age. People are too quick to believe “facts” that support their positions and to ignore “facts” that don’t. Unfortunately, that is not how evidence-based decision-making is supposed to be done and while I excuse the casual observer for making this mistake I think the activists should do a bit more research before using some obviously wrong numbers for their attempted political gain.

Author’s Note:

I have been contacted by Ms. Holm in the comments who asserts that her statement is correct that:

the Site C dam is capable of PROVIDING THE NUTRITIONAL REQUIREMENTS OF OVER ONE MILLION PEOPLE A YEAR, IN PERPETUITY, is based on BC HYDRO’s own reports filed with the BCUC in the 1980’s. [emphasis hers]

Funny thing is you go to her web site and look up the report she is citing and she claims it says something entirely different:

The study also notes Site C would flood 4,470 acres (1,809 ha, or 42%) of these unique vegetable soils.  Using BC Hydro’s math, and assuming full capacity, that translates to fresh vegetables for over 1 million people; the entire valley, as a “green veggie belt”, is capable of supplying 2.6 million residents with fresh vegetables.

Firstly, BC Hydro did not assume full capacity, Ms. Holm did, and more importantly providing vegetables for 1 million is completely different from “providing the nutritional requirements of 1 million people“.  It seems Ms. Holm needs to make up her mind on what that report said because those two statements are not interchangeable.

I typically hesitate to attribute to bad faith something that can be equally explained by innocent error (or outright incompetence), but I will note that when these two, mutually exclusive statements were presented to Ms. Holm her response was to go straight to conspiracy theory mode. Rather than correcting the record or explaining how these two mutually exclusive statements could be reconciled she attacked me because my employer was involved in a project 50 years ago. A project that has been dead literally longer than most of my readers. I leave it to readers to guess why when shown her errors Ms. Holm chose to take this approach.

Posted in Canadian Politics, Climate Change, Climate Change Politics, General Politics, Site C, Uncategorized | 37 Comments

On the UBC Site C Dam assessment report and fighting climate change: Part I

Like many of you I obtained a copy of the most recent report out of the UBC Program on Water Governance on the Site C Dam titled “Reassessing the Need for Site C” (Link to the full study).  As many of my readers know I have had a strong personal interest in energy policy having written a lot about what it will take to achieve our climate change goals in a post-Paris Agreement future. My recent blog post  On fighting climate change and what it will mean for BC/Canada’s energy politics looks at the topic and demonstrates a strong need for a lot of extra electricity supply if we are to meet our national climate change goals. As a consequence I was interested in what these UBC experts (okay only one is from UBC) had to say on the topic. As I will discuss in this blog post I was more than a little disappointed in what I found. To achieve their conclusion that Site C is not needed the authors dismissed a lot of respected research that suggests that we will need additional electricity in our fight against climate change. The problem is they did so without presenting a strong rationale.

Let’s start by directly addressing the topic at hand. On page 36 of the assessment the authors recognize that the literature exists assessing projected electricity needs under a Paris Agreement future. Specifically they write:

As shown, the DDPP predicts an increase of 800 TWh/year in electricity generation by 2050, of which 440 TWh/year is projected to be new large-scale hydroelectric. The TEFP predicts an increase of 1550 TWh/year by 2050, of which 460 TWh/year is projected to be new large-scale hydroelectric. For context, this is equivalent to developing ninety (90) Site C Projects in Canada by 2050.

Notwithstanding their differences, both studies find that meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over the reference case are accompanied by substantial increases in electricity requirements, which would be met mainly by an unprecedented build out in large-scale hydroelectric development across Canada.

These studies suggest that, in a low-carbon future, the Site C Project would inevitably be needed even if BC Hydro has overestimated needs in the short- to medium-term. To explore this proposition, it is worth examining some of the key assumptions in the two studies, including in relation to projections of total electricity requirements, as well as hydroelectric requirements.

They then spend the next 17 pages trying to discount the conclusions of the Government of Canada’s Mid-Century Long-Term Low-Greenhouse Gas Development Strategy, the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) and Trottier Energy Futures Project (TEFP). I must admit it takes a certain amount of hutzpah for these three authors to claim they are better informed than the Government of Canada, a global collaboration of energy research teams and the Canadian Academy of Engineering, respectively but I appreciate gumption so let’s see how they did. I will not be addressing GDP/oil production sections as they are outside my area of expertise but will point out that others have already challenged their assumptions on this topic.  Moreover since I am not writing a novella, and have a real job, I won’t be able to assess the entire section in this one blog post.

Electricity Prices: The authors challenge the DDPP  and TEFP on energy prices. They do so by suggesting that demand could be lower in 2050 due to higher prices which could result in consumers choosing to not switch fuels. As discussed in the report the DDPP does indeed suggest that rising prices will result in energy efficiency changes that represent 100 MT of reduced emissions but the author’s economic argument apparently ignores the anticipated regulatory requirements (and government mandates) that will be placed on consumers as part of our governments’ climate change policies. BC has already signed onto the International Zero-Emission Vehicle Alliance and has a carbon tax and the City of Vancouver has introduced its Renewable City Strategy. These approaches present direct challenges to the authors’ points. Put simply part of the process of fighting climate change involves making fossil fuels (and energy) more expensive and then limiting consumer choice so they can’t shift to lower cost (but dirtier) alternatives. That is a feature of the system not a bug that can be ignored.

Demand-side management: okay I am going to admit they have me confused in this one. They start by pointing out that DDPP and TEFP both apply demand-side measures then suggest that because the reports don’t spend enough time discussing the contributions of the various demand-side measures (which in the Canadian context almost always means regulatory change) that they won’t work? There is a robust literature demonstrating that when regulatory change is initiated it can accomplish a policy goal; so a huge discussion of this topic seems pretty unnecessary. For those wishing to challenge me on this topic try buying some leaded gas for your car or re-filling your air conditioner with CFCs then get back to me.

Distributed generation and Nuclear: Both these sections go into balancing which technology might be best for future energy generation but neither directly address the electricity demand figures, which is the critical point of consideration in this section.

Solar PV: I have discussed solar photovoltaic electricity on this blog a number of times (most recently here) and there is a simple reason that the plans for BC do not include a massive upgrade in solar PV, the term is “solar insolation”.  Industrial solar is simply not on the table for most of BC because our combination of climate and position on the globe precludes it.

Wind: The study argues that wind energy costs will decline and should therefore be assumed to represent a greater percentage of future energy supply than even the overly optimistic estimates presented in DDPP and TEFP. This argument misses a critical consideration involved in building wind infrastructure in BC: transmission of the generated energy. Later in the report the authors bemoan the cost of transmission lines for Site C but for some reason apparently believe that wind will not need similar transmission lines. I have already written a post describing a combined wind and pumped hydro project of the type suggested by the assessment and can assure my readers that the costs the authors of the assessment are hoping to achieve are not achievable once you inject transmission requirements into the mix. You can’t argue against Site C because of expensive transmission costs on one hand while ignoring the same issue when talking about massively dispersed wind generation.

Pumped Hydro: The authors argue that the absence of discussions of pumped hydro storage at existing hydroelectric facilities represents a fatal flaw in DDPP and TEFP but that argument is problematic. Pumped hydro doesn’t represent additional capacity, it represents storage of energy generated somewhere else. Pumped hydro simply takes energy generated by some other process (wind, solar etc.) and stores it in the form of water. Moreover, there is a reason existing hydro facilities don’t include a pumped hydro capacity, that reason is that pumped hydro needs reservoirs and our existing dams are built in places where reservoirs downstream are mostly not practical.

As for upgrades at existing facilities, absent a few already planned upgrades the existing systems are pretty much at capacity. For most of our dams it is not the number of generator units that represents the limiting feature but the size of the reservoirs behind the dams (amount of water to be converted into electricity). The whole reason Site C is being added to the existing Peace dam network is to increase the reservoir volume behind dams in BC.

Large-scale hydroelectric – Wait a Minute…: It was at this point in the exercise that I recognized the apparent bait and switch that had occurred in this section of the report. The section started with a couple half-hearted attempts to challenge the electricity demand requirements set out in the DDPP and TEFP but quickly descended into challenging how that needed electricity would be generated. In doing so the authors appear to be distracting the reader as to the actual point of those reports: that if we are to meet our climate change goals we will need substantially more electricity by 2030 and 2050. If you continue reading the section you discover that the authors never actually go back to challenge the electricity requirement numbers from DDPP or TEFP They simply migrate to a section on low-carbon electrification in BC while completely ignoring DDPP or TEFP; then 12 pages later they come up with a conclusion:

The increases in electricity requirements in the DDPP and TEFP, which are on the order of 130% and 220% above current requirements by 2050, are not defensible based on the information provided in these analyses.

But their assessment never actually challenged the energy requirement numbers from these two reports. They essentially side-stepped that entire topic. Somehow they just forget to challenge the underlying assumptions of DDPP and TEFP after page 42. It is like they believe that after the five pages of discussion about generation alternatives and nine pages of discussions about BC Hydro projections that readers will completely miss the fact that they never actually presented any solid information that challenges the overall electricity demand numbers presented in DDPP and TEFP. They challenge the suggestions of how the electricity will be generated (and in my opinion do this poorly as discussed above) but never actually show why the electricity requirement numbers presented by DDPP and TEFP for a post-Paris Agreement energy environment “are not defensible”.

To repeat, the conclusions of DDPP and TEFP  that in order to achieve our climate change goals we will need to increase our electricity supply on the order of 130% and 220% above current requirements by 2050 remain unchallenged in this assessment. This is almost exactly what I have written previously on the topic. The numbers haven’t gone away and this report makes no significant effort to show otherwise.

Unfortunately I am running out of time to finish this blog post as my lunch break is well over so I will not go into their examination of the MKJA MK Jaccard and Associates Inc  (Jaccard) Report at this time (possibly more on this in a later blog post). I will point out, however, that the studies being covered in that section pre-date the Paris Agreement and in some case completely underestimate more current estimates. As an example, the authors cite a BC Hydro load forecast that predicts that electric vehicles will make up only 13% of the private vehicle fleet in 2036. If that is the case then BC has no chance of meeting its climate change goals. Under BC’s zero emission pledge  we are supposed to be 100% zero emission vehicles by 2050 and given the lifetime of the average vehicle if we are only at 13% in 2036 we stand zero chance of being at 100% in 2050. Moreover afterall that the author’s still agree with the Jaccard report conclusion while only wondering about its actual timeline:

based on the MKJA study, deep reductions in British Columbia’s GHG emissions would result in substantially more electricity demand. However, the extent of this increase in demand and its timing remain highly uncertain.

Posted in Site C, Uncategorized | 3 Comments