BALDREY: LNG megaproject challenges B.C.’s climate targets

The announcement that LNG Canada is giving a green light to a mammoth $40-billion investment is great news for the B.C. economy. But if you think that is a big deal, wait until you see the NDP government’s climate plan in which that LNG project will have to fit.

The plan, to be released later this fall, is expected to contain some ambitious targets and plans on how to achieve 75 per cent of the target of reducing B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by the year 2030 (compared to 2015 levels).

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The LNG Canada project alone will boost emissions by 3.45 tonnes a year (and twice that when the second “train” of the project comes online), which means emissions in other areas have to be drastically curtailed.

To accomplish this lofty (and admirable) goal, the NDP government will bring in a host of measures and incentives to convince hundreds of thousands of British Columbians to consume clean electricity and wean themselves off fossil fuels.

One example is tremendously increasing the number of electric vehicles. The government hopes to get to the point where at least 30 per cent of all vehicles on the road are electric within 10 years.

The senior civil servant who briefed me on this subject told me the price of an electric vehicle (too high for most folks right now) would gradually decline to the point where it will equal the price of gasoline-fuelled vehicles by the year 2025.

If that becomes reality, then purchasing an electric vehicle will be a no-brainer for those in the market for a new car (the savings on fuel costs are incredible). Studies show that most people hang on to their vehicles for 12 to 15 years, so a lot of folks will likely be lining up to buy something in 2025.

Of course, it is unclear whether car manufacturers can produce enough electric vehicles to match this kind of target, but there is still a lot of time to ramp up production. Right now, there are just a paltry 8,500 electric vehicles registered in B.C., along with 45,000 hybrids (this out of a province-wide fleet of about 850,000 vehicles).

Another example is convincing home dwellers to switch to electricity and away from natural gas and oil to heat their homes. Heat pumps will also be offered as part of an incentive scheme (a number of incentives, likely funded by annual increases to the province’s carbon tax, will be part of this climate plan).

Can the government tremendously ramp up the production of electricity to meet the hoped-for rise in demand of it? The Site C dam’s construction will undoubtedly help, but presumably, the government is going to have to dive headfirst into things like constructing wind farms and solar panel farms.

All of these changes have to occur over a relatively short period of time, and it must involve a huge number of people making the changes in order to have the desired impact.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Richard Rhodes has pointed out in his latest book – Energy: A Human History – that major changes in energy consumption occur over a very long period of time (for example, it takes about 100 years to go from zero to 50 per cent market penetration).

Of course, we have been blessed with clean hydro-electricity for decades, so it is not as if we are starting at the beginning. However, Rhodes notes that it can take an enormously long time to build the infrastructure required to have the desired impact.

In addition, wind and solar energy are not 100 per cent reliable, as the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine (then there is the matter of storing this kind of energy, a difficult and expensive task in itself).

Make no mistake. This looming climate plan will be far-reaching and potentially a hit to the pocketbook.

The vast majority of British Columbians will never visit LNG Canada’s facilities up north. However, you can be sure they will be touched in significant ways by a climate plan that will allow that project to flourish.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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