On that UBC Report comparing job numbers and the Site C Dam

My Twitter feed has been alive with news of a “new UBC Report” that according to its author, Dr. Karen Bakker from the UBC  Program on Water Governance, “concludes stopping Site C will create a larger number of sustainable jobs in the province“. This report has been cited in multiple locations in the last week so I have been hoping to get a chance to dig into it and having done so I am, once again, surprised at how easily questionable research can dominate the conversation on the Site C file. It was even cited in the Legislature. The selling point of the report (at least from what I have seen on Twitter) was that it showed that the BCUC Alternative portfolio produced 5 times more jobs in renewable energy than are expected to be produced by Site C. What I found through my research was that the majority of the jobs “created” by the BCUC Alternative Portfolio would likely never actually appear and that the costs for the renewables portfolio promoted by the anti-Site C activists would likely be much higher than was previously suggested. The rest of this blog post will examine why, in my opinion, the results from Dr. Bakker’s study are unreliable.

The report itself is actually an unsigned Briefing note and an accompanying spreadsheet analysis (link opens an Excel file). In the briefing note we are presented with an employment table that presents three columns of employment numbers. One for the BCUC Alternative portfolio, one for the BC Hydro Alternative portfolio and one for Site C Continued. The take-home message is that the cumulative person-years or “jobs” modeled for the BCUC Alternative portfolio is 208,498 person-years by 2094 while Site C only generates 40,578 person-years by 2094.  This is where the headline 5 times the job numbers headline comes from (actually 5.13 but who is counting).

Looking at the spreadsheet we find the basis for this table in  the tab “Comparison-LLF”. The BCUC numbers are derived from the tab “BCUC-LFF”. On that tab we find the “Employment Summary-All Resources (by year)” table starting at column T. Looking at this spreadsheet we can see where all the jobs are coming from. Adding up the columns we discover that the 208,498 person-years for the BCUC Alternative portfolio is made up of the following subtotals:

  • 10,296 person-years from decommissioning Site C  (5% of the total)
  • 183,600 from demand-side management (DSM) programs (88% of the total)
  • 14,602 person-years from the various wind projects  (7% of the total)

Looking at this you immediately recognize that contrary to what the people on Twitter have been claiming, renewables, on their own, do not generate more jobs than Site C. Rather according to the briefing note Site C generates 40,578 jobs, almost 3 times as many jobs as the actual wind projects.

Looking at this table one recognizes an obvious initial flaw of the model with respect to the wind jobs. According to the model the wind facilities will generate a lot of jobs during their initial construction phase (for the Wind -PC18 column (Column X) that would be 310 person-years per year from 2034 through 2038). The authors then confusingly have those facilities providing a constant number of maintenance jobs (52 person-years per year) between 2039 and 2094 (over 55 years).

Anyone who has studied wind energy projects understands that wind facilities are not designed to operate for 55+ years. The typical wind project has a 20-25 year lifespan at which point the turbines have to be decommissioned and new turbines installed if the power is still needed. From a jobs perspective this would significantly increase the number of jobs generated by the wind projects. Tearing down old turbines and building new ones would generate a lot of person-years of work and yet these jobs are completely missing from the analysis. While this necessary component of a wind project life cycle analysis would represent a good thing for the people touting renewables as a job builder; it does pose a bit of a quandary for the the anti Site c activists.

The problem is that many of their cost-calculations omit the need to decommission and re-build facilities 3+ times over the time period Site C will be in service. In order to effectively replace Site C you have to triple the number of turbines AND include the cost to decommission each generation of obsolete turbines during each life cycle. By tripling the number of turbines and incorporating decommissioning costs, suddenly the costs of those replacement renewables roughly triples. This is a fatal flaw in the cost calculations produced by the anti-Site C activists. I have been banging on this drum for a bit but, confusingly, have heard little from the supporters of Site C on this obvious error in price calculations. A single generation of wind turbines cannot replace a dam intended to operate for 70-120 years yet this is what the modelers assume in their analysis.

The BCUC’s actual Alternative Portfolio spreadsheet does partially account for  this cost but makes a number of odd assumptions including reducing the costs for refurbishing facilities (by 30% of original costs); omitting any decommissioning costs; and most strangely assuming that operations and maintenance costs go down over the lifespan of the facilities. I’m not sure about you, but I’ve found that as systems age they need more maintenance not less.

Going back to the Briefing Note, I have no issue with the person-years associated with decommissioning Site C in the BCUC Alternative portfolio but I have a very serious issue with those 183,000+ jobs attributed to demand-side management (DSM).

You might ask where Dr. Bakker and her colleagues got that huge number. Well according to the Briefing Note:

According to a study carried out for BC Hydro, spending on conservation or demand-side management (DSM) programs creates 30 jobs per $1M spent. 1

That 1 identifies Footnote 1 the Power Smart Employment Impacts DSM Programs, Rates and Codes and Standards, F2008 to F2037 (citing p. iv.). Now any time a footnote references a Roman Numeral that means the authors are sending you to the Executive Summary of the cited report. A good scientist never relies on the Executive Summary of a report because the Executive Summary typical does not contain any of the provisos from the body of the work itself. Looking at the Power Smart Report we do see in the Executive Summary that “employment intensity” for Power Smart DSM was an estimated 34.4 person-years per million dollars spent. The question lies: where does that number comes from?

Reading the report the 34 person-years of employment per million spent on DSM includes two components: Investment Effects and Re-Spending Effects. Investment Effects are described as:

These expenditures are required to implement the energy saving measures and are comparable to the construction expenditures and employment from supply-side projects. As depicted in Figure 4-1, investment employment ramps up over the initial years of the DSM Plan and achieves a plateau until F2028. Thereafter, it falls fairly rapidly with expenditures, but the decline is mitigated because some projects will be completed and paid out after F2028. Overall, the pattern of investment employment directly follows the expenditure pattern.

That is to not to say these are all direct jobs associated with spending all those millions. As described in the glossary, Investment Effects include:

Direct, indirect and induced employment estimated from the initial DSM investment expenditures in programs, rates, codes and standard measures.

Thus those original employment boost involves direct, indirect and induced employment. The other half is the “Re-spending Effects” which are described as:

The employment impacts from re-spending activity are estimate at 50,900 PYs [between 2008 and 2037] and are created as a byproduct of the economic benefits associated with the DSM expenditures (see Figure 4-1). Since these employment benefits continue, driven by the ongoing energy bill savings, they can be likened to the operation and maintenance employment from supply-side projects.

Did you get that second type? If not then let’s look at the Glossary [Definitions] that describes “Re-Spending Effects” as:

Direct, indirect and induced employment estimated from consumers’ re-spent electricity bill savings in the economy.

These two definitions should be raising red flags all over the place. First and foremost the Site C numbers are direct numbers not “induced or indirect employment”. Thus they are comparing apples to oranges. Moreover, Re-Spending Effects can only happen if you have substantial reductions in the consumer’s hydro bill associated with the DSM program. Now this is a huge assumption on the Site C file. As has been repeatedly told, if the project is scrapped then the sunk costs have to be recouped, reportedly by a 10% surtax placed on everybody’s hydro bills. This will also help cover the decommissioning costs. That surtax will eat up any initial savings the consumer might see from shutting down the project. It is unclear how people will re-spend savings that they never receive in the first place.

Moreover as I describe in my previous blog post, the only way for DSM to get us where we need to be [dramatically reduce our electricity demand] is by substantially increasing hydro bills. That is how DSM works, you make electricity more expensive to encourage consumers to use less. This brings up a rule-of-thumb I was taught as a student about DSM programs.  Consumers are generally used to how much they are willing to spend on household bills like hydro. If you increase the price of a household budgeting line item (electricity in this case) consumers will work to drop demand until they are spending about the same amount as they were spending previously. If the price rises substantially, they are often willing to spend a bit more to maintain a quality of life but will not make massive changes unless there is a big upside in savings. What this means is that the increase in price will likely drop demand but will not likely have a major effect on consumer hydro bills. Consequently the DSM measures will not result in reduced hydro bills that can be used to generate re-spending effects.

The absence of re-spending of non-existent savings becomes a serious consideration in the BCUC Alternative model because according  to the Power Smart document, the direct jobs (the Investment Effects) associated with the continued investment in DSM quickly disappear. In the Power Smart reference Figure 2-1 shows that under a steady investment state employment increases associated with Investment Effects essentially disappear about ten years into the spending cycle. By their measure only 50,900 person years are generated regardless of how long the money is spent because after that time the monies are spent on established programs and not on lots of people to set up those programs. For the UBC modelers this is a problem since they assume that 183,600 person-years will be generated by DSM between now and 2094 but if the Re-Spending Effects don’t appear then about 132,700 of those jobs simply vanish from the equation. Take those 132,700 person-years out of the equation then all those talking points go away. Instead of the BCUC Alternative portfolio generating 208,498 jobs it only produces 75,798 jobs which is barely double what Site C generates. Given the mushiness of the assumptions used in this report those two number may as well be the same.

Looking at the Briefing note I remain amazed at how easily the public can be swayed by someone with a fancy title and a complicated spreadsheet. Like the Swain model once you dig into the numbers it becomes increasingly clear that the output of the model is entirely dependent on the input assumptions and that, in this case, the input assumptions are demonstrably faulty. Wind farms don’t last for over 55 years they last closer to 25 and if wind is going to replace Site C then you will need to account for the equivalent time frame for a fair comparison.  On the DSM front, a modeling exercise that assumes that 64% of your total jobs will be derived from people spending savings they never obtained is not a good thing. Finally for the anti-Site C folks who keep proclaiming that renewables will make up for the jobs from Site C the Briefing Note makes it clear that the actual renewable job numbers don’t come close to comparing to the number of jobs generated by Site C. On the positive front, as I have pointed out numerous times at this blog, Site C will not come close to supplying the energy we need to electrify our transportation sector. As such we will need DSM (and all the ensuing jobs) in addition to Site C if we are to meet our Paris Agreement energy commitments.



Posted in Site C, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Reviewing the demand estimates used by the opponents of Site C

This week Business in Vancouver (BiV) printed an article about the Site C project titled:  B.C. might not need any additional wind power either which included a number of quotations from Dr. Harry Swain a gent with whom I have disagreed on the topic of Site C. In the article Dr. Swain stated that BC has all the power-generating capacity it needs for the next 20 years and therefore does not need Site C. He indicated that the basis of his claim was his modelling on the topic. This led me to wonder what was in that model and how the opponents of the Site C dam were able to generate numbers that ran completely contrary to both my findings and those of BC Hydro. This blog post examines that question and demonstrates, once again, the importance of looking at the underlying data used in environmental decision-making. By the time you finish reading this blog post I think you will agree with me that the modelling used by the opponents of Site C is flawed and not worthy of consideration in the Site C debate.

To begin I had to get the model described in the article. As many of you know Dr. Swain et al. presented a forecast model to the BCUC (link downloads an Excel model from BCUC website). I downloaded that model a while back and discovered that the critical inputs were not included in the spreadsheet but rather referred back to a secondary spreadsheet called 2016-2036-Forecast-w-Revised-Trade-BCUC-RB-Eoin-Finn-Oct18.xlsx. At that point I was stymied, since I didn’t think that Dr. Swain or his colleagues would give me a copy of their model. However, when the BiV article came out I asked the article’s author if he had been given any information to support Dr. Swain’s claims. The response was a copy of Dr. Swain’s updated model titled BC-Hydro pro-forma 2017-37Rev5SiteC.xls. Moreover, much to my surprise I was informed that Dr. Swain had agreed to the release of the file to me. This represents a level of professional courtesy that was much appreciated and hopefully represents a step towards working together to meet BC’s continued energy challenges.

Now as a first note, I will point out that the 2017-37 Model differs in output from the 2016-36 model used in the BCUC submission. As I do not have the earlier model I cannot see the difference between the two but I can point out what I view as limitations with the 2017-2037 model (called the Model hereafter) and explanations for why I believe it does not present a reasonable estimation of future demand in BC.

In the BiV article Dr. Swain stated:

With the modelling that I did, I assumed – as BC Hydro did – that the population is going to increase, that GDP will increase

While that is strictly true (the Model has a correction for inflation) it does not tell the whole story. According to BC Statistics British Columbia’s population is expected to rise from 4.8 million in 2017 to 5.9 million in 2037. This represents an increase of 23% over the time covered by the Model. The problem is that the Model does not address that population growth directly. Rather than looking at per capita demand it simply assumes that demand will grow or decline using the average of historic residential demand growth between 2006 and 2016. The choice of dates is very significant since it includes the market crash from 2008-2009 which caused a retraction in our economy and associated energy use. The inclusion of the recession in the input number for the spreadsheet results in lower growth in residential demand for the entire time frame covered by the Model.

Moreover, looking at the residential sector demand estimates I identified a number of further critical flaws. The time period under consideration (2006-2016) was one where BC Hydro carried out intense demand-side management activities which temporarily de-coupled residential energy growth from population growth. To further lower the future residential demand the Model includes an elasticity factor (addressed later) which is sufficiently high to essentially eliminate demand increases associated with population growth over the last 10 years of modelling (2027-2037). According to projections the population of BC is supposed to grow by 550,000 souls between 2027-2037 but under the Model residential energy use will stagnate during that period. In total, the Model projects residential demand to increase by 7% over the entire 20 years of the Model. Not 7% per year but 7% over the period from 2017 to 2037 even as the population increases by 23% during that time.

On the commercial demand side the model has similar flaws. As I noted in my previous blog post on electricity demand commercial demand in BC pretty much mirrors GDP growth. The Model has commercial demand increasing by only 3% between 2017 and 2037. In a province with a 23% growth in population the service and commercial parts of our economy are only going to grow at 3%? This is simply not a reasonable assumption.

On the industrial side it gets even worse. I don’t look forward to living in the British Columbia the Model projects for 2037 as we will have no industrial base to pay taxes to fund our services. The Model has industrial use dropping by 66% over the 20 year period. It projects total industrial demand at 4,431 GWh in 2037. According to BC Hydro statistics mining alone used 3,800 GWh in 2017. The forestry sector used around 6,800 GWh with pulp and paper using about 4,400 GWh of that forestry number. Think of it, under the Model in 2037 BC will use the same amount of power in its entire industrial base that it currently uses for pulp and paper. Is this a reasonable number? If I told you that BC’s mining industry would be completely gone by 2037 and its forestry sector would be cut by more than half would you believe me? Funny thing Swain et al. said that very thing to the BCUC and no one called them on it. Looking at how BC Hydro generated its projected demand you discover that BC Hydro looked at each of its large industrial customers individually to project industrial demand in the future. I think I will trust BC Hydro on this topic.

Continuing our look at demand we have electric vehicles. On the topic of electric vehicles (EVs) the Model once again ignores population changes and assumes that the personal vehicle fleet will remain static with the same number of passenger vehicles on the road in 2037 as in 2016. This decreases the number of EVs needing electricity. The Model assumes that there will be no attempt to electrify commercial or transport trucks so there is no demand there. Moreover, the increase in EV uptake is extremely back-loaded with a net total increase in EVs of 29,310 between 2017 and 2024. [The Model uses compounding interest in their rows so the big increases on the demand end are located at the later end of the model.] This allows the Model to minimize the electricity demand in the early years while claiming larger numbers at the end of the model run (so they can claim they had those higher numbers). Interestingly, based on the numbers from FleetCarma.com by early Q3-2017 EV sales in BC had surpassed the Model’s projections for the entire year. Right now EV uptake is running at about twice the rate projected by the Model which will have a commensurate increase in electricity demand.

Looking what we have found so far, the Model presents unreasonably low demand numbers for every significant column on the demand side of the ledger. Based on this there is no wonder how they got their numbers so low. Now I could stop here but there are two other points about the Model that should be exposed. The first is the price elasticity component.

As we know, price elasticity addresses how demand goes down as price goes up. BC Hydro was criticized for using a relatively low elasticity value. BC Hydro’s research indicates that price elasticity should range between -0.08 and -0.13 (even as they used a lower number). The Model uses a residential elasticity of -0.15. This results in a larger than is typically observed reduction in demand associated with hydro rate increases.

Coincidentally, the model assumes rate increases in the Residential, Commercial and Industrial sectors of 3.8% per year every single year between 2017 and 2037 (no rate freezes here). The result in the unseemly residential power rate of $234/MWh and commercial rate at $201/MWH in 2037. Needless to say that huge number has the effect of driving down residential and commercial demand based on price elasticity. Admittedly it makes that $88/MWh Site C power look pretty good. Combining the extremely high power rates and extremely high elasticity rate results in massively suppressed demand numbers in 2037. These basic assumptions in the Model are the reason demand is so low in 2037.

Amusingly, while the Model projects incredibly expensive power for residential and commercial customers it assumes virtually no increase in the price received for electricity through sales. The Model assumes that the trade price for electricity will rise all the way to $40/MWh in 2025 and no further increases thereafter. In 2037 they have Hydro selling electricity to California at $40/KWh while simultaneously selling it to residential customers at $234/MWh. Why would the Model do such a thing? Well that way it can minimize the amount of income generated by the dam so the incongruous combination of stratospheric residential rates and negligible export rates results in a decrease in demand and a minimization of the income generated by the dam. The best of both worlds if you don’t want the dam built but absolutely unsupportable if you care about reliable data being used in decision-making.

Ultimately what this blog post shows is that the model used by Dr. Swain and his colleagues is so completely flawed that it is simply not a reasonable tool to be used in any decision-making process. What I find most confusing is why I haven’t read about this from anyone else. The assumptions for this model were all out there and yet no one went through the effort of examining them. The people pushing for the dam needs to shake their heads. So much misinformation is coming out about this project and the people supporting it simply shrug and move on. Wouldn’t it be nice if the people supporting the project put in the sweat equity that the opponents of the dam have been contributing. Then, maybe, we might have enough useful information on the table to make a good decision as to whether we complete or scrap the dam.


Posted in Site C, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Why efforts to fight Climate Change will change the conclusions of the BCUC Site C Inquiry Report

I have been incredibly busy at work over the last few weeks and so was not able to get involved in the public consultation portion of the BCUC Site C Inquiry process. Such are the downsides of not being a paid activist; when my work calls, my activism (which is a hobby for which I receive no compensation) suffers. Happily my work deadlines have passed leaving me time to read the BCUC Site C Inquiry Final report (the Report).  What I read left me completely flabbergasted. The conclusions of the Report depend entirely on its load forecasts and the load forecast upon which all the major assessments are based completely ignores the overriding environmental issue of our age: fighting climate change. What also astounds me is that this incredibly important fact has not been highlighted in any of the analyses of the Report that I have read to date.

Since it is such an important point let’s evaluate it immediately. In the conclusion of the Report (on page 187) the Summary states:

We take no position on which of the termination or completion scenarios has the greatest cost to ratepayers. The Illustrative Alternative Portfolio we have analyzed, in the low-load forecast case, has a similar cost to ratepayers as Site C. If Site C finishes further over budget, it will tend to be more costly than the Illustrative Alternative Portfolio is for ratepayers. If a higher load forecast materializes, the cost to ratepayers for Site C will be less than the Illustrative Alternative Portfolio.

Let’s unpack that statement. Throughout its submissions BC Hydro has suggested that the Panel consider a mid load forecast in carrying out subsequent cost assessments. The Panel reports that it found the mid load forecast “excessively optimistic” and chose to use the low load forecast in conducting subsequent analyses. Now this is the critical point. Under the low load forecast the alternative renewables and demand-side management  (DSM) portfolio is comparable in price with completing Site C. Thus the decision as to whether to cancel or complete Site C is not clear. This is important because as the Panel points out, under the mid load and high load forecasts building Site C is clearly the better decision for ratepayers. Thus the entire conclusion of this Report depends on which forecast was chosen by the Panel

The question arises therefore: why did the Panel decide to rely on the low load forecast (which made the decision a toss-up) rather than the mid load or high load forecasts (which make Site C a slam dunk)? Well the answer to that is simply mind-blowing for me. As detailed on page 81:

Given the uncertainty, the Panel finds additional load requirements from potential electrification initiatives should not be included in BC Hydro’s load forecast for the purpose of resource planning. Although available information indicates that the effects of electrification on BC Hydro’s load forecast could potentially be significant, the timing and extent of those increases remain highly uncertain.

As someone who has been active on the climate change file this almost knocked me off my chair. The Panel decided that one of the primary tools for fighting climate change (reduction in reliance on fossil fuels via electrification) should be completely omitted from consideration in assessing future electricity demand in BC. My regular readers will note that the entire basis of my submission to the BCUC Inquiry was the need to consider the electricity needs associated with reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. When the preliminary report came out I was a bit surprised that the Panel had omitted any discussion of the Paris Agreement and our climate change goals. I saw that as an oversight and commented in a follow-up submission. Now I realize that it was a deliberate decision. It is as if the Panel lives in a world where Canada never signed the Paris Agreement.

That left me to wonder, why would the Panel make such an extraordinary decision?  Well Mr. Morton, the Chair of the Panel, explained it this way in a radio interview on CKNW radio:

We can’t make any predictions about what government policy would be in the future so our analysis did not include potential changes of government policy. They included what government policy is today and we pointed out that government policy would certainly change things…..if government electrification policy changed that would change demand. Again we couldn’t really make assumptions about what policy may or may not be in the future.

Reading and re-reading that quote I cannot believe that the Chair of the Panel (a regulator) could make that statement in light of what we already know about climate change. What is even more disconcerting is that page 129 of the Report includes text from Section 2 of the Clean Energy Act that defines British Columbia’s energy objectives and enumerates the requirements to reduce our emissions by 2050 while referring them back to the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act. To clarify, the province has a whole slew of “Climate Action Legislation” on the books. One of the primary ways of decarbonizing in a manner consistent with the Clean Energy Act (and the other applicable Acts) is via electrification and yet the BCUC suggests they can’t foresee policy implications that include electrification?

You might ask how the Panel came to this conclusion? Well that answer goes back to a critical weakness of this process: the rush to complete it and the absence of time for the Panel to effectively weigh the evidence they were presented against the body of scientific research in the public realm. Benjamin Disraeli is attributed with the quotation: “History is made by those who show up“. In this case the people who showed up to talk to the Panel were the activists who want the project cancelled and they brought their paid consultants with them. The people who did not show up (with some limited exceptions) were the scientific community of British Columbia. The result was that the panel was flooded with misinformation and anecdotes and lacked the time (and possibly expertise) to effectively weed out the bad information.

Since electrification represents the key factor in differing between the low load and high load forecasts let’s consider the Panel’s analysis and findings against electrification. On page 81 under “Potential disrupting trends” the Panel indicates that it leans heavily on the work of Hendriks et al. (Hendriks) This begs the question: who is this Hendriks fellow? Well according to his online CV, Richard M. (Rick) Hendriks is the Director of Camerado Energy Consulting Inc. which has been working for the Treaty 8 Nations against the Site C project since at least 2010. He is, or until recently was (I really don’t know), being paid to oppose the project.

Hendriks’ submission includes at its core the details from a paper that I have previously addressed at this blog. In my original blog post I note that the previous work by Hendriks and Dr. Karen Bakker of UBC attempts, and in my opinion fails, to discount the research from the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) and Trottier Energy Futures Project (TEFP). That work was produced for, and  ultimately reviewed and published by, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) in their assessment report on Canadian energy needs under various climate change scenarios.

In a practical sense what we have is a difference of professional/scientific opinion. On one side we have research groups from leading research institutions in 16 of the world’s largest greenhouse-gas-emitting countries; a team of more than a dozen energy experts from the Canadian Academy of Engineering; all overseen by a team of subject matter experts from the Federal government. On the other side we have a consultant “trained in engineering, science and social science” who has spent the better part of a decade working for a group opposed to the dam and a water governance expert. Would anyone care to guess which side the Panel believed? Well it was the gent who showed up and talked to them in person (Mr. Hendriks). Thousands of hours of analysis by dozens of the world’s top subject-matter experts was dismissed by the Panel who chose instead to rely on the guy who showed up for a presentation and to answer questions.

The Panel also mysteriously chose to trust Mr. Hendriks over the far more qualified Dr. Jaccard (and his research Group) when it comes to electrification of British Columbia’s vehicle fleet. Once again the explanations are hard to explain. Dr. Jaccard and Associates prepared an Electrification Potential Review that included estimates of electricity demand under a number of scenarios and assumptions. The report concluded that electric vehicles would result in Terra-watt hours of demand which would have, once again, driven us from the low load to the mid or high load forecasts. Hendriks dismissed that detailed analysis by going back to a truly horrendous BC Hydro load forecast that suggested that by 2030 a little over 8% of British Columbia’s automobile fleet would be electric vehicles. [The link is to my analysis that demonstrates why the load forecast is so poor.] To summarize, the BC Hydro analysis assumes that about 8% of BC’s vehicle fleet will be electric vehicles in 2030. Now recognize, some analysts are claiming that we won’t be able to buy internal combustion engines in 2030 but the BC Hydro forecast used by Hendriks (and thus the Panel) assumes that electric vehicles will still be no more than a novelty at that point in time. To put it another way, we will have surely have failed in our fight against climate change if that is the case. So once again on one side we have a respected expert who provides a detailed analysis, supported by references to the peer-reviewed research, that shows a high demand for electricity in 2030 and on the other we have Mr. Hendriks who cites a back-of-the-envelope calculation from BC Hydro that pre-dates our signing of the Paris Agreement. Anyone want to guess who the Panel chose to believe? The guy who showed up to the meeting of course.

I can’t repeat it enough because this point is so important. The entire basis of the Panel’s conclusion that to build or not build Site C is a toss-up is based on the assumption that the BC and Federal Governments will do nothing to fight climate change. This in a province and country where both governments have dedicated massive resources to fighting climate change. Were the efforts to fight climate change through electrification included in the analysis then in the Panel’s own words “the cost to ratepayers for Site C will be less than the Illustrative Alternative Portfolio.” Looking at the Panel’s own report the basis for their discounting electrification is a couple paper-thin analyses that run exactly opposite to the massive consensus of scientific and regulatory opinion in Canada. Essentially we are making a $10 Billion bet that Canada will do nothing significant to fight climate change and the sole basis for that bet is an analysis done by a consultant working against the project and a low-quality BC Hydro analysis completed prior to Canada signing the Paris Agreement.

Posted in Canadian Politics, Climate Change, Site C, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Agriculture near Site C: confronting mythology with facts

This blog is about evidence-based environmental decision making. I strive to present facts supported by references and emphasize the importance of using reliable data in decision-making. This is why I have spent so much time on the Site C Dam project, as many of the arguments against the dam have been built on a structure anecdotes, exaggeration and bad information. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the discussions around the agricultural potential of the Peace Valley and the spurious arguments about food security.

My last dive into this topic dealt with the now thoroughly debunked claim that the area to be flooded by Site C could feed 1 million people. This claim was started by a retired Professional Agrologist named Wendy Holm and was repeated by supporters and anti-Site C activists. Happily thanks to this blog and others like me Ms. Holm has backed down from her ridiculous claim. Rather Ms. Holm has become much more circumspect in her language. She no longer claims that the area flooded by Site Site C will feed 1 Million people instead she has adjusted her claim to:

this land is capable of producing sufficient vegetables to meet the nutritional needs of more than one million people a year, in perpetuity

The claim is based on a single, uncorroborated study written by a consultant in the 1980’s. Yes you read that right, a consultant wrote a non-peer reviewed report in the 1980’s and since that time no other researcher or other source has presented any details to support that claim. In real science, a claim is made and it is examined and studied and compared against real data but that is not how Ms. Holm works. She has taken a historic report she found that supported her general world-view and treated it like the word of god. She then used this uncorroborated assessment to extrapolate wildly (as I will discuss below) to come out with a fantastically inflated number that every anti-Site C activist seems to repeat like a Gospel. So let’s look at her claims a bit more closely.

Let’s start with her extrapolations. Ms. Holm, insists:

All 3,816 hectares of alluvial soils to be flooded are extremely high capability land (Class 1-3, improved ratings).

Juxtapose this with a  previous article in the Times Colonist: Reports of lost Site C farmland simply not true which states:

 the loss of valley bottom land with agricultural capability is closer to 3,800 ha, of which only 1,600 ha has actual potential. I would also point out that little of the land — less than 400 ha being flooded — was actually being cropped, and then mainly for forage, not food crops.

So the question arises how can they both be right? Well the answer is simple.  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 industrial farming equipment. Yes the land is Class 1-3 but if you can’t access the land (because it is in the middle of the river) then it really doesn’t represent useful farmland. Mr. Anderson (author of the first article) only includes land that can actually be accessed with farm machinery, which makes sense if you plan on intensely farming an area. Ms. Holm has used the results of a GIS exercise that counted every square centimeter of land on every isolated little island in the middle of the river. This allows her to extrapolate wildly and few have called her to task on the subject.

So who should you trust on the topic? Ms. Holm’s supporters are quick to claim her expertise (she is a retired Agrologist) however it would appear Mr. Anderson has a wee bit of expertise in this area specifically:

James D. Anderson was director of farmland resources for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries from 1980 to 1985 and involved in the first environmental review and agricultural assessment done of Site C in 1982.

On the face of it I would argue that Mr. Anderson has a strong claim to be a credible voice on this topic. He was, after all, the gent in charge of the whole shebang the last time this assessment was carried out. It is funny how the activist who are fighting the dam continue to highlight Dr. Swain’s expertise as Chair of the Joint Review Panel but they give short-shrift to the man who actually was in charge of the Department when Ms. Holm’s famous vegetable study was written.

The next question arises: who is right about the potential of the land? Well the the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In 1980 a claim was made that the Peace Valley could serve as a vegetable Mecca let’s look how that prediction has that turned out? This being a blog that relies on data lets look at some data. Every 5 Years Statistics Canada does a Census of Agriculture, the results of which are posted online.  While the most recent census results are not yet reported, the results from 2006 and 2011 are online for the Peace River Regional District. Let’s see how the actual facts line up with the mythology being portrayed by Ms.Holm.

According to the Census of Agriculture, in 2006 there were 26 hectares (in the entire Peace Valley) dedicated to commercial growing of vegetables. By 2011 that number had jumped to ZERO….yes you read that right in this Mecca of vegetables there were no hectares dedicated to commercial  vegetables in 2011 in the entire Peace River Regional District. Not just the Site C-affected Valley bottom, but the entire Peace River Regional District. Almost 824,000 hectares of farmland area and none, nada, nil dedicated to the commercial growing of vegetables. Sure some backyard gardens certainly grew carrots and lettuce but no agricultural land was dedicated to vegetables. That represents a pretty reasonable debunking of Ms. Holm’s hypothesis.

Ms. Holm argues that much of the best land in the Valley has been reserved for the legal flood reserve since the 1950s. What this fails to note is that the Valley has been farmed since the 1920’s and no one bothered to set up a commercial vegetable patch in the first 30+ years the valley was farmed. Moreover, as Ms. Holm and Mr. Anderson point out there are 400 hectares of this prime land that is currently being farmed and yet in 2011 exactly none of it was used for vegetables, rather the 26 hectares that were being farmed in 2006 had stopped being used for the purpose.

Let’s be absolutely clear here, Ms. Holm insists that Site C is so important because it represents most of the Class 1-2 land in the valley except according to the people who actually track this information the Peace River Regional District has over 5,000 hectares of Class 1 soils and almost 121,000 hectares of Class 2 soils. This means that literally thousands of hectares of Class 1 soils exist outside the legal flood reserve and would, under Ms. Holm’s hypothesis, represent ideal locations for vegetables and fruits. Yet, as the statistics demonstrate none of those thousands of hectares are being used to grow fruits or vegetables, Moreover, over 100,000 Hectares of Class 2 soils exist in the Peace Valley Regional District which would supply ample space for the needed growing area under a climate change scenario.

Now this seems a bit strange. Ms. Holm claims that the Peace Valley is the ideal location to grow vegetables and the entire farming community of the Peace Valley disagrees with her. In science we call that testing a hypothesis. A hypothesis was proposed in 1980 that the Peace Valley would be an excellent location for vegetables. Farmers tried it out and ultimately stopped growing vegetables sticking instead with grains and forage. That is a pretty definitive debunking of that hypothesis.

As a further note,  in her most recent letter to the Editor in the Times Colonist Ms. Holm expanded her repertoire of crops to include fruits, which she mentioned three times. Anyone care to guess how many hectares in the entire Peace Valley Regional District were dedicated to commercial fruit production? If you guessed zero in both 2006 and 2011 you would be right. It is almost as if farmers have more sense than to risk their livelihood on tree fruit and vegetable crops that are susceptible to frost. That far north an early/late frost can destroy an entire crop so farmers have decided to avoid those crops.

As this post is getting long (and it is getting late) I want to briefly touch on a final topic of  mythology being put forward by the anti-Site C activists. That we need to preserve the flood plain affected by the Site C dam for food security purposes.  According to the official numbers 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?

Moreover, when it comes to the production of fruit and vegetables we don’t necessarily need to depend on Class 1-3 lands in the north because I have a secret to tell you. Our future food security in BC for fruit and vegetables is actually going to come from greenhouses. Anyone who has been to my neck of the woods has seen the greenhouse  industry springing up left, right and center. They are able to produce incredible quality produce from lands of all classes (even commercial and former industrial lands). As for the question: where is the soil going to come from for use in the greenhouses? Well that would be municipal organics management and composting. Composting facilities in the lower mainland are producing more high-quality organic soils than we know what to do with. Access to good soil will not be the limiting factor in the growth of the greenhouse vegetable industry.

Now let’s look at how greenhousing has flourished in the last decade. Going back to the Agricultural Census let’s look at the Metro Vancouver stats: Greenhouse space for vegetable production almost quadrupled from 1996 to 2011 from 500,000 mto 1.8 million m2 . Our food security for vegetables in British Columbia is not dependent on a small portion of a northern valley prone to unexpected frosts but rather to using the resources we have at hand (agricultural land and green-housing technologies) far closer to vast majority of consumers in the Lower Mainland. The Peace Valley, meanwhile, will retain its characteristics as our bread basket and can do that with Site C in place.

To conclude, our food security is not at stake from building Site C, rather the energy produced by Site C will help provide clean power to greenhouses that can produce higher yields closer to the population base of our province. Unlike the oft-repeated claims from Ms. Holm the Peace Valley is not a fruit and vegetable Mecca, rather commercial fruit growers have avoided the area for the last 100 years while the few farms that tried out vegetables have abandoned the effort. Put simply, just because Ms. Holm and the anti-Site C activists keep repeating a myth doesn’t make it any more real. The data make it clear that her fabulous report from 1980 was simply a case of wishful thinking and combined with political activism has created a mythos that desperately needs to be exposed to the light of evidence-based decision-making.



Posted in Canadian Politics, Site C | 13 Comments

Some ideas to help teach Evolution under BC’s new Grade 7 Science curriculum

I am going to take a break from writing about tame topics like pipelines and Site C to try my hand at a truly contentious topic: teaching evolution in the BC classroom.

As any Grade 7 teacher (or Grade 6 if you are doing A/B Year Schedules) knows, the new BC curriculum has made the topic of Evolution one of the “Big Ideas” for Grade 7 Science. Needless to say a lot of teachers have not had to teach the subject before and are at a loss how to address many of the challenges associated with this potentially hot-button topic; especially given the age of the children being taught. As a practicing scientist, I do a lot of science outreach in the schools and this year my wife asked me to come down to her school to help a couple of her colleagues who were looking for assistance teaching the subject to their students. In this post I would like to share some ideas I have gleaned on how to make this challenging topic understandable for elementary-aged kids and to avoid/side-step some of the landmines associated with teaching this topic.

The BC Curriculum Guide breaks down the topic into three areas:

  • changes in traits over time,
  • survival needs, and
  • natural selection.

The problem is that these are not intuitive divisions so I will give some simple ideas about important topics you may wish to cover.

What’s DNA? – let’s talk LEGO

In order to really understand evolution kids need a basic understanding of the concept of DNA. The problem is DNA is not an easy topic to teach or understand in Grade 7. When I was in high school we were taught the DNA was like a recipe book. Follow the recipe right and you make a living creature. Make a mistake following your recipe and you might have a delight or a disaster.

While that may fly for older kids, for younger kids I find that teaching DNA using LEGO is a better analogy. Think of DNA as the instruction booklets that come with a set of LEGO and the bricks as the proteins etc.. that make up a cell/body. Since my son is a LEGO fan I use a Super-Star Destroyer as an example. It comes with multiple little books and multiple little bags of parts. Using the books you assemble the parts. Because the project is large the chance exists for a mutation where one brick is put in the wrong spot. It might be 15 steps later before you discover that the error (a mutation) means another brick can’t be placed where it is supposed to go. Maybe your saucer unit won’t fit on the top and you have to move it. The change may be good or bad but it is a change. If you are lucky the change makes your LEGO creation cooler and not a disaster. It you are unlucky your Super-Star Destroyer loses its sensor array and the Millennium Falcon sneaks up behind it and blows it up.

Natural Selection – Mold and bacteria fight it out

Building on the idea of DNA we can talk about natural selection. To introduce the topic I like to talk molds and bacteria. I use molds because every kid has seen moldy bread and we all know about bacterial infections. I explain how mold and bacteria have been at war since forever (fighting over the surface of an old rotten orange as an example). There is only so much orange to go around and so the slow-growing mold really have to work hard to beat the fast-growing bacteria. I explain how one lucky penicillium had a mutation that caused it to make a protein called penicillin. This protein killed bacteria and because it did the lone penicillium was able to reproduce and win in its battle against the bacteria and take over the orange. Because of its success it was able to reproduce and now kitchens everywhere have penicillin producing mold ready to eat old, stale bread.

Given your time availability you can then segue over to the idea of antibiotic resistance as that goes back to the idea of survival needs and the need to adapt to survive.

Natural Selection – Survival of the fittest

This is a relatively easy topic. Most kids have seen documentaries where the pack of  wolves/lions stalk a herd of prey animals, identify the weakest member of the herd and attack it. In this scenario the weak are killed and the strong get away to have kids.

The other side of the coin can also be interesting for kids. Many of the kids at our school fish and crab and many have measured crabs and thrown back the little ones. I point out how that throwing back the little ones means that the little ones may actually be fitter in that case. Fitter doesn’t always have to be bigger just more likely to make it to the next generation.

Adaptive Radiation- Dump the finches let’s talk dogs

Having talked about natural selection we can talk about the idea of adaptive radiation: how organisms diversify from an ancestral species. Darwin has his eureka moment by looking at finches in the Galapagos and since that time science teachers have used that model to teach their students, to great boredom. Little brown birds are exciting to bird lovers like me but bore my kids to death. What my kids do love is dogs and dogs are a great way to introduce the topic of adaptive radiation.

I ask the students to identify the dogs they have and then go from there. In one class we had two boys, both with chihuahuas, and I asked if they imagine 100,000 years ago whether packs of chihuahuas roamed the plains taking down buffalo. We all agreed that this was likely not the case. I explained that when the first wolves decided that being friends with humans was a better way to get a meal than trying to eat humans they looked nothing like the dogs of today. Our ancestors bred dogs based on traits and we ended up with the breeds we have today. I then provided some typical traits we have bred for: protection – mastiffs; ability to catch vermin – terriers; ability to fetch downed wild fowl – retrievers etc.. This provides an easy to understand example of the essence of adaptive radiation. It also help because so many families have new mixed-breeds like the Labradoodle.

A Common Ancestor – No we didn’t evolve from apes, think more like long-lost cousins

Eventually every class has to deal with the common ancestor problem. Now we all know that we have a common ancestor because DNA is a pretty complicated way to keep track of your proteins and we all have DNA. But how do you explain that to kids. The best way I have found is to talk about families. I have brothers and they have kids. My kids therefore have cousins. My kids are not descended from their cousins they are descended from a common ancestor (their grandparents). Extrapolate backwards and we can infer that everything with DNA must radiate back to to a common ancestor. Moving downwards we come to recognize that we are all related but may not be descended from each other.

About that whole religion thing

The part of teaching Evolution that really had our teachers on edge was the fact we live in a very religious community with adherents of lots of faiths and the teachers really want to avoid stepping on religious toes. While teaching evolution will anger some parents it can be done in a way that reduces the likelihood of negative feedback. As a first step it is important to point out that everyone has their own way to look at the world and no one way is necessarily better than another.

Science is one way in which many people look at the world. As I scientist I was taught the scientific method. An individual sees something; makes a hypothesis; collects data against which to test the hypothesis; and revises or discards the hypothesis based on the information collected. The process is iterative. Do this enough times and the hypothesis becomes more robust (a Theory) and maybe given enough time it becomes a Law. Scientists being conservative will often call a well-tested theory a “Theory” long after it really should be called a Law. Such is the case with Evolution. Science has done enough work to demonstrate that evolution happens and we even understand, to a great extent, how it happens. Does this, therefore mean that evolution contradicts religious teaching? I don’t think it has to in the elementary classroom.

It is important to point out that at this current place in time, science doesn’t have all the answers. We still don’t have a handle on consciousness and while the basics of evolution are in place we are still ironing out how that first life went from connecting naturally occurring proteins to forming simple organic molecules to a functioning nucleus with self-replicating DNA. This provides a lot of wiggle-room for the elementary-level educator.

To help understand I have previously explained the topic this way. I was brought up in the Catholic tradition and in the Catholic tradition the original bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek with the Genesis story written in ancient Aramaic. Ancient Aramaic and ancient Hebrew were languages that had limited vocabularies and as such the Genesis story would be similarly limited in how it could explain the origins of humanity. As an example, neither ancient Aramaic nor ancient Hebrew have words for really big numbers (like a billion) and they certainly don’t have language to describe an accretion disk coalescing to form a planet. As such the language used in the Bible is necessarily simplified. A “day” in Genesis could mean anything from a solar day to a billion years and as such evolution doesn’t have to contradict your students’ religious heritage. Rather evolution can snuggle up in that gray zone that gets the lesson taught and avoids lots of angry letters/phone calls from parents.

Now I apologize in that I tried to fit a lot into a single post and so a lot of detail is missing. I gave two presentations this week and each took about an hour of which at least 20 mins was kids asking questions and teachers clarifying details that they (or their students) were not clear on. Given our school (we live in a very religious community) and the fact that last night was meet the teacher, I expected my wife to relay some parental feedback from the classes I visited, but I have yet to get any. That is a good thing in my books.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

On motivated reasoning and the Site C Dam

As I have written numerous times, the intention of this blog is to advance the cause of evidence-based environmental decision-making. As a scientist my personal process involves collecting as much information as I can about an issue and then using that information to come to a decision. An important thing to understand is that this is an iterative process. As I get more, or differing, information I need to be ready to change/refine my opinion. That is, my opinions/decisions are driven by the data not the other way around.  As I have described at this blog, my opinion on the Site C Dam has been built this way. I have looked at the project and evaluated the pros and cons and have come to the conclusion that the positives outweigh the negatives.

Mine is not the only way to look at the world. One unfortunate way to look at the world is called motivated reasoning. In motivated reasoning you come to a conclusion based on emotions or preconceptions and then work to find information that conforms to your belief pattern while ignoring any evidence that contradicts your world view. On the Site C debate there are a lot of people who have come to their conclusions based on motivated reasoning. The project was planned and started under the auspices of the Liberal government and partisans who dislike the Liberals have decided that Site C must be bad because the Liberals like it. There are also the NIMBYs/BANANAs out there who simply don’t want anything built anywhere.

The motivated reasoning of the opponents of the Site C Dam makes it incredibly hard to have a reasoned discussion/debate with them. They have no firm underlying basis for their opposition to the dam so they use any shred of information that advances their cause and are just as quick to abandon a line or argument when the need arises. There is an old joke about corrupt politicians: they won’t stay bought. This is the case with many of the people I encounter in the Site C debate, they bring out an argument, have it thoroughly debunked and abandon it for a bit. As soon as they think it acceptable they then bring out the same argument again and act as if it was never addressed in the first place. It is like a game of whack-a-mole because just like in that game I knock down an argument and they resurrect it a few days later and demand that I address it again. Should I fail even once to respond they then jump on it as an admission that they are right and I am wrong. Want some examples? Let’s go through the greatest hits:

Site C is all about getting water for the US

I start with this one because it is literally the most ridiculous. The NAWAPA was abandoned in the 1960’s and just because Lyndon LaRouche, tried to resurrect the project in the 1980’s doesn’t make it a real plan. This project is deader than a Norwegian Blue.

The land that will be flooded by Site C is enough to feed 1 Million people

No, the area to be flooded by the Site C Dam could not feed 1 million people. This is a bizarre claim that runs contrary to agricultural research. 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.

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. We are talking being off by orders of magnitude folks?

Flooding the land for Site C will put our food security at risk

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. 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?

Site C is simply a run-of-the-river project.

This is a particularly bizarre claim coming from Robert McCullough and repeated endlessly by the Peace Valley Environment Association. The reason I find this claim to be bizarre is that these are the same people who argue that the reservoir is so large and damaging. The reservoir is expected to be over 100 km long and almost 500 m wide. The top 1.8 m is useable for electricity generation. That represents almost 100  million liters of water which is equivalent to approximately 40,000 Olympic swimming pools worth of water. What sort of run-of-river project has that much storage capacity? So while Site C’s reservoir is indeed 0.4% of the volume of the Williston Reservoir, the Williston Reservoir is one of the 10 biggest reservoirs on the planet. Certainly, the Site C dam takes advantage of the Williston Reservoir to allow it to produce more electricity than a similarly-sized dam elsewhere but that is a plus not a minus. The reservoir is of sufficient size that even in drought years BC Hydro expects it will be able to produce 4000+ GWH of power a year.

Renewables are/will be cheaper than Site C

The Deloitte report, BC Hydro and even the McCullough report all agree that at this time renewable are not cheaper than Site C. Both Deloitte and McCullough count on continuing cost decreases to eventually make those technologies price-comparable but both Deloitte and McCullough are careful not to include the costs of connections to the transmission grid to their numbers. The Site C budget includes a tremendous amount of money to connect to the grid but the activists never ask the renewable alternatives to include those costs into their equations. As I have previously noted once you account for transmission costs the renewable are still miles behind the price-point obtained for Site C.

This is a common thread in the “renewables will be cheaper” argument. They take the general case in other areas and then pretend that it will apply in the particular case of BC while completely ignoring the specifics that apply in BC. You can’t ignore the limitations imposed by British Columbia’s geography when trying to talk about renewable resources. Our coastal climate means solar only works in a few interior locations. Wind is found far from population centers and our geothermal is locked in hard rock formations in the mountains. All this  is ignored as the activists put the sunniest spin on the story while reassuring us that we can always rely on our American cousins if we need more energy in the future. The Clean Energy Act was intended to ensure we don’t need to depend on the US to keep us warm in winter. I think we should keep it that way.

BC Hydro is bad at forecasting

This is the favourite of the anti-Site C crowd. BC Hydro has consistently missed their forecast numbers therefore Site C will not be needed. Even the BCUC preliminary report said as much. What the activists forget to mention is what the BCUC actually says about the topic. The BCUC points out that BC Hydro has every reason to forecast conservatively  because our entire province depends on them for electricity. It they are going to err they should do so on the conservative side because the alternative (missing low) means brownouts and not having the power necessary to run our hospitals, schools and nursing homes.

Moreover, as I have pointed out previously, the future load forecasts were made prior to the signing of the Paris Agreement. This is the one place where I really don’t understand the BCUC preliminary report. Section 3(c) of the Terms of Reference could well be described as the Paris Agreement section since it asks the BCUC to look at factors since the 2016 demand numbers were made. The Paris Agreement is the biggest energy news since that July 2016 forecast was made. That the preliminary report completely omitted this feature is simply mind-boggling.


I welcome good discussion on the Site C file where we put the pros and cons on the table. The problem is when dealing with people, who as my mom used to put it, have made up their minds and don’t want to be confused with facts. When motivated individuals are willing to ignore the facts it is impossible to convince them of anything and this is the case with most of the activists who have been attacking me for the last several months. They aren’t interested in facts or arguments and they aren’t willing to actually present an argument that can be challenged with facts. Instead they will continue to play whack-a-mole and count on the fact that they have the numbers to completely drown out the few people who are willing to try and have reasonable discussions on the topic. That is why I didn’t go to the Vancouver BCUC meeting and am not going to the next one. I have made my case. The BCUC can listen to me, or not, but ultimately this will be a political decision. I can only hope that the folks in charge can filter out the noise so we can have an evidence-based decision on this file.

Author’s note:

Okay folks just too funny, this post by the Peace Valley folk was posted simultaneously with my blog post. It is literally a list of many of the fallacies I have repeatedly debunked at my blog.

Posted in Canadian Politics, Climate Change, Site C, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Are we getting a balanced story from the media on Site C

This morning I turned on my radio to listen to Jon McComb do a piece on the Site C dam with his special guest “international energy expert” Robert McCullough, the Peace Valley Landowner Association’s hired gun from Oregon. Now from the promo I knew that the piece was going to be problematic but nothing prepared me for what was to come. This interview represents a frustrating trend I have observed in the media, in the recent past, and so I have written this post to discuss this trend.

Let’s start with what happened before the interview. In the promo for the piece (not included in the podcast but at 37:30 in the audio vault) Mr. McComb made this incredible statement:

Coming up we are going to talk with an international energy expert who wonders why we are building 10 billion dollar dams when renewables are cheaper and more dependable, we will talk to Robert McCullough coming up

You heard that right Mr. McComb repeated the unsupportable claim that renewables were “more dependable” than power from a dam. Now I should have stopped listening then and there because that should have alerted me of what nonsense was to come. For those wondering the only thing dependable about wind and solar power is that they will not be available for the vast majority of the year. On the winter solstice, in Vancouver, there will be 8 hours 29 minutes of daylight. That is not daylight available for solar power but total light from sunrise to sunset. On that cold day a fixed solar panel will be lucky to get 3-4 hours of useful exposure. If it is cloudy the solar panel might generate at 20-30% of its capacity for those 4 hours. While technically one can depend on the sun not shining that is not the sort of dependability I want to power a pediatric ventilator in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital. Sorry kids no oxygen for you today it is cloudy and wet.

Prior to getting his guest on the air Jon argued that the project should have gone to the BCUC before it was originally approved. This is a constant refrain from the anti-Site C crew and betrays a misunderstanding of the BCUC’s mandate. The BCUC is tasked with regulating B.C.’s energy utilities and is responsible for getting the best value for money for BC consumers. This is their mandate. They are not allowed to look at other factors. In introducing the Clean Energy Act the government of the day acknowledged that we weren’t going to get the cheapest possible power from Site C because they understood that there is a feature more important than cheap power: climate change. That is why they called it the Clean Energy Act and not the “Cheap Energy Act”. We can all agree that if we ignore climate change then Site C is a waste of money. Re-open Burrard Thermal, build inexpensive natural gas power plants and we can have the cheapest power on the planet…and 50 years from now when YVR is a boat launch and Vancouver has skyscrapers sticking out of the ocean at least I will have a water view from my house in the hills in Langley. Let’s say this again. The BCUC is not mandated to consider climate change. That is why the Clean Energy Act excluded the BCUC.

From there it only got worse. Because of connection problems Mr. McCullough wasn’t immediately available so Jon free-styled it for a bit. He repeated Mr. McCullough’s talking points about the cost of Site C adding his own flourishes about the budget of the project. The thing Jon forgot to mention is that Mr. McCullough always emphasizes the total cost of the dam while conveniently ignoring the massive amount of energy that will be generated. If you consider both the numerator and the denominator in the equation you discover that while Site C will be expensive, the average cost of the electricity produced by Site C will be below the current cost for wind and solar.

This brings us to a constant refrain from Mr. McCullough: if renewables prices keep dropping then one day (not today and not tomorrow but someday) wind will be cheaper than hydro. The problem is that his model depends on unsustainable decreases in the cost of wind and solar energy. Unsustainable because the bulk of the cost for these facilities is no longer just the panels and the turbines. The rate limiting step includes the cost to buy, transport and install  the thousands of tonnes of concrete and rebar needed to hold the turbine in place and the kilometers of transmission lines needed to connect the facilities to the grid. This second cost is one Mr. McCullough stubbornly refuses to include in his calculations even though they are included in the costs of Site C. It is easy to argue that driving a car is cheaper than the bus if you qualify the statement by saying that the car costs don’t include gas, insurance or upkeep but that is not how the real world works. Site C includes a hefty price to connect to the grid. Mr. McCullough ignores that fact every time he discusses the cost of renewables and only includes the facility costs for the renewable facilities not the all-in costs.

Once Jon finally got Mr. McCullough on the line Mr. McCullough repeated his talking points first by introducing a straw man about what Dr. Jaccard had previously said about Site C and then going back to the availability and price of renewables (addressed above). He then talked about the what he called the zero-carbon options. [Author’s note: this is an error a lot of renewable supporters put out. Wind and solar aren’t zero-carbon options they are low-carbon options. Based on Deloitte’s report wind will generate more carbon per KWh than Site C under almost every scenario examined].

It took until 6:10 in the podcast for the most egregious statement. Mr. McCullough said that zero-carbon options were “a lot more dispatchable” than hydro. He qualified the statement by saying that he saw a train carrying wind turbines and that you could build turbines faster than hydro but that is not the point. As an energy expert Mr. McCullough must know what dispatchability means in energy conversations so to make that statement can represent nothing less than a deliberate attempt to muddy the conversation. I won’t call it unethical because he qualified the statement but it came as close to the boundary of bad ethics as is possible without crossing the line. As an analogy imagine a police officer testifying in court and saying “I saw the vehicle speeding” only to later qualify the statement to say that the driver was not actually exceeding the speed limit but just “speeding” along on the road at a healthy clip but slower than the speed limit. That is the level of language abuse in Mr. McCullough’s statement. Sure speeding can be used a number of ways but when a police officer uses the term in court it has an expected meaning. The same is true with the term dispatchability for “energy experts”.

Mr. McCullough then talked about the fact that the Site C Dam has a smaller reservoir than the Williston Reservoir and so therefore the Site C was “not a good storage dam“. This is a constant refrain from Mr. McCullough who has previously said that Site C was a run-of-the-river project. This is simply hogwash. Site C’s reservoir is indeed 0.4% of the volume of the Williston Reservoir but the Williston Reservoir is one of the 10 biggest reservoirs on the planet that doesn’t make every smaller dam on the planet a run-of-the-river project. Certainly, the Site C dam takes advantage of the Williston Reservoir to allow it to produce more electricity than a similarly-sized dam elsewhere but that is a plus not a minus. The reservoir is of sufficient size that even in drought years BC Hydro expects it will be able to produce 4000+ GWH of power a year.

Mr. McCullough then talked about how Washington and Oregon have 10 times more wind  installed than BC therefore we should be able to install wind easily. McCullough likes the claim “that there is nothing complicated about implementing wind” and he must know that the nature of our geography does not make installing wind turbines easy. Unlike Washington and Oregon, which have a long, well-populated coastlines exposed to the steady winds from the Pacific Ocean, the population centers of BC are protected from those winds. Our major wind resources are along the exposed Pacific Coast (the west coast of Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii and the North Coast) and in the Peace District along ridge-lines in the foothills.

Those trains that McCullough keeps reporting having seen don’t run to those locations. If you want to build a wind turbine on a ridge line in the Peace you can take the train part-way but then you have to put it on a road, which ends far from the ridge line. To get the supplies to the ridge line you need to either build a road or carry them up there by helicopter. Moreover, a wind turbine isn’t simply stuck on a hill, it is planted there using massive amounts of concrete and rebar. All those heavy materials have to be moved up that mountainside as well. Finally the turbine is only of use if it is connected to the transmission system. That means building transmission lines up and over the mountains. This is the entire point of my previous post about LCOE. Mr. McCullough looks at facilities in Washington and Oregon and pretends that we can build at a similar cost in the Peace. This is simply wrong.

This is a common thread in McCullough’s presentations. He takes the general case in other areas and then pretends that it will apply in the particular case of BC while completely ignoring the specifics that apply in BC. You can’t ignore the limitations imposed by British Columbia’s geography when trying to talk about renewable resources. Our coastal climate means solar only works in a few interior locations. Wind is found far from population centers and our geothermal is locked in hard rock formations in the mountains. All this he ignores as he puts the sunniest light on the story while reassuring us that we can always rely on our American cousins if we need more energy in the future. The Clean Energy Act was intended to ensure we don’t need to depend on the US to keep us warm in winter. I think we should keep it that way.

As a regular listener to CKNW I cannot express how disappointed I have been about the way this project has been reported. Either consciously or unconsciously reporters are not asking the obvious questions and are credulously repeating demonstrably wrong anti-Site C talking points. A host can be excused for quoting misinformation in context but to repeat that misinformation repeatedly is very problematic. No reputable energy expert has every said that wind energy is more dependable than hydro. This is not a matter for debate. Wind is notoriously variable while water behind a dam is completely predictable. Shortages of water in reservoirs due to drought can be forecasted weeks in advance while changes in wind are so common that there are any number of common expressions about change being in the wind. For evidence-based environmental decision-making to have a chance misinformation has to be corrected and on topics of public interest we often rely on the fourth estate to call out bad information before it become endemic. In BC our fourth estate is failing in this task and this program is simply one example of that happening.

Author’s note:

It has been pointed out to me that my first version of this post was overly hard on the CKNW staff. That was not intended to be the case and so I have edited the piece to be less inflammatory and to stick to my point in a more generic way using this interview simply as one example of a frustrating trend.


Posted in Canadian Politics, Climate Change, General Politics, Site C | 3 Comments