Site C and the BC Greens

I was disappointed when I first learned that the BC Green Party was against the constructions of the Site C hydroelectric dam. The only criticism of the project I saw at the time was about loss of land and harm to local communities and environments.

Those are the arguments I would expect from a "tree hugger", not a factual environmentalist. Looking into it I found out that the BC Greens actually have a good reason for opposing the project and I would like to share it.

I think the "tree hugger" arguments are weak because our fossil fuel dependency and global warming are critical problems. If those are not solved we risk far greater damage to our society and environment.

To solve these great problems we need renewable energy sources. Gains in efficiency will not be sufficient. In Canada the energy consumption per capita is about 9.6 \(KW\). As we know from The Matrix (and from a 2 \(KCal\) diet), a human body consumes about 100 \(W\), so about 1% of what we use. We had horses and firewood before industrialization, but it should be clear that to depend on efficiency gains is suicidal.

Fortunately in BC most of the electricity is already renewable (hydroelectric), but electricity is just a part of our energy consumption. We have to replace our use of gasoline and diesel and natural gas. With the current technology electrifying transportation and heating seems the best alternative.

I first realized that the Greens must be thinking about this when I found that their platform lists electrification.

Lets see how much electricity we need. I got the energy content of the various fuels from Wikipedia and the efficiency is an educated guess.

5,770,067 cubic meters of gasoline with 32.18 \(GJ/m^3\) thermal and an engine thermal efficiency of 30% gives 55.7 useful \(PJ\) per year.

1,747,579 cubic meters of diesel with 35.86 \(GJ/m^3\) thermal and an engine thermal efficiency of 40% gives 25.1 useful \(PJ\) per year.

The natural gas table is already in energy units: 98.1 \(PJ\). To replace that with heat pumps with a coefficient of performance of 4 we need 24.5 \(PJ\) per year.

The total is 105 \(PJ\) per year, which is 3.34 \(GW\) or 29.25 \(TWh\) per year.

Site C is 5.1 \(TWh\) per year. We need 5.73 times what it would produce to replace our fossil fuel use.

So we need a lot of electricity, but is Site C the best way to get a part of it? In a reply to an email I sent about it to the Green Party I was pointed to a speech where Andrew Weaver mentions Oregon and Washington. I got curious as to what they are doing for electricity.

Oregon has a population a bit smaller than BC. In 7 years (2005-2012) Oregon added 5.6 \(TWh\) per year of wind power.

It seems possible then for BC to get the equivalent of the Site C generation from wind in the time it would take to finish Site C. Wind can also be built incrementally, and Site C will produce nothing in the next 7 years.

Another advantage of wind is that there is a lot of it. According to BC Hydro itself there is a potential for 38.9 \(TWh\) per year which is more than sufficient for replacing current fossil fuel use.

Which brings us to the real reason to oppose Site C: there are other ways to get our renewable energy and we should consider their cost. And the cost of wind is very competitive.

And since we are talking cost, why is BC Hydro the one that has to decide what gets built? Electricity generation is an area that allows for competition, now more than ever with wind going mainstream.

BC hydro could just buy renewable electricity and let the market figure out what is the cheapest option. It looks like it would be wind, but if in the end someone figures out a way to finish Site C at a lower cost, that would be great.

I was very happy to find out (in the same speech) that that is exactly the position Andrew is pushing for.

Long story short, my first impression of the party was wrong. I have decided to join the party and so far I am very happy with that decision.