What is possible for BC's energy future?

As British Columbia faces evolving energy needs, it's time to discuss the path forward for a sustainable and reliable energy future, writes Margareta Dovgal.

Our entire economy in Canada and British Columbia relies on having a steady, easily accessible, and secure supply of energy. Whether it's electricity or fuels, the availability and cost of these energy sources have a significant impact on our households, businesses, and the overall economy.

Consider electricity, for instance, whether it's generated here in BC through clean hydroelectric sources or imported from the United States. BC Hydro has recently been importing about a fifth of the power we need, and during cold weather, these imports tend to increase as we use more electricity for heating and other purposes.

Think also about natural gas, which we use for homes, businesses, and commercial purposes. Starting your day involves using energy, from adjusting the thermostat to taking a shower, using appliances like electric toothbrushes and coffee makers, and cooking breakfast. Even the production and transportation of the coffee and breakfast ingredients most certainly involved the use of fossil fuels.

When you commute to work or take public transportation, more energy is consumed. Businesses and commercial suppliers also rely on energy to provide the services and products we depend on. Schools, hospitals, and government services funded through taxes and royalties on oil and gas all require energy.

Moreover, Canada exports energy products like liquefied natural gas (LNG) to other countries, presenting economic opportunities and helping in the global transition away from coal.

However, it's important to note that these energy-intensive projects, including LNG plants, also require a reliable supply of electricity. As the world moves toward cleaner energy sources and aims to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, the demand for electricity is expected to rise significantly.

In fact, a recent report from the Public Policy Forum suggests that Canada needs to build more electricity generation capacity in the next twenty-five years than it has in the past century to achieve a net-zero emissions economy by 2050, at a potentially significant cost.

“Imagine every dam, turbine, nuclear plant and solar panel across Canada and then picture a couple more next to them,” says the report. 

The BC government predicts a 15% increase in electricity demand by 2030, and BC Hydro expects a shift from surplus to a deficit of power by 2030, even with the addition of the Site C power dam in 2025. As a response, BC Hydro plans to acquire clean or renewable energy from new sources through a competitive process, with a call for more power from providers in 2024.

Research from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation indicates that BC may face increased energy risks in 2026, which raises concerns for Barry Penner, the chair of our own Energy Futures Initiative. He warns that if our energy system becomes unreliable, it could lead to an energy crisis affecting BC residents and businesses.

The Energy Futures Initiative will release research in the coming months to address these issues, while government decision-makers assess the situation. The choices made will profoundly impact energy consumers in British Columbia, affecting their prosperity, quality of life, job opportunities, and access to well-funded government services.

In essence, our economic well-being has historically relied on natural resource development, including forestry, natural gas, oil, and mining. However, as the world changes, we must consider our long-term energy needs, power generation, and infrastructure requirements for various industries. We need to consider too what kinds of things we can sell to the world to maintain our quality of life and continue investing in the services we all enjoy.

Ultimately, the future of our energy supply is a crucial consideration, as it affects us all on a daily basis. What lies ahead for our energy future, and what should it look like? These are questions that demand careful consideration, which we will be seeking to address through the Energy Futures Initiative.

Margareta Dovgal is Managing Director of Resource Works. Based in Vancouver, she holds a Master of Public Administration in Energy, Technology and Climate Policy from University College London. Beyond her regular advocacy on natural resources, environment, and economic policy, Margareta also leads our annual Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase. She can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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