Workers must be part of the energy transition

Workers will never be onboard with an energy transition that excludes them and their livelihoods. 


In 2024, BC's greatest strengths are its natural resources, regulatory protocols, safety systems, and talent.

Calls are getting louder for the government to become focused and engaged in facilitating private investment in natural resources to further capitalize on these assets. The loudest voices are from Aboriginal leaders, municipalities, working people living in the North, and the thousands of workers whose families reside elsewhere.  

A broader group of pundits, analysts and activists in the South are taking up the cause of resource communities and workers. They promote the centrality of the natural resource sector to BC's economy.   

For decades, too many voices demonized the natural resource sector, belittled the people working in it as less than, and promoted urban-centric public policies for the whole province.   

Too many well-intentioned people mistakenly thought Canada was or should be moving on from an economy based on natural resources. To those of us working in the resource sector, it hurt and sounded ridiculous. 

These same people were likely sitting in a building lit and heated by some form of energy, built entirely of products derived from natural resources, spreading canned salmon across a piece of whole wheat toast with an implement made of steel.       

What are people saying now? 

Recently, the Fraser Institute reported on the GDP contributions by the economic sector in BC. The natural resource sector is at the top of the list at $31.6 billion.     

In the Vancouver Sun, Douglas Todd wrote a very insightful opinion piece on the overall value of the natural resource sector to BC. His article pointed out that the energy and forestry industries generate $50,000 - $60,000 in tax revenue per employee 

Feb 2024 Report on Earnings and Employment published by BC Stats declares resource workers the top earners in BC with weekly average earnings of $2072. 

Add it up, in 2024, BC's resource sector is the top contributor to GDP, the top contributor to tax revenue per worker and produces the top income for its employees. Why would the resource sector and its workers not be the focus of government policy?  

Resource workers are number one, but they don't hold that position on their own. The following three rankings for GDP are:  

  • all construction at $25.4 billion,  
  • professional services, scientific, engineering and technology at $19.8 billion 
  • transportation at $16.1 billion 

As these sectors work together to create future prosperity for all BC, each will bring new demands on the electricity system. Workers in all industries will suffer, as will tax revenues, if energy planners do not provide enough electricity to grow the economy.  

The government must meet the electricity demand from natural resources, homes, buildings, transportation, and technology industries. Working people will not tolerate rationing electricity between these sectors.   

A society that does not provide an abundant energy supply is equivalent to a person not eating enough calories. One by one, essential parts of the system fail.  A person or society might not die right away, but too often, there is no coming back from frailty.     

Moving the needle on climate change requires lowering emissions globally.  We can use our resources and talent to reduce emissions at home and globally. 

What can Canadians offer to the world? 

Cleaner natural gas.  Washington State thinks we have cleaner natural gas. During a permitting process for Tacoma LNG  2019, the regulator required the applicant to import natural gas from BC or Alberta because our gas is cleaner. 

Canada has successfully lowered methane emissions in gas production, and cleaner LNG production in BC will be accomplished at LNG Canada, Cedar LNG, and Woodfibre. The International Energy Agency estimates that switching from coal to gas reduces emissions to produce electricity by 50% on average. 

But even more so from Canada because we have lower methane emissions, lower temperatures for LNG production, and fewer shipping days to market. 

BC has critical minerals, and Canada has a critical minerals strategy.

Canada also has a Small Modular Reactors Action Plan. This program can potentially power new mines in remote areas off the grid partnering nuclear and renewable energy.   

Canada and BC have a role in the global energy transition that would strengthen our international status.  Our allies in Asia and Europe seek Canada's LNG for security reasons. Six billion people are in an industrialization process to improve their living standards, mostly with coal-generated electricity. 

We can address a health and safety issue in markets where millions of people predominantly heat homes and cook food with charcoal, coal, wood, or other organics.  BC’s propane would measurably reduce CO2 emissions and millions of air pollution deaths.   

If BC's economy is to accelerate its reduction in carbon emissions without jeopardizing the economy, it must have an abundant electricity supply. A short supply will result in rationing.   

It would force the province to choose between electrifying natural resource production in northern British Columbia, going forward on major project construction and providing electricity for server farms and AI, jeopardizing the top three tax revenue and income-producing sectors, thereby undermining the entire economy.   

It would be disastrous if the government underestimated electricity demand, whether deliberately, by mistake or because of a false notion of morality. To do so will be an outcome that affects working people and those who can't work the most. 

The one-third of the population with financial means and position to make decisions that affect everyone will not be as negatively affected. It doesn't have to turn out like that; we have a peer country to emulate. 

Norway follows a balanced and pragmatic approach to carbon reduction while continuing to invest in its oil and gas industry. They have recently opened 19 oil and gas fields and are providing incentives to encourage investment in the sector.

In 2024 alone, Norway's oil and gas production will rise 9.1%.   

Norway looks after the prosperity of its people, assists its allies, replaces coal with natural gas globally, and accelerates the electrification of its national economy. Natural resource communities and workers in BC are calling a similar path.    

For me, Douglas Todd's concluding comment is more than a wake-up call; it is a call to action, "It's time for British Columbians to think more realistically about the economy to achieve better living standards for more people. We have little to lose but our naivete". 

Workers who saw themselves left behind as world trade restructured were seriously alienated leading to intensive polarization. This situation should serve as a stern warning. 

An energy transition that takes communities of workers for granted must be avoided. Workers are unlikely to support a transition they do not feel a part of. 

Jim Rushton is a 46-year veteran of BC's resource and transportation sectors, with experience in union representation, economic development, and terminal management.

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