VICTORIA, B.C. - The B.C. government took firm control of major energy projects like the proposed site C dam in northeastern B.C. Wednesday with the introduction of a new Clean Energy Act.
The bill promotes energy self-sufficiency, independent power production and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom said the proposed law encourages development of the province's valuable clean and renewable resources, and will help ensure electricity self-sufficiency by 2016.
He sidestepped Opposition criticism that the law puts more power in the hands of the government to oversee major projects, such as site C, one Canada's largest proposed mega projects.
The 35-page, 77-section act grants the government the power to exempt some projects from full review by the provincial regulatory agency, the B.C. Utilities Commission.
Major turbine installation projects at the Mica Dam near Revelstoke and the site C proposal to build a third hydro-electric generating dam on the Peace River, are exempt from commission scrutiny under the law.
Lekstrom said the utilities commission still retains its oversight power on power prices and its review authority on setting rates, but the government wants to ensure some major projects proceed.
"When you look at the BCUC we have retained their oversight on domestic rate setting," he said. "What we have said is that as a government we are elected and have priorities."
Opposition New Democrat energy critic John Horgan said the act weakens the utilities commission and gives the provincial cabinet more power control mega projects.
"The projects that are exempt are the only significant projects on hydro's inventory for the next 20 years, and none of them will have the appropriate oversight," he said.
Lekstrom said the Clean Energy Act sets 16 energy objectives, including restructuring Crown-owned B.C. Hydro by consolidating the public utility with the B.C. Transmission Corp.
Prior to 2002, BCTC was part of B.C. Hydro, but the Liberals turned it into its own entity as part of a former energy plan. The Liberals introduced energy initiatives in 2002, 2006, 2007 and last year.
In February's throne speech, the Liberals announced their intention to introduce a Clean Energy Act that would encourage producers to develop clean power initiatives, including electric vehicles and bioenergy to create forest jobs.
Earlier this month, they announced plans to go ahead with an environmental assessment on the massive site C hydro-electric dam in northeastern B.C.
Site C, located near the W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon dams on the Peace River near Fort St. John, has been an on-again, off-again development since the 1970s.
Premier Gordon Campbell said British Columbia's anticipated growing power needs - an expected 40 per cent increase by 2020 - make site C necessary to ensure the province has clean and abundant supplies of power.
The proposed site C dam would generate 900 megawatts of hydroelectricity and enough power to light up 460,000 homes for a century.
Site C will also create an 83-kilometre long reservoir and flood about 5,400 hectares.
Area farmers, First Nations and environmental groups say the proposed project will destroy prime agricultural land, and many say much of the power from site C is destined for export.
Lekstrom has said that B.C. needs to build site C to ensure it can meet its own future energy needs, but power is also a potentially lucrative export commodity.
Horgan said he fears the new energy policy will lead to higher power rates for British Columbians as the government looks for ways to offer subsidies to independent power producers.
"There hasn't been a discussion with the people of B.C. about where we should be going," he said. "There are consequences to new sources of supply and that's going to lead to higher rates."
The Ontario government passed its green energy and green economy act last May, pledging to create 50,000 new jobs and more opportunities for renewable energy.