The future of BC Hydro and the BC electricity system

Energi Talks podcast interview with Dr. Mark Jaccard, author of "The Citizen's Guide to Climate Success'."

Rating: High school and post-secondary

Summary: Markham interviews Dr. Mark Jaccard, professor and director of the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University and appointed to the 9-member expert committee that advised BC Hydro during the recent Phase 2 review.

Related links:

  1. BC Hydro’s draft power strategy is hugely underwhelming: “a 20th century plan for the 21st century” – video interview with Dan Woynillowicz, Polaris Strategy
  2. Open BC power generation to municipalities, communities, First Nations – video interview with Luke Faulks, a Simon Fraser University undergraduate and author of “Evaluating the Regulation of Independent Power Producers in a Hydro-Based Electricity System: Lessons for BC From Québec, and Norway,” Clean Energy Research Group Working Paper No. 5.
  3. BC trying to electrify industry with new rates and funding, but is it enough? – video interview with Ron Monk, consulting engineer
  4. Energy, climate after BC election – video interview with Dr. Stewart Prest, a Simon Fraser University
  5. Western states not the solution to BC power needs – video interview with Ben Kujala, director of power planning for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council
  6. In BC, independent wind and solar producers do it cheaper and better – Zoffee (video) interview with Laureen Whyte, Clean Energy BC
  7. Election question: BC Hydro status quo or more market-based electricity system? – Markham On Energy column

  8. California power problems a potential migraine for BC? – Markham On Energy column

Markham Hislop: Welcome to another episode of Energi Talks, the podcast where we discuss global energy issues and trends with experts from around the world, I’m energy and climate journalist, Markham Hislop. On this episode, I’ll be talking to Dr. Mark Jaccard, professor and director of the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Vancouver’s, Simon Fraser University. He was also appointed to the nine member expert committee that advised BC Hydro during the recent phase two review of the provincial government owned electricity utility, which will be the subject of today’s interview.

Over the last 18 months, I have interviewed hundreds of experts about the electricity system revolution that’s going on in Canada, the US, Europe, China, Latin America, even Uganda. It’s pretty clear that new technologies are transforming electricity systems, but reading BC Hydro’s draft integrated resource plan that came out a couple of weeks ago, the BC government’s press release on July 9th that announced the first set of recommendations from that draft report, you’d never know the world outside British Columbia was changing so radically.

If you look at the terms of reference for the phase two review, it’s pretty clear. The BC government understands at least in theory that this is happening. I’ll just quote one sentence, that “the phase two review was to explore global energy sector shifts and provincial strategies that could transform the way BC hydro does business”. There is nothing in that report that looks transformative. That’s my take. Would you agree or disagree?

Mark Jaccard: Well, I think it’s interesting that you come out with that Markham and I wouldn’t entirely disagree, but being a good sport, I’m also, I’m going to try to explain my take on why it might look like that.

So the first thing is to back up and remember that in North America, British Columbia is among probably the three leading jurisdictions in all of North America on climate action, along with California and Quebec, I’ll say we can squabble, but certainly it’s among the top three to five jurisdictions.

So to BC’s credit, it’s moving rapidly on greenhouse gas reduction or increasingly rapidly. Also when it comes to the electricity sector though British Columbia already has a zero emission electricity sector. And they’ve even, even though they have a rule that says, well, 93% should be zero emissions with all that hydro-power, they’re actually changing that to be basically 100% and that’s part of a marketing strategy and so on.

So when you see action on electricity in other parts of the continent or the world, it’s usually to try to decarbonize the electricity sector. So you wouldn’t look at electricity and say, “why aren’t they moving like everyone else?” They did.

In fact, I helped to design a policy in 2007 that banned and prevented the construction of two coal plants and a natural gas plant that had already started to sign memorandums of understanding and were contracting with BC hydro to build. So you’ve, got a jurisdiction that was 15 years ahead of everyone else in decarbonizing electricity.

Now they are moving on the rest of their economy, but for some political reasons of timing, BC is also in the process of building the very large Site C dam. And the government is actually thinking about, “oh my goodness…will we even need all of that electricity and how do we integrate it into the system and where does it fit in everywhere?”

And to be honest, when it comes to thinking that through, that’s where I agree with you, they’ve been a little slow because I think they’ve been a little overtaken by the whole issue of Site C. Are we going to finish it or not finish it? So from the time this particular government came to power in 2016, 17, they have had to be dealing with the Site C question as late as early this year, early this year.

And so I haven’t looked at the integrated resource plan that you’re referring to, but I’ve heard that it’s not thinking enough about what will be that electricity demand in the future. And so that’s where I’m agreeing with you. They need to move

Markham Hislop: Well, let’s talk about their climate policy and de-carbonization of the provincial economy. So CleanBC is this government’s climate policy – the left-leaning NDP government,and John Horgan is the premier for our international audience. And they have Clean BC is one of the most aggressive decarbonization plans and certainly in north America. And a lot of it rests on electrification of transportation, buildings, and industry.

So the question then arises, where’s that electricity going to come from? And a colleague of yours, Dr. Chris Batielle, has told me in several interviews that, as a rule, advanced economies, like Canada will require two to three times the electricity they currently generate by 2050.

Where is that power going to come from? BC Hydro has 34 hydro dams that provide the bulk of the power. Can it build another 34 or 68 hydro dams? No, it can’t.

By the government’s own policy and logic, looking out to 2050, the electricity system clearly needs modification, transformation, reform to prepare it for 2050 to achieve the government’s own policy objectives. And my understanding, looking at the material leading up to the announcement of the phase two and some of the discussion around phase two, that was the point of where we were going with this. And that’s hence my observation that it doesn’t seem to even address that.

Mark Jaccard: Right. I get you. So a couple of things there. One, the phase two BC Hydro review had a lot of elements to it and I mean, they called me up and said, “would you be be one of the experts on this?” And I said, “sure. So you mean, this is about clean BC. This is about electrification of the economy”. And they said, “oh yeah, that’s one of six things.”

So that’s not what the motive was for Phase 2. The others were Indigenous peoples and First Nations. How are we dealing with remote areas? It was BC Hydro, perhaps as an economic engine, partly to do with decarbonization, but for other products and services as we modernize. So kind of what Hydro-Quebec tries to do.

I can’t even remember some of the other elements in there, but I know that the Clean BC side of it, the decarbonization side was about one component and they were explicit about that from the get-go. And I saw it all in the public terms of reference once I looked at it.

The second thing is: you mentioned my good friend, colleague, former PhD student, Chris Bataille, and I use his numbers. So I would say he’s completely credible that two to three times increase by the year 2050.

Well guess what, we’re probably the, maybe there’s one other in North America jurisdiction, that is in the process of building another 1,100 megawatts of hydro power. Now, of course there’s, there’s Muskrat Falls in Labrador and I’m thinking of a nuclear plant in Georgia. But otherwise, there’s not these kinds of massive additions of zero emission electricity coming on.

So British Columbia is the one jurisdiction that has breathing time. And then when you think about what we’re going to do, a lot of, and Chris would agree with me here, and you probably would, a lot of it’s going to be wind and solar.

I don’t think we’re going to do a lot of small hydro wind BC anymore because it produces electricity just when you already can get it from the hydro. So it kind of messes up the system. We’re going to do some geothermal, we’re going to do a fair bit of a wood waste, and that’s great, but things like wind and solar, you plan these things and build them in sort of three to seven year timeframe.

Well, Site C should be finished around 2025 or 2026. It’ll probably make us surplus, even if we’re moving aggressively to decarbonize, still surplus into 2030s. So I wouldn’t be panicking right now, Markham. I wouldn’t be saying, “British Columbia is behind.”

I would say, “oh my goodness they’re building more clean electricity right now than anyone else”. And so now they’re moving on decarbonizing and electrifying their economy. And that means that by the end of this decade, they better be thinking about exactly where the wind and solar comes from eight or nine years from now that doesn’t sound like they’re not following an optimal path to me.

Markham Hislop: Well I’ll be happy to respond to that because you’ll recall a study that came out of the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, not that long ago – Dr. Kent Fellows was one of the authors – that said that the Site C dam, which has 1,100 megawatts of generating capacity, only makes sense now at this point, because the costs of have blown up so much because of cost overruns, it only makes sense if it’s integrated into an east-west system where the hydrodams can act as storage for the renewables.

Wind and solar in Southern Alberta has tremendous resource capacity there to build out. That is where it makes sense. So if we’re talking about, and I personally think we should be talking about, more east-west trade. Maybe even a BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the four Western provinces in Canada, an electricity market there, that doesn’t happen overnight. And that should be, does need to be on the agenda now, because it will take a tremendous amount of effort and also probably participation by the federal government, which has a role to play here.

And I’ll be interested in your thoughts on that. I think that there is more urgency. I would disagree with you a little bit there, but I think there is some urgency involved in this issue,

Mark Jaccard: Well your urgency is based on a premise, which is that we need to make Site C economic and that the way to make it economic is by convincing Albertans, that we must expand the inter-tie and they must use us as their storage when they do wind and solar. And I don’t accept that premise.

The first one is I don’t think Site C will ever be economic. So a decision was made in 2013 to build the large hydro dam. It ends up being that it’s going to cost twice what governments thought. It’s interesting because British Columbia actually has a good record over the decades, and a long time ago, of building hydro projects pretty well on budget. And Hydro-Quebec built a lot of them on budget. I mean, it’s always, how do they keep track of the numbers, but more or less.

And unfortunately these last two, hydro projects, on both sides of the country, one in Labrador, Muskrat Falls, one British Columbia Site C went way over, basically doubled their cost. That study that you refer to by Fellows and Shaefer and Rivers, it just says under what circumstances would Site C be economic. And so I don’t think Site C will be economic, but it doesn’t matter. Once it’s built, the cost of operating is minuscule.

So the rate payers of British Columbia and maybe the taxpayers will shoulder a bit of it that have lost some money in building Site C and it’s because of the cost overruns. And that doesn’t, it’s like getting good game of cards. You don’t let your past cards you play, or the fact that you’ve got money in the pot affect you when you look at your odds going forward.

So our decisions should not be to make Site C economic.

Now to decarbonize British Columbia in decarbonizing can do a lot more wind and in the Southern Okanagan. I mean, I gotta be careful saying this because of fires and so on, but maybe we’ll do a lot of solar, like utility scale solar. But in any case, those are things that we can develop. And so British Columbia is looking pretty good for having low cost electricity as it doubles the size of its electricity, almost doubles. It would be even more economic and better if we increased our grid inter tie north south, because that’s where we can really benefit is through the whole Western corridor of North America.

So if you’re just interested in the economics – and I asked the authors, Fellows, Shaefer and Rivers, and they didn’t do any scenarios about expanding the inter tie to the south or future value of dispatchable electricity to help with California’s duck curve in their study. It’s just completely lacking from their study.  And that’s a big problem. They should’ve been doing scenarios of grid digitized expansion north south, because that’s probably easier to do politically.

There now that leads me to my last part of my answer to your question. Why, why isn’t BC getting ready to expand the inter tie to Alberta to build a new inter tie. We have a smaller one in the south. And I know from talking to people in BC Hydro, in government, they would love to build a big expanded inter tie to Alberta, but it takes two to dance. You need a government in Alberta that accepts that it needs to decarbonize. And so can’t just burn natural gas.

And then they would say, “actually we have enormous wind and solar resources and some biomass. Yes. And we can do some natural gas with carbon capture and storage. So that’ll and other kinds of energy storage. So we could do that, but, oh my goodness, if we can interconnect with British Columbia and tap into that hydro-power, but make good contracts, then both sides benefit.”

But if Alberta doesn’t want to do that, and we have heard nothing from Alberta that wants to do that. I can tell you that on the BC side, they’ve made overtures. So I wouldn’t really blame the BC government or BC hydro for not building an inter-tie to Alberta. They need someone in Alberta who wants to do that who’s not just thumbing their nose at them.

Markham Hislop: Fair enough. But we’re having a public conversation here and contributing to the public discourse around Canadian electricity systems and putting this on the table and having a conversation about it because it’s a good thing. That’s part of the, part of what we’re up to here.

But we still want to talk about federal policy, but I do want to address your comments about going north and south. So last year, Minister Bruce Ralston, Energy and Mines minister who is responsible for the electricity system, was talking about how they want to import more cheap, California solar. So I thought, well, great, “I’ll go down and I’ll talk to the American experts about this and see what they have to say”.

So I interviewed Elliot Mainzer, who’s now the CEO of the California Independent System Operator. Ben Kujala is the power planner for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council,  Professor Lucas Davis from Berkeley, and on and on and on. I mean, these people are some of the top experts in this area.

Their take on that was that’s a great short-term plan. That’ll probably work for about two to five years, but that it’s very unlikely that there will be the same amount of surplus, solar power available because California, and of course, other states like Oregon and Washington are moving already to take up that surplus.

So you look at the HyDeal LA, which is once the setup LA as a hydrogen hub, would target that solar power. You see all sorts of other, battery storage – there’s tremendous battery storage in the last year, since the August blackouts from last year and on and on and on which they say will reduce the amount of cheap solar that would be available to British Columbia.

So I know that’s not quite what you argued, but that is what the minister said. And so what’s your take?

Mark Jaccard: What he was referring to is a buy-sell. So it isn’t that we’re getting electricity it’s that we’re providing storage for California. So the sun is shining. Um, there’s this famous California duck curve, I think you’re probably familiar with it. Solar in Alberta would have a very different profile in terms of storage. You’d actually need seasonal storage.

In California, you’re getting all that electricity from in noon to four or five in the afternoon. It depends which season as well, what time of day the sun sets. Thankfully it’s coincidence with when their air conditioners are on in the summer, not the same in the winter and then their electricity demand ramps up just as the solar disappears. And so BC, hydro has been buy selling on that and with our hydro reservoirs, I cannot imagine that even 20 years from now, even 30, that other kinds of storage, will be able to beat that out.

We’ve already built the dams. So we’re just trying to optimize on that system and we can tell by the prices, right? So right now we’re getting the solar electricity basically for free, and we’re giving it back to them an hour later at, -I don’t know what it is – but I’m going to make up a number like 10, 15, 20 cents. I don’t know. It’s a huge markup for just holding power for someone.

And at the same time California has rules that every new building is going to have a solar roof. And I know from my colleagues at Berkeley, the same Institute, Lucas Davis is in, just how disastrous this is becoming for California and how they’re thinking of blocking new solar, or they need to shed it somewhere. And then, and then hopefully buy it back. So if you expanded to the inter tie, we’re probably fully using it now for that north south, that we would still play that role and we’d be playing that role five years from now, 10 years from now, 50 years from now.

It doesn’t mean the solar provides future electricity for British Columbia. It’s that our hydro reservoirs are playing the same role I’m saying they could play with Alberta. If Alberta eventually got serious about a zero emission electricity system and a whole zero-emission economy, which means a growing demand for electricity in Alberta. they could really benefit from this. But of course it has to be fair contracting.

And this is where colleagues of mine in Calgary, Blake Schaffer, points out. It’s tricky to negotiate with BC hydro who’s a monopoly state owned when you got private generators. So we have to have some really fair rules that seems that are fair to Albertans, but we’ve been able to do that with California and other jurisdictions. So I see no reason why we couldn’t.

Markham Hislop: Let’s move on to question that we want to talk about which is federal policy in Canada because for listeners outside of Canada, Canada is a fairly decentralized federation and jurisdiction over energy belongs to the provinces. So what’s happened over the course of the last a hundred and twenty-five years is that the provinces have developed their own electricity systems.

Exports and imports generally flow north, south east west. And you have 10 little silos that don’t talk to each other very much and the case of BC and Alberta being a good case in point.

What role do you see for Canadian for federal policy in this issue, mark?

Mark Jaccard: I’m really glad you asked this question and I agree with the general premise about the silos, although I will say that I’m just researching something where I’m looking into federal policy, so, this is why your question is very appropriate, federal policy in Canada.

I’ve been amazed with, what’s been going on in the three four Atlantic provinces in Canada. So they are moving rapidly over the last while to develop hydro-power in Labrador, Muskrat Falls, possibly Gull Island in future. Eventually the contract that Quebec had that was an attractive one with Churchill Falls comes to an end. They’re building under sea links to integrate so that Nova Scotia can be shutting down coal plants and contracting for 30%, or whatever it is, for the output of Muskrat Falls. So you’re seeing expansion of inter ties and some real coordinated thinking as goes de-carbonization.

And so Canada already has a model of a region where four provinces, albeit smaller, four provinces, are working in an integrated fashion that seems to fit the model that you kind of seem to want to like in your description. So, so we can do that.

So I won’t say 10 silos, I’ll say, we’ve got, let’s say we’ve got six provinces that could benefit from greater integration. Now, does it need to be all east-west link? Like there’s the dream of some engineers. We’re going to have a line across Canada…I don’t see it.

I see better integration of Quebec and Ontario. And guess what they’re starting to do that they’ve been making agreements to that end. I see better integration between Saskatchewan and Manitoba. That’s all you need. You don’t need Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, to BC. And guess what we’re seeing that – they’ve made a new agreement.

So we’re already starting to head in that direction. The question becomes “what is federal jurisdiction and what can it do to help with this process?” Because you can think of it still, as you kind of opened up, as a national challenge. The federal government is thankfully us to get to a zero mission future.

So first, our constitution gives power to the provinces, especially in the field of energy. And especially that’s been manifested in electricity and even the US federal system is like that. Not as fragmented as ours or as decentralized in terms of power…power over power, but it’s pretty close. And, I think that will always continue. I don’t think the federal government can step in there.

The reason is for people, electricity is a special product. It’s almost like healthcare or education. You don’t want someone in Ottawa that you complain to when the lights go out. You want it to be your provincial government. And in many cases, even your municipal government.

So electricity is not going to change. You’re going to regulate it locally. There isn’t going to be a net. The Canadian energy regulator has very little power except on trade.

So what could be done? Well, the federal government has joint authority over the environment, and the courts have said when it comes to carbon pollution and national standards for carbon reduction, the federal government has to have some authority there and they do. So they’ve developed it as what they call a “backstop”. Whether it’s a backstop, carbon price or backstop regulations, which says if your jurisdiction is doing something that’s consistent with our national goals and targets, then we’re going to allow that to obtain and we’re going to stand down and just go with that.

But in other cases, they’ll say, if you’re not, then our policy will come in and this is happening in fuel carbon prices, as I’m sure you’re aware, but it’s also happening in electricity. Uh, in whether, the Alberta policy called TIER is, a fair representative of what the federal government wants to see. So we’re going to see that.

And therefore, and I’m almost finished, the federal government allows what are called equivalency agreements. This is where a province says, Alberta says “we put in a policy that will price, at the margin, carbon pollution from electricity, and federal government, we would like to go with that”. And the federal government says, “okay.” Now what I’d like to see the federal government do is to start saying to provinces “we’ll give equivalency agreements to two of you together. “

So Alberta, BC, we’ll do an equivalency agreement with you. And when we do that, that will create a wonderful incentive to actually coordinate how they do, because there’s a great gain of benefit from those two provinces, working in coordination as you and I have been discussing throughout this interview.

So that’s one initiative. There are much more I could talk about, but I know we only have a limited amount of time. So I’m just saying that the way in which the federal government uses equivalency agreements to ensure a consistent national effort on greenhouse gas reduction, who had also created some incentives in order to increase the chances that two provinces, or maybe even a group of provinces, will act in a coordinated way with respect to decarbonizing, which would mean more east-west grid interconnection, but again, the federal government can’t force people to dance if they don’t want to dance.

Markham Hislop: That is a good segue into the next thing I wanted to talk about, which is utility business models and power grids, and the way they are evolving from a vertically integrated model to a flat or horizontal model. As one expert, I interviewed said a grid of micro grids or a grid of smaller grids maybe is a better way to put it. Where now consumers can trade amongst themselves and the utility acts like a platform. So distributed energy platform as they’re often called.

I don’t know if Alberta is a great example of that model, but certainly next door to British Columbia is a market-based system that’s doing a very good job, right at the moment of adding new renewable energy capacity, lots of wind and solar farms, power purchase agreements with corporate customers, that sort of thing.

And I’m wondering what you think – if any of that applies to BC Hydro. If that model, the current utility model of BC Hydro has needs to evolve in that direction. And the related question, what role Indigenous electrical utilities might play in that process

Mark Jaccard: Here in my view, we’re, we’re in the realm of speculating – we can see things happening in the present, some small scale, development, a two-way grid system, a smarter grid, meters. And, and so it could be that the future and by future, I just mean 15 years from now, 20 years from now, will look quite different from the present.

And it could also be though that a lot of this is hype and it won’t look that different from the present.

And so I think my job as an independent expert, who reads a lot of the more – not the people who are all excited about some new idea or image and themselves in fact are invested in it in some way, but it’s kind of fun to look at jurisdictions that might be further ahead of us and also what experts are finding out.

I’ll separate the question about indigenous grids and maybe you can remind me of that if I forget, but I’m going to try to focus first on your, on your main question, – grid of smaller grids. And another term for this is a colleague of mine in California uses the term prosumers. You know, that you’re both a producer and a consumer. And so this is definitely happening. So it’s the idea that some people can make electricity in a decentralized way now. And we’re developing technologies that would better enable a grid. That is way more complicated than the kind of uni-directional idea of centralized generators. The consumers are spread out, and the job of the grid is to get those electrons delivered from a central point of generation to all the consumers.

Clearly that won’t be identical 15 years from now. So we are going to have more cases in which people generate electricity locally. And we’re going to have more things at the demand side where people can modulate their demands by signals from the utility in order to actually play a role in helping to balance supply and demand at any instant in time, which would have to be electricity on the whole grid? So I’m talking now about – there will still be a whole grid.

Another question is whether there will be micro grids and so on. In fact, you even talked about a grid of smaller grids. I don’t really see that. And when I look at jurisdictions that one could argue are ahead of us on this curve, thinking of Denmark, I’m thinking of Norway, where I, for various reasons have a fair number of colleagues and have been following for 30 years, what they do.

Just take Denmark, for example, oh, they’re going to start producing wind to these turbines and that’ll mean that the producers are spread all over the place. And then guess what happened as it started to develop – they started to realize, “oh, there are economies of scale in wind generation to. Building large wind parks means you’ve got a management system and a single transmission line and dah, dah, dah, dah, oh, building them off shore means their efficiencies are even higher and we can build larger units. And so we’ll build a 200 megawatt wind power, and guess what we can call that centralized generation with unidirectional flow of electrons on a single transmission line.

So I just think that’s a good wake up for the people who give us all this hype about a decentralized system. Now in California, again, the colleagues that you’re talking about at is a very good energy group there at the Haas school – I invite people to get on their readership and some very good colleagues aand good scholars.

And they’ve been interestingly pointing out that you almost want to get away from this rooftop solar, and that large centralized fields of solar panels in the desert, are much smaller cost of electricity and better to manage, than all of this decentralized generation that can’t control it’s. I’m not saying that the system isn’t changing and won’t continue to change with greater decentralization of generation and storage and load control.

But I’m not yet convinced that it will go as far or need go, as far as the kind of things I’m hearing from the people who are hyping that as this new electricity future. And so I guess that’s why I’m kind of reacting that way. I think it’s important to see what the experts are saying when they look at systems that have started to move in that direction and realized, “oh, it’s not also easy as we thought and there actually were some benefits from that centralized system.”

Markham Hislop: Fair enough, Mark. So let’s wrap up this very interesting conversation with your take on BC Indigenous electrical utilities, which have been discussed for a number of years, and it looks like the BC government wants that to happen. So what’s your take on that?

Mark Jaccard: I’m not involved at the government level in that, but I am involved in advising and helping in some communities and people in that.

And as a former chair of the BC utilities commission, I ended up bringing up points in meetings that people haven’t thought of. And I know it feels like I’m throwing a wrench in the works sometimes. People say, “why isn’t the government giving more money for this?” On the, Haida Gwai – the former queen Charlotte islands – uh, why isn’t it giving you even more money to develop the grid there and the decentralized system.” And then you’ll say, “okay, now there are both Indigenous communities there and non-Indigenous, and they’re intermixed and utility commissions have rules about price discrimination. Like, why am I treating this non-indigenous shop owner Haida Gwai differently than I’m treating this non-indigenous shop owner in Vancouver in terms of X, Y, and Z.

So we’ve had geographical differences in how we treat customers, but you have to be careful about it as well. So these are just one example of the kind of issues you have to think about.

The ideal situation is a remote community. It’s a first nations community. It is not connected to the grid. It’s been using diesel generation to make electricity. And it’s funny, we think of that diesel generation is horrible and so on. So first of all, I want to say it was probably wonderful. That’s what brought electricity.

And that’s why I still argue with people – I think fossil fuels are fantastic, what they’ve enabled us to do on this planet. And and why I wrote a book called “Sustainable Fossil Fuels.” So maybe the answer is to be producing hydrogen in Alberta, burying the carbon and transporting hydrogen or some other like methane-like fuel, but that’s almost zero emission. Or a liquid version of ethanol grown from agricultural production in Alberta like that.

We send to northern communities that still runs a generator of some kind,. Because what are I’m nervous about here is that people decided that the sexy technologies are wind and solar, and this is what we gotta be doing. And when you think about so much of the Indigenous population in Canada, at least when they’re in isolated communities are fairly north. And so a lot of these renewables that look so great in California, you know, wind and solar.

For years, I tried to help people in the Yukon have a wind turbine up there on Haeckel Hill, above Whitehorse. And they had it for a while, but you know, there’s lots of issues with wind in the far north. You can do it, but it’s more expensive.

So I guess my point is that yes, BC Hydro, the BC government, the federal government all can be doing more and I’ve seen significant increases in the last few years, but way more to do.

But I want to point out that the technological outcome might not be the thing that looks so great to people who say this is what that technological future has to be. It’s wind and solar. So it could be more biomass, some kind of liquid fuels. It could involve still importing energy. There’s nothing wrong with importing energy, if it’s really expensive to make it locally, and you can do something locally who knows using your forest resources or land resources or fisheries or mineral resources and that that’s a better way to go.

So I guess I’m, again, I’m a bit of a wet blanket perhaps, but my word of caution is I just see so much written right now about how it will be a wind and solar future in this northern community. And I just think that’s misleading people and heading them into a path that we won’t be able to sustain financially. And I’ve seen projects like that die in the past, and I’m wanting to give a word of caution that it doesn’t have to be that revolutionary.

In fact, quite often, it won’t be revolutionary to improve energy services for people in outlying areas, be they Indigenous or non-Indigenous

Markham Hislop: To wrap up then Mark, would it be fair to say, because this is my takeaway from our conversation, and I have to say, that you have modified my views on a couple of these, these issues, but would it be fair to say that foresee the future as being a gradual incremental change as these new technologies, you know, are proven, tried out whatever, fundamentally the system that’s in place now in British Columbia, will not change substantively.

Mark Jaccard: Yes. But as you said, we don’t know the future. So I also don’t rule out revolutionary change. I don’t know if we’ve mentioned it here in this conversation, but I’m an expert on the Canadian Institute of Climate Choices and we are doing a major study on electricity. And we did a study on the net zero target for Canada, which we released earlier this year in here in 2021. And in that study we did a distinction that I think the narrative people put in and I originally resisted, but then I think it’s a really good one.

We distinguish between safe bets and wildcards. Safe bets were technologies where it was pretty obvious that they were going to happen and wildcards were ones that could come and surprise us because it was great uncertainty.

Like what is the process we’re going to use to make steel with zero emissions in future? What is energy storage and how effective is it going to be, and will it be centralized or decentralized? So if there’s breakthroughs in decentralized energy storage, and you see some of that in some Swedish communities where they’re heating underground, it’s a district heat system in a town. And I’m not ruling that out in remote communities in Canada.

So I guess I think you’ve correctly described me with the one caveat that I’m also saying that even though right now, I say it’s most likely that we’re not going to see these dramatic idyllic kind of solar/wind futures in every little place, the country and this decentralized grid. I’m pretty confident we won’t see that, but I know there could be revolutionary things out there.

And I have to say, if we look back the fall in the price of wind and solar is something that I expected, but not nearly as much and as fast as it happened. And that was a really fun, exciting surprise. So maybe batteries will do the same, but I’m just cautious. That’s all.

Markham Hislop: Well, I interviewed economist, Jason Deon about the study that you referred to with the sure bets and, and wildcards. And I think that I crib that, uh, those terms all the time now. I think it was very, very excellent way to describe the, the evolving set of energy technologies that are what we’re dealing with. And, I guess I’m not far off from you, except I suspect, that we will see a little more revolution than you would probably suggest.

But that’s okay that we can agree to disagree and that we’re not that far off. This has been a terrific conversation. I learned a lot and I hope our listeners learned a lot and this will turn out to be an anchor story in our Energi Student Resources portal. And we’ll do a transcript and we’ll link to some of the studies that Mark has referred to. So anybody who wants to explore this in further depth can do so. Mark, thank you very much this was a fascinating conversation.

Mark Jaccard: Thank you. And I’ll just say that you also might want to look at my website,, where I refer to my book, the Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success, which has a lot of where we’ve been delusional about these exciting futures that didn’t happen, but that was okay. There are other things we can do so great to be on today. Thank you.

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