Photo Credit: Capital Power

Alberta Company’s Dirty Power Sometimes Cools Us, But Mostly Makes Us Hot

Projects like Port Alberni's Upnit Power Corporation are what we need - locally owned and sustainable

Keeping a dirty, climate-unfriendly power plant running to occasionally supply electricity to keep air conditioners running during deadly climate-change-caused heatwaves doesn’t seem like a smart decision

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the stability of Vancouver Island’s electricity grid. We need reliable power, and BC Hydro has some important decisions to make.

Namely, whether to renew the contract for Island Generation or not.

Island Generation in Campbell River is one of the biggest climate-polluters in BC’s electricity grid. The natural gas plant is also one of 21 privately owned facilities in BC that generate electricity through partnerships with BC Hydro

Alberta’s Capital Power owns and operates Island Generation.

About 70% of the Island’s power comes from the mainland through cables. But when the demand is high, we need backup power. BC Hydro contracted Island Generation to fire up the plant when backup power is needed. 

Only now that contract is up for review. 

BC Hydro has signalled it won’t renew the contract. They say they want to get BC off dirty power like natural gas. And even though the plant only operates about a third of the time, it still produces about 10,000 tonnes of heat-trapping pollution per year.

In September, Capital Power started a campaign to get BC Hydro to renew its contract. Their whole campaign is to (mis)play the “local” business card and to get local politicians to complain about job losses.

But it’s a stretch to try to say that an Alberta-based corporation that operates 26 plants across North America is “local.”

And there are bigger issues to deal with. Climate pollution, for example. 

That’s why, in a province that’s full of renewable energy potential, you have to ask—does it make any sense to burn fossil fuels to make electricity? 

We don’t think so. 

Ironically, one of Capital Power’s key factoids is that its backup power was needed when the heat dome hit VanIsle in late June.

Great idea, Capital Power. Let’s keep a dirty, climate-unfriendly power plant to sometimes run the air conditioners during heat waves that are also caused by climate change.

But, no matter how absurd, the Alberta-based company will use any argument they can to fight for their contract.

BC Hydro could roll over and renew the contract. Or they could get behind more genuine solutions. 

What VanIsle needs is more green power projects like the Upnit Power Corporation, not more dirty power.

Upnit is locally-owned, sustainable, and supplies Port Alberni with energy that doesn’t pollute the atmosphere.  

The hydro project was built on China Creek near Port Alberni. It’s 72.5% owned by the Hupacasath First Nation, in a partnership that includes Synex Energy Resources Ltd, Ucluelet First Nation and the City of Port Alberni as minority owners.

Upnit was built in 2005 for a total cost of $14 million. At peak operation, the 6.5 MW plant generates enough electricity to power 6,000 homes. Six Hupacasath members work at the power plant.

In contrast to the dirty power from Island Generation, Upnit emits very few kilograms of heat-trapping pollution into the atmosphere. 

VanIsle needs more power for the Island’s electricity grid. We need to generate more green power locally so that we are more self-sufficient. 

Islanders need to retrofit our houses and buildings to be more energy-efficient.

We need to explore options to store energy so that we can maximize the Island’s wind, solar, and hydro potential. We need to fast-track investments in new grid-level battery storage options.

Either we do these things, or we keep burning dinosaur bones at Island Generation.