Commission accused of "regulated racism"

The Sechelt Indian Band has accused the British Columbia Utilities Commission of "regulated racism." In a letter sent today, the band told the commission its refusal to endorse BC Hydro Corp.'s 2008 Clean Power Call, has "undermined our people and directly caused a breach in the negotiations and opportunities between our Nation and specific IPP projects and proponents."

The Sechelt also stated they're not the only indigenous group impacted by the commission's decision, accusing the regulator of having "pulled the rug out from under those First Nations throughout British Columbia who are seeking accommodation and opportunity through private power green energy partnerships."

Last year, the Sechelt signed an agreement with Plutonic Power Corporation Inc. to facilitate the development of transmission infrastructure for the company's East Toba and Montrose Creek hydroelectric project within their traditional territory. The following is a complete copy of their letter, which was exclusively obtained by Public Eye.

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The Sechelt

SECHELT INDIAN BAND

July 30, 2009

Commission Secretary, BC Utilities Commission
Elizabeth Hamilton

Commissioners, BC Utilities Commission
A.J. Pullman, Commissioner and Panel Chair
R.J. Milborne, Commissioner
M.R. Harle, Commissioner

Regarding BC Hydro's Long Term Acquisition Plan and Commission Decision Dated July 27, 2009

Commissioners and Staff:

The decisions and determinations in your ruling of July 27, 2009, must be responded to in a manner that reflects the shock, frustration and disappointment that we experienced upon its receipt.

For all intents of purpose, you have attempted to turn the clock back a generation through regulation - completely ignoring both provincial government direction and the current reality of global warming and the need to move towards clean, green and renewable sources of electricity. Further, you have essentially pulled the rug out from under those First Nations throughout British Columbia who are seeking accommodation and opportunity through private power green energy partnerships.

The $631 million in expenditures that you approved must be questioned in the following context. First, none of those funds provide direct, specific and targeted benefits to BC's First Nations. Second, you have chosen a "brown" energy acquisition path at the expenses of viable and proven green energy opportunities. Burrard Thermal and similar greenhouse gas emitting facilities represent the past, and yet that is the direction you have sanctioned. Wind, solar and micro-hydro represent the future, and you have fundamentally disadvantaged them. Third, Demand Side Management (DSM) and conservation, while important, cannot form the backbone of near and medium term needs. Fourth, you have included electricity imports into your calculations - including those from coal and gas fired greenhouse gas producing plants - in spite of specific government policy direction to achieve energy self sufficiency. Fifth, while the merits of Site C will surely be debated, it represents a longer term and risk laden venture at the expense of immediate and alternative green energy options.

Of the total requested funding of $633 million - the only item not approved by the Commission was the paltry $2 million expenditure that represented the one and only opportunity in the entire proposed mix that had the potential to provide not only a cleaner and greener approach to future energy needs, but direct and specific benefits to those First Nations who were engaged in private power opportunities with BC's emerging green energy industry.

By not specifically endorsing BC Hydro's current Clean Power Call, you have, with the stroke of your pen, undermined our opportunities and unilaterally and arbitrarily taken off the table those benefits and opportunities that we were negotiating, on behalf of our people, with green energy companies undertaking responsible developments in our territories. You have with this decision undermined our people and directly caused a breach in the negotiations and opportunities between our Nation and specific IPP projects and proponents. This is unacceptable and appears to us to be nothing less that regulated racism and a complete disregard for the time, energy and investments that formed the basis of these quality partnerships and the green energy future all, except the BCUC, seem to aspire to.

We strongly support the opportunities associated with a green energy future and green private power partnerships. And we will strongly and publicly support any policy that provides those opportunities for our people and for all of British Columbia.

Yours truly,
shishalh First Nation

Chief Garry Feschuk

Councillor Jordan Louie

Councillor Tom Paul

3 Comments

Am I naive to believe that First Nations people should lead concerned BC citizens in preserving spectacular wilderness areas that are under attack by soulless private power producers?

I understand the appeal of short term economic gains in the form of temporary construction jobs. Perhaps a handful of more lucrative positions are available to a specially favored few as well but surely the price is too high. Bute Inlet is unbelievably spectacular and has traditionally been a vital asset in sustaining wild salmon.

Other factors already threaten the natural fisheries. When we have dams, tunnels and diversions of 17 rivers feeding Bute Inlet and countless miles of supply roads and powerlines cut through wild country, the troubles will multiply.

To claim that racism is the basis of the BCUC's complicated decision - 236 pages plus voluminous exhibits - does a disservice to everyone involved.

If you actually read the report, it is clear that the Commission in no way supported brown energy over green.

The Commission's mandate is to weigh whether such plans are consistent with the public interest and with government's own policy and legislative framework.

Using the lens of BC's new clean energy plans and energy self-sufficiency policies, it found that BC Hydro's 2008 long-term energy plan did not meet those new green requirements in several key respects. The report in no way rejected a role for IPPs, where their use can be shown to be consistent with the requirements of the provincial policy framework and the public interest.

A key concern seemed to be that BC Hydro failed to show that other ways to achieve energy self sufficiency and reduce GHG emissions (such as demand-reduction strategies) would not be more cost effective AND consistent with provincial green goals than the new long-term IPP contracts proposed under the 2008 Clean Energy Call, and that these aspects of the plan were therefore not demonstrably consistent with the provincial policy framework and the public interest.

One thing that became very clear in reading the report is the challenge of trying to understand and correctly interpret the will and actual intent of governments when they give vague and contradictory signals and directions in their various policies, regulations and public statements.

". . . the challenge of trying to understand and correctly interpret the will and actual intent of governments when they give vague and contradictory signals and directions in their various policies, regulations and public statements."

Well said, Dawn Steele. I believe the conflict arises because some of the participants are sincerely trying to develop an appropriate long term power supply and consumption strategy for BC. Others are merely lobbying for financial interests, working on contracts that place self-interest as the motivation. They don't care much about doing the right thing and I include politicians on both sides of the divide.

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