Lawrie McFarlane: Consider Europe’s green-energy experience

One of the objections to B.C. Hydro’s Site C dam is that we can generate electricity as cost-effectively from less invasive sources. Here is Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party: “There are other alternatives available at cheaper costs with lower environmental and social impacts.”

The best way to evaluate that claim is to look at countries that have tried this option.

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Among the most ardent proponents of green energy have been Germany and Britain. Germany has committed more than $1.4 trillion to subsidizing wind power. Yet the program has failed to meet its objectives, and last year Germany’s legislature voted to slash subsidies to green energy.

The reason? In part, wind and solar are too unreliable. In addition, the subsidies required to make renewable energy “competitive” drove electricity prices through the roof.

Germans pay an average of 51 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). In comparison, British Columbia households pay about 10 cents.

Much the same happened in Britain. Investments in wind, solar and biomass projects will shrink 95 per cent between 2017 and 2020, according to that country’s Green Alliance — an independent think-tank.

Same reason. The cost of subsidizing these energy sources raised prices to unsustainable levels. Britons now pay an average of 26 cents per kWh. At the same time, targets for CO2 reductions have not been met, although that was the stated reason for going this route.

Across Europe, investments in green energy reportedly declined by more than 50 per cent between 2011 and 2015. The principal reason, once again, is the failure to meet reliability and cost goals. Europeans are charged an average of 30 cents per kWh for electricity.

There are exceptions. Australia manages to generate a significant amount of power from wind and solar. So do some American states, including Arizona and Nevada.

But you notice a point of similarity here. These locations are home to wide-open spaces with lots of sun.

European countries are pretty much the opposite, and so, to a considerable extent, is B.C. We’re not blessed with 300 days of cloudless skies a year.

We do have wind, but so do Europe’s coastal nations. And these are the ones most rapidly backing away from green power because electricity grids have to run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and wind generation doesn’t meet that test.

Ironically, B.C. already has one of the greenest operating systems in the world. Almost 90 per cent of the power produced by B.C. Hydro comes from hydroelectric stations, which have a very small carbon footprint. We are, indeed, the envy of most other nations, a point lost on the critics.

At this point, some hard truths must be faced. Many of the countries that have invested heavily in green power have been burned. We see here the difference between the wished-for promise of renewable energy and the present reality.

That doesn’t mean we should give up on these technologies. But they are, as things stand, pilot projects that cannot be scaled up to industrial levels without enormous subsidies and unaffordable increases in consumer pricing.

In addition, many of them, such as wind and solar farms, are unsightly and harmful to local wildlife. Whirling dervishes now sit atop the hills and ridges of southwest Saskatchewan, desecrating some of the last pristine prairie land in North America.

When you consider how hard B.C. families must scrabble for every nickel, the idea that we would throw away the $4 billion already spent or committed on the Site C dam seems unthinkable. That’s $1,000 for every man, woman and child in the province.

jalmcfarlane@shaw.ca

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