Les Leyne: NDP plans massive shift to electricity

Les Leyne mugshot genericConsidering that it amounts to a second attempt after the first one didn’t work, Wednesday’s climate-plan announcement was a touch grandiose and over-produced.

The background briefing, the validators, the hundred-plus invited guests, the orchestrated supportive reaction, the “symbolic” baby, it all added up to a big pageant before Premier John Horgan got anywhere near the details.

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Those details are dramatic enough that they didn’t need the extra layer of hype.

What the government committed to was a heavily subsidized, economy-wide shift off oil and on to electricity that will transform the province — if governments follow the plan.

It’s modelled on the effort started by then-premier Gordon Campbell in 2008. Horgan struck a grace note by noting Campbell’s foresight.

Campbell had the same grand vision, the same urgency and the same charts with trend lines showing plunging carbon emissions once the plan took hold.

It didn’t happen. Officials on Wednesday acknowledged that B.C.’s annual emissions — about what China produces in a few days — are marginally below what they were a decade ago. It’s considered a win that they didn’t go up with population growth and a sustained economic boom.

But the original firm target of a 30 per cent drop by 2020 was missed by a country mile.

Maybe it was the carbon-tax coasting that happened under Christy Clark when she was premier. Maybe the modelling was off.

Whatever the case, the NDP-Green version is a bid to reset the greenhouse-gas-emission picture in B.C. and drive emissions down across the board — 40 per cent below 2007 levels by 2030.

The goal of an 80 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 is unchanged. The problem is that the trend line down to that level has to be much steeper, since one-quarter of the time has elapsed since that target was set.

It’s branded “CleanBC” (the NDP is borrowing the B.C. Liberal penchant for squishing words together; Campbell’s version was LiveSmart).

That brand will be touted globally as B.C. tries to capitalize on opportunities to cash in on low-carbon moves elsewhere.

At the same time, government will target emissions in the transportation sphere, the built environment and industry at large. But all the measures in mind still leave B.C. 25 per cent short, so more moves will have to be devised over the next two years just to meet the 2030 target, let alone the 2050 one.

There are two keys that will drive the plan and determine how successful it is. The first is massive, ongoing subsidies. The government is going to front thousands of dollars to people buying zero-emission vehicles, in order to banish gas vehicles from new-car lots by 2040. It will spend millions more on charging stations.

And huge new sums will be made available over time for retrofitting houses and commercial buildings to lower energy costs and emissions. Plus, carbon-tax protection for lower-income earners is written into law, and it’s going to be enhanced.

There were no overall dollar figures for CleanBC on hand. The first glimpse of costs will be in February’s budget, and they’ll be substantial.

The steadily rising carbon tax will cover some of the costs, now that it’s no longer revenue-neutral. Some industries will be paid directly from that pot to clean up their acts.

The second key aspect is electrification on a huge scale. Meeting the targets means increasing demand for electricity by eight per cent. That’s the equivalent of supplying the city of Vancouver.

Meeting the longer-range goals could raise electricity demand by as much as 50 per cent. To continue the equivalency, that’s about six new Vancouvers worth of demand over the next 30 years just to reduce emissions, never mind accommodate growth.

And it all has to be clean electricity, meaning substantial additional volumes of new electricity will have to be generated.

The NDP’s days of fighting the carbon tax and hemming and hawing over the Site C dam are long gone.

It will need every nickel it can wangle out of a much-higher carbon tax. And it will need to produce electrons from any running water it sees to meet the goal of saving the world in the next 30 years.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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