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Russ Francis

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  1. In a revised “Letter to Council,” Aryze says it has now abandoned plans to use the BC Housing Affordable Home Ownership Program (AHOP) to help finance construction and to provide second mortgages for the proposed 18 townhomes. In the undated letter, posted to the city’s development site on June 2, 2021, Aryze principal Mari cites several reasons for dropping the idea. “Unfortunately, due to the length of processing time, volume of off-site improvements, rampant increase in construction costs, and the Fall 2020 BC Provincial Election, we don’t have firm direction from BC Housing on the details surrounding this program.” It was partly Premier John Horgan’s fault for calling the last election early, on October 24? The connection escapes me. And Aryze has no “firm direction” from BC Housing? One can’t help but wonder whether it has merely a soft direction—or any direction at all. “With these details in mind,” the letter continues, “we are pivoting the project to include four homes (22%) to fall under the Capital Regional District’s price restrictive resale program whereby the homes are sold between 15% - 25% below market in perpetuity.” Just two of the one-bedroom units and two of the three-bedroom units would sell “below market.” June 29 2021 UpdateAryze June 2021 Letter to Council.pdf In a June 29 email to interested parties, Mari suggests that the public hearing for the project will occur “this summer.” “While we are driven by our commitment to advocate for attainable housing in our city, the road for 902 Foul Bay has been challenging,” Mari says in the letter. “Every day we are reminded about the lack of housing supply within Victoria, yet it continues to take far too long to bring townhomes to market—especially affordable ones.” Later in the letter, Mari adds: “We’re disappointed with the process to date . . .” I understand his disappointment: Those annoying neighbours, heritage advocates and tree-lovers sure do slow things down! Mari adds that the two 1-bedroom units will sell for $360,000 and the two 3-bedroom units for $640,000. Aryze June 29 2021 902 Foul Bay Project Update.pdf
  2. Happy Clean Air Day! On June 2, environment and climate change strategy minister George Heyman urged us to celebrate "Clean Air Day." So how clean was Clean Air Day? Well, in Valemount, near the Alberta border, at 10 pm on June 2, PM2.5s hit 54.2 micrograms per cubic meter--which is the fifth-highest level in B.C.'s health risk ranking. At the Topaz monitoring station in Victoria, at 5 a.m. on June 2, it was a mere 12, though a few weeks earlier, at 11 p.m. on May 13, it hit 28 at that station. The so-called "Provincial Air Quality Objective Criterion" is 25 micrograms per cubic meter, averaged over a 24-hour period. Note the word "objective." Even 25 micrograms per cubic meter is not safe, as WHO and others have pointed out. See Topaz chart here: https://www.env.gov.bc.ca/epd/bcairquality/data/station.html?id=E231866 To his credit, Heyman acknowledged "the significant impacts climate change can have on air quality through increased forest fires." So what is his ministry doing about it? They're working on the "Climate Preparedness and Adaptation Strategy, which will be released shortly for public comment." Hey, let's not rush into things! Here's one thing the government could do immediately: Add wildfire emissions to its annual inventory of emissions. And here's how we can quickly reduce the severity and frequency of wildfires: Stop all clearcutting. See David Broadland's excellent piece on this:
  3. For more on health problems caused by burning wood, fossil fuels or anything else, see here.
  4. Tiny particles (PM2.5s) produced by burning anything are destroying our bodies. And they are making the COVID-19 pandemic worse. THEY ARE NEARLY EVERYWHERE: Tiny particles produced whenever anything is set on fire. Particles measuring 2.5 microns or less are so small that they are dwarfed by a single human hair. (A micron is one-thousandth of a millimetre.) And they are killing us. The particles, known as PM2.5s, are small enough that they slip past our bodies’ natural defence mechanisms—primarily nose hairs—to gain easy access to every cell in our bodies. (‘PM’ stands for ‘Particulate Matter.’) Once there, they wreak havoc, causing cancers, heart attacks, lung disease, strokes, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. They even increase the risk of permanent blindness. Where do they come from? Burning gasoline, wood, candles, incense, natural gas or anything else: all produce PM2.5s. According to the 2021 edition of Canada’s air pollutant emission inventory report, a significant portion of Canadian PM2.5s comes from road dust, construction and the production of crops. But those resulting from burning fossil fuels kill tens of thousands of us every year, according to recently published research. Comparative size of PM2.5s: Tiny particles caused by burning stuff kill millions every year. Source: EPA The health damage Unlike other substances which cause harm only at high levels, PM2.5s have no safe limit. In the words of the World Health Organization: “Small particulate pollution has health impacts even at very low concentrations—indeed no threshold has been identified below which no damage to health is observed.” A UK study reported in the January 25, 2021 issue of the British Journal of Ophthalmology found that the particles increase the risk of irreversible blindness. Eyes are especially vulnerable, since there is a very high flow of blood to the retina, meaning that the eyes are exposed to an especially high volume of PM2.5s. This, says the study, raises the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD)—a leading cause of permanent blindness in older people. As well as threatening our eyes, PM2.5s are killing us. Recent work by an international team of experts suggests that previous estimates of the number of deaths due to particle pollution were far too low. The study, published in the April 2021 issue of Environmental Research and Public Health, reports that PM2.5s from the fossil fuel industry alone resulted in 8.7 million premature deaths of adults older than 14 in 2018, across the world. That compares with 3.4 million deaths worldwide from COVID-19, as of May 15, 2021. In other words, fossil fuel-generated PM2.5s kill 2.6 times as many adult people in just one year as the pandemic has killed in total. The groundbreaking study suggests that earlier estimates were too low because previous calculations relied on an incorrect model for the number of excess deaths at both high and low levels of PM2.5s. Canadian deaths On the world scale, Canada does not fare well, having a higher death rate from fossil-fuel generated PM2.5s than the US. Our rate is also higher than the following regions: South America; Western Asia and the Middle East; Central America and the Caribbean; Africa; and Australia and Oceania. Details of the study were supplied to Focus by lead researcher Karn Vohra of the University of Birmingham. More than one in seven (13.6 percent) deaths of Canadians over 14 are due to fossil fuel-produced particle pollution, compared with 13.1 percent in the US. (However, several parts of the world had higher rates still. Eastern Asia had 30.7 percent, and Europe 16.8 percent.) In 2018, approximately 281,000 Canadians older than 14 died from all causes. According to the study’s data, more than 38,000 premature Canadian deaths in 2018 are attributable to the particulate pollutants from oil and gas. Acknowledging that fossil fuels are not the only source of PM2.5s, the researchers point out the importance of concentrating on oil and gas. “Fossil fuel combustion can be more readily controlled than other sources and precursors of PM2.5 such as dust or wildfire smoke, so this is a clear message to policymakers and stakeholders to further incentivize a shift to clean sources of energy,” they conclude. That’s something to think about when fossil-heads warn us to take our time in phasing out the tar sands and shutting down pipelines, or when we consider installing a gas fireplace. The study did not report on PM-related province-by-province deaths, due to a lack of suitable data. Keep the home fires burning? Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), to its credit, reports annually on the levels of air pollution, according to pollutant, source and province. The latest report, published April 30, 2021, reveals that home firewood burning remains the largest source of PM2.5s in Canada’s Commercial/Residential/Institutional category. This is despite the fact that the amount of PM2.5s generated across the country from home wood burning has dropped by nearly half in the period 1990-2019, in part owing to the replacement of open fireplaces with fireplace inserts, heat pumps, furnaces and more efficient wood stoves. The ECCC data reveals that PM2.5 emissions in British Columbia from all sources totalled 64.1 kilo-tonnes in 2019, an increase of more than 8 percent compared with 2010. About 7 percent of the total was from home firewood burning, far less than the 32 percent that came from unpaved roads, but still a serious problem. According to an article in the December 2020 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Atmosphere, PM2.5 levels triple inside dwellings when wood stoves are in use, much of it occurring when the door is opened to add wood. Consequently, the researchers recommend that wood stoves be sold with a health warning. Every time we light the wood stove, we are harming family and friends. Worse still, our dogs and cats. Canada’s fossil-heavy future How is Canada working to reduce fossil fuels and their devastating impact on both human and planetary health? In December 2020, Ottawa released an updated climate plan, including a promise to raise the carbon tax by $15 per year, reaching $170 per tonne in 2030. It also promised $15 billion in new climate spending. It sounds reassuring: We have the climate crisis under control, with the goal of reaching “net-zero” emissions for the country by 2050. But a few facts get in the way of this convenient view. For instance, to succeed, the plan relies on carbon capture and storage (CCS), of which there are no commercially successful plants. As a January 2021 report from Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness put it: “The [CCS] technology still faces many barriers, would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale at a scarcely credible rate and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering.” A technical paper published by the Cascade Institute in April 2021 warns that despite the December 2020 climate plan, Canada will produce more oil and gas in 2050 than in 2020. Using projections from the Canada Energy Regulator and the federal government, the paper says that even with our stronger climate policies, Canada will be producing more natural gas and oil by 2050 than in 2019. This will result in the oil and gas industry’s annual emissions growing to 200 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent by 2050. But that counts only the upstream emissions—those emanating from extraction and processing. By the time those fossil fuels are transported and burned, Canada expects to have added to the atmosphere 26.1 gigatonnes of GHG emissions from oil, plus another 10.1 gigatonnes from gas. This amounts to more than 50 times the total 2019 GHG domestic emissions reported in Canada’s April 2021 National Inventory Report, which counts only emissions inside Canada, ignoring emissions generated when Canadian fossil fuels are ignited elsewhere. This is in keeping with international emission reporting rules, according to which GHGs are counted only in the country in which they are produced. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t matter to Canada, which is warming twice as fast as the global average. Put another way, for the official GHG inventories, the fossil fuel industry and their friends in the BC and Canadian governments who subsidize it worry only about the supply side of the fuels. If we care about the planet, we should also pay attention to the demand side, where emissions for each barrel of oil or thousand cubic feet of gas are vastly higher. PM2.5s and COVID-19 Much has been written in the last year about the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has inadvertently improved the health of the planet, by reducing demand for fossil fuels, if temporarily. For instance, the Canada Energy Regulator reports that end-use energy demand fell in 2020 from 2019 levels, with the sole exception of residential electricity, as more people worked from home, fewer cars were on the road, and some factories closed. In other words, the pandemic has slightly reduced the use of fuels, including natural gas, diesel and gasoline: The virus temporarily helped the planet. COVID-19 impact on Canadian energy use: All Canadian energy use declined in 2020 except residential electricity. Source: Canada Energy Regulator But what about a related question: Has pollution from fossil fuels helped spread the virus? Quite possibly. There are at least two ways in which this could happen. First, it has long been known that air pollution, including from PM2.5s, causes inflammation in the lungs, inhibiting our ability to fight infections. As BC’s Centre for Disease Control says in a September 11, 2020 statement: “Exposure to air pollution can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation, and alter immune function, making it more difficult to fight respiratory infections such as COVID-19.” In smoky conditions, more people who are exposed to the virus may develop COVID-19 and some cases of COVID-19 may become more severe, warns the centre on its wildfire web page. There is another way that PM2.5s from fossil fuels can make the pandemic worse: PM2.5s could carry the virus directly into our bodies. PM2.5s transport a range of substances into the human body, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals including mercury, chromium, cadmium, arsenic, lead, and uranium. Once inhaled, these hitchhiking substances only increase the toxicity of PM2.5s. They can also transport virus particles. COVID-19 virus particles are spheres, approximately one-tenth of a micron in diameter. This means that COVID-19 particles are about 1/25th the size of the largest PM2.5 particles, suggesting that small particulate matter could carry the COVID-19 virus into our lungs. In an article published in the June 2020 issue of Environmental Research and Public Health, four Italian researchers raise that very question. Particulate matter “could act as a carrier through the aerosol, conveying the virus and increasing its spread,” write the researchers. In turn, this could magnify the havoc wreaked by COVID-19. “Cardiovascular effects induced by PM are linked to particles’ deposition in the lungs, to their translocation through the air-blood barrier to extra-pulmonary sites, and to the resulting systemic inflammation.” This inflammatory storm “may increase the mortality rate and the severity of expression of [COVID-19] in the most polluted areas.” Bum rap? The 38,000 premature Canadian deaths described above are for 2018—more than a year before the pandemic began to take hold. If fossil fuel-derived PM2.5s increase the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19, shouldn’t fossil fuel providers share part of the blame? If major oil companies knew beforehand about the damage their products do to human health, is COVID-19 being unfairly blamed for more harm than it actually causes? But did the fossil fuel producers know? Recently released documents from oil companies prove that they did. An internal Shell technical report completed in July 1968, available from the University of California, San Francisco, was apparently written as a way of warning the company that it will likely face future regulations. (In May 2021, Shell, the lead partner in the LNG Canada project in Kitimat, reported profits of $3.2 billion US in the first three months of 2021.) The 1968 report notes that “air pollution is largely a function of the use of fuels.” As a result, the fossil fuel industry is inevitably facing dreaded regulation: “When the concentrations reach adverse levels, controls must be applied, and because the oil industry is a major source of fuels control, legislation will affect us, both as a supplier and manufacturer.” The Shell report even anticipates the damage done by PM2.5s. “Particulates in combination with toxic substances are generally considered to be the real villains in health effects. This is explained on the basis that the particles concentrate the chemical on their surfaces or in their interstices and produce locally a high concentration of an otherwise very dilute substance. Further, as in the case of [sulphur dioxide], the particles carry a substance deep into the lungs which would otherwise be removed in the throat due to its high water solubility.” The report also warns of the consequences of regulating the industry. “Regulations will affect our major product, gasoline, and hence have great potential for affecting operations, manufacturing, transport, dispensing, etc.” Is COVID-19 getting a bum rap, one that should properly be shared by fossil fuels? In any case, things must change, and quickly. We need to stop setting fire to things, especially fossil fuels. As longtime environmentalist Bill McKibben has said, it’s time to bring the combustion age to a close. Russ Francis believes, on good evidence, that the climate crisis is real. But he wonders whether the Conservative Party of Canada exists. Read the abstract of the Environmental Research and Public Health research report
  5. Photo: The neighbourhood around 902 Foul Bay Road has sprouted many "Save the Trees" signs. A proposed high-density development on the Victoria-Oak Bay border will either destroy the neighbourhood’s ambience—or help save the planet. Go to story
  6. A proposed high-density development on the Victoria-Oak Bay border will either destroy the neighbourhood’s ambience—or help save the planet. WHO COULD OBJECT TO A MULTI-DWELLING PROJECT that—according to the developer—encourages walking, helps solve the climate crisis and eases housing pressures? “The project enables a high quality, densified, compact, walkable lifestyle which is critical to solving our climate and housing crisis [sic] all while creating more livable and healthier communities,” said Aryze Developments in a January 20, 2021 letter to the City of Victoria. Some neighbours in the Foul Bay Road-Quamichan Street area don’t see it that way, believing that the 18-unit townhouse project on a small lot adds too many dwellings, means the removal of too many trees, and will damage the neighbourhood’s ambience. Some are also very unhappy with what they regard as an attempt to intimidate them into supporting the development. The property The lot at number 902 sits just where Foul Bay Road, heading south, departs Oak Bay and ventures into the Gonzales neighbourhood of Victoria, where it remains before ending at Gonzales Beach. The property at 902 Foul Bay Road is a familiar one to those who follow heritage properties and to fans of large urban trees. The 1911, two-storey, cross-gabled house was reminiscent of a country estate, with an external granite chimney and a two-storey verandah nearly encircling the house, according to information from the Victoria Heritage Foundation. A heritage designation awarded in 2003 included the property’s rock wall and landscape. The heritage designated house that occupied the site until 2016 Large and Co. purchased the property in 2014 with hopes to develop some townhouses on the property, though also preserving the house. The company subsequently applied for a demolition permit and removal of the heritage designation, citing contamination from mould, feces and urine: the house had been unheated for two years and housed an estimated 100 cats. In 2015, the City of Victoria’s heritage panel recommended that the council reject the request to demolish. But in January 2016—before the City council had determined its fate—an unexplained fire badly damaged the house. One year later, Victoria police arrested Earl Large (who heads sales for Large and Co.), holding him in jail overnight. Large was released without charges the next day, because the Crown did not approve charges. Following the fire, the remains of the house were demolished. The 0.503 acre lot is currently assessed at $2,566,000, and is now owned by Lions West Homes Ltd, with Aryze as the developer. It is currently zoned R1-G, which permits four single family houses. Each is allowed one accessory use, such as a secondary suite. For the proposed development to proceed, the property would need to be rezoned to permit multi-family dwellings, as well as be granted a development permit. The project Aryze is a Victoria developer, active in numerous area projects from infill housing to the Telus Ocean office building. The privately-held company proposes to build 16 three-bedroom and 2 one-bedroom townhouses at 902 Foul Bay, according to the latest version of the project posted on the City’s website, dated January 20, 2021. The average size of the units is 1,100 square feet. These would be contained in two three-storey structures. An illustration of Aryze’s proposed townhouse project at the corner of Foul Bay and Quamichan An aerial illustration of how the proposed development will occupy the 1/2-acre site Aryze says it has applied to the BC Housing Affordable Home Ownership Program (AHOP), which would allow prices to be reduced by from 5 to 20 percent for eligible buyers, in part by providing interim construction financing at reduced rates. To support what it calls “middle income” families, BC Housing would hold the second mortgage to cover its contribution. There are a number of hurdles to be passed before BC Housing approves a project under AHOP. For instance, community support for the project should be “evident,” and projects should be “consistent with official community plans and strategies,” according to AHOP’s published principles. As well, the townhouses would not be available to the open market. Ineligible are any would-be purchasers who already own or part-own a dwelling anywhere in the world. To buy an AHOP dwelling, purchasers must currently be in rental or other non-tenureship housing, must be Canadian citizens or permanent residents, and must have lived in BC for the past 12 months. These rules apply to everyone on the title of a townhouse. In addition, buyers are limited by household income, which cannot exceed the 75th income percentile of BC families with children—currently $163,220—for those purchasing a three-bedroom unit. For one-bedroom units, their household income must not exceed the 75th percentile of BC families without children—currently $116,330. As of March 13, 2021, 902 Foul Bay Road had not been approved for the AHOP program. To give an example of the strength of these restrictions, somebody just arrived from Ontario, would not qualify, even if living in a tent. A family that part-owns a quarter-acre lot in Australia or earns $164,000 annually would also be ruled out. It remains to be seen how many prospective buyers there are who both meet the stringent qualifications and can afford to pay the mortgage. Aryze principal Luke Mari has said the three-bedroom townhouses would sell for $725,000 each, assuming that the project is approved under AHOP for the maximum 20 percent of the project’s market value. This means that the market value is 5/4 x $725,000 = $906,250. If, on the other hand, AHOP covers just 5 percent, the selling price would be $860,937—or approximately $136,000 more than the $725,000 figure quoted by Aryze. In an email, Mari responded, “Even though the BC Housing AHOP program allows the discount to be anywhere from 5-20 percent, we have committed to the City and BC Housing to use an income test methodology instead. This would cap the sale values of the one-beds at $375,000 and the three-beds at $725,000. This will be secured by a tri-party agreement should we move past committee of the whole.” Neighbours have expressed concerns about added traffic resulting from the addition of 18 new housing units, as well as parking issues. To judge by the latest version of the proposal, Aryze appears to be bending over backwards to support cycling over driving. The proposal includes a bike repair station and 36 bike stalls, but just 16 places to park a car. As well, it is promising 18 memberships in the Modo car-sharing service. Aryze claims there are no fewer than 841 street parking stalls within a five-minute walk. The proposal does not state how many of those stalls are already occupied much of the day. Signs like this abound throughout the neighbourhood Aryze proposes to plant 39 trees, of which 21 would be native, including 4 Garry Oaks. At the same time, it will remove 7 existing Garry Oaks, and two much-admired mature Copper Beech trees, among others. This has led to some of the most vociferous complaints, with signs throughout the neighbourhood proclaiming “Save the Trees at 902 Foul Bay.” Responding to criticism of the proposed tree-cutting, in an August 20, 2020 letter to neighbours, Mari said: “We take no pleasure from cutting down trees.” However, he added, “to retain all trees on the property, only a small single building can be built.” Mari also commented on the beech trees. “The two large beech trees, while beautiful, are in declining health and are non-native species,” he said in the letter, which did not mention the fact that nearly half of the promised new trees would also be non-native. Heritage concerns Though the house is now gone, the property’s landscape heritage designation means that any development project must still pass muster at the City of Victoria’s Heritage Advisory Panel. At the panel’s November 10, 2020 meeting, chair Pam Madoff—a longstanding heritage advocate—asked about the proposed removal of the beech trees. In response, architect Erica Sangster told the panel that the trees grow in a “challenging part of the site,” according to minutes of the meeting. “We tried to keep one of the copper beeches, but it was not in the best health,” added Sangster. “We had to choose which had to be removed. Ultimately both would need to be removed.” In the end, the development sailed through, with five voting in favour, and just Madoff opposed. In a later interview, Madoff told Focus that it’s rare for a property owner to designate the landscape, and she wants to honour that decision. “We are the stewards of that intention,” she says. The treed property at 902 Foul Bay Road, with two large copper beeches The loss of the two beech trees was a particular concern. “I just felt that there was not enough attention paid to the mature trees on the site,” Madoff says. Though not native, the beeches are a significant feature of the site, storing significant quantities of carbon that new trees would not. Monique Genton is a neighbour of the proposed project who would also like the older trees to remain. “There’s value in mature trees, even if they’re not native,” says Genton, a member of UVic’s Native Plant Study Group, and who is registered as a native-plant salvager in Saanich. She adds that the beech trees are very much loved by the neighbours. “The best tree is the one you’ve got.” A $2 million neighbourhood? In arguing that the 16 three-bedroom town homes will sell for $725,000 each, Mari said they would be far cheaper than the $2.1 million he says is the average price for a three-bedroom house in the neighbourhood. To some, that $2.1 million figure is on the high side. Madoff, for one, questions Mari’s claim regarding local house prices. “I thought that was very misleading,” she says, adding that the average price is likely much lower. A check of assessed values in the immediate area lends support to the view that the Aryze claim is far too high. BC Assessment lists nine properties as “neighbouring” 902 Foul Bay. Of these nine, just three are three-bedroom; one has two bedrooms. The average assessed value of these four properties is $971,624. Only four properties adjoin 902 Foul Bay, all on the north side. The 910 Foul Bay Road address consists of two properties, one of which has a 2,236-square-foot house; the other is vacant. The two properties are currently assessed at a total of $1,249,500. On Hawes Road, a small cul-de-sac that runs off Redfern Street, sit 1940 and 1946 Hawes. They are assessed at $846,000 and $910,000 respectively. The property at 910 Foul Bay that adjoins 902 makes for an interesting comparison with the Aryze proposal. The single house on the two properties at 910 occupies 0.47 acres, just less than 902’s half-acre. Put another way, this means that the Aryze proposal would result in 18 times more dwellings on roughly the same size lot as its only immediate, single-family, Foul Bay Road neighbour. One concern for neighbours is that if the Aryze proposal is approved by the City, it might set a precedent for subsequent redevelopment of nearby properties. The covenant: A hindrance or irrelevant? There is a longstanding covenant executed against the title of 902 Foul Bay Road, and approximately 100 neighbouring properties. Registered October 24, 1924, the covenant reads as follows: “No building is to be erected upon any lot other than a private dwelling house with suitable outbuildings; and no dwelling house to be erected upon any lot adjoining or fronting on Foul Bay Road shall cost less in erection thereof than Four Thousand Dollars ($4,000.00) and on other lots not less than Two thousand dollars ($2,000.00).” (The minimum prices for houses seems positively laughable in today’s runaway real estate prices; they reflect typical prices of nearly a century ago.) Such restrictive covenants remain in effect when the property passes on to successive owners. This feature of covenants is often referred to as “running with the land.” If enforced, this restrictive covenant may well rule out 18 townhouses on the lot. Or does it? Mari claims that some other properties covered by the covenant already violate it, since they have basement suites. Answering a question from Focus, Mari says the effect of the covenant is “unclear” regarding townhouses. “The covenant restricts the property to ‘private dwellings,’ but does that exclude townhouses?” Mari says in the emailed response. He adds, “The Strata Property Act did not exist at the time of drafting. Under property law, a strata townhouse is a form of private dwelling.” With regard to the trees, Mari notes, “the private covenant does not save the trees as the existing zoning rights allow potentially even broader tree removal in order to build out the four single-family dwellings under existing zoning.” In general, the practical impact of restrictive covenants is questionable. Many are found in older neighbourhoods, even predating zoning bylaws. Sometimes, they are placed by developers as a selling point, in an attempt to control the neighbourhood. They are technically separate and apart from anything the city does. Municipal governments are not obligated to abide by them, though some cities do take note of them in deciding on a proposal. In the case of Victoria, a City official told Focus the City ignores restrictive covenants in determining the fate of a proposed development. The only exception is when the City is a party to the covenant; in the case of 902 Foul Bay Road, it is not. Are restrictive covenants immutably attached to the properties they govern? The short answer: No. Under BC’s Property Law Act, a court may discharge a restrictive covenant. Section 35 of the Act lays down a number of conditions under which a restrictive covenant can be set aside. How difficult is that? According to an in-depth 2012 report on restrictive covenants for the British Columbia Law Institute, the threshold for modifying or cancelling a restrictive covenant under section 35 is “quite high.” Said the report: “The courts will not exercise the powers given by section 35 lightly, recognizing that a restrictive covenant is a valuable property right.” The report notes that restrictive covenants have been seen as “a useful means of protecting valuable interests connected with the use and enjoyment of land at a localized and private level that public planning does not reach.” On January 22, 2020, 902 Foul Bay Road property owner Lions West Homes Ltd filed a petition asking the BC Supreme Court to discharge the covenant. In support, Lions West lawyer Lindsay LeBlanc cited changes in the nature of the neighbourhood, as well as the covenant’s “impediment of practical use.” The petition claims that since the covenant was signed, “the neighbourhood has experienced significant densification with the restrictive covenant not being followed or enforced.” Noting that 31 of the approximately 100 lots to which the covenant applies have more than one dwelling, Lions West said in the petition that the restrictive covenant is now “obsolete,” and “is unreasonably impeding the petitioner’s plans to build on the property.” Representing a number of area residents, lawyer Kyle Hamilton filed a response to the Lions West petition on June 24, 2020. In the response, the neighbours said that the covenant provides them with a such practical benefits as natural beauty, the park-like feel of backyards due to the collective view of all yards together, peaceful setting of their homes, established green space, uniform visual appearances, low turnover rate of owners, and a sense of neighbourhood. In the court filing, the neighbours said that removing the covenant would lead to loss of privacy, increased residential noise and traffic, loss of the neighbourhood’s current character, removal and destruction of green space, and their uniform park-like view replaced with three storey, multi-family units. To the surprise of neighbours, on August 13, 2020—less than two months after the response was filed—Lions West asked the court to adjourn hearing the petition. Asked in March 2021 for the reason, Mari provided a single sentence in an email to Focus: “It was adjourned to gather additional material as requested by the respondents.” A threat? Or helpful advice? A letter from Aryze, headed “Common Questions and Answers” was distributed to residents served with petition materials in February 2020. It said that Aryze was pursuing removal of the covenant because there is a “potential grey area” between the proposed development and the covenant. “As such, we are pursuing the removal of this covenant for clarity moving forward,” said the letter. The Aryze letter also contained what some recipients regard as a threat. Said the letter: “While not ideal, we should note that if property owners decide to pursue legal action to oppose this discharge, and we are successful in the removal through the courts, we will be seeking legal compensation from those opposing property owners due to the added costs of additional court processes.” In their response filed with the court, the neighbours said the letter had two purposes. Quoting from the court filing, these are: “(a) To downplay the significance of the petition and what Aryze was seeking to do with the covenant and (b) threaten the respondents with possible financial repercussions should they oppose the removal of the covenant and lose.” Heritage advocate Madoff is not happy with Aryze’s statement that it will ask the court to order that opponents pay costs. “A letter like that would be very unsettling,” Madoff says. “The threat of an award of costs would be terrifying.” Asked for a response to residents’ concerns about that section of the letter distributed to the respondents, Mari said the following: “I can say with absolute sincerity, this portion of the letter was to give residents a clear understanding of what they were getting into,” Mari said in an email. “If they didn’t oppose, it’s a 3-4 week process to discharge the agreement, $5,000 in fees kind of thing. If they chose to oppose, it takes months and months and tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. We take no joy in these situations and even conveyed that in a follow up letter that we welcomed their right to oppose but the added time, complexity, and costs then afforded us via the Courts to recoup some of those costs.” A neighbourhood website has been seeking donations to help cover legal costs. How many is too many? Despite their court-filed objections to the project, some neighbours regard an increase in density as acceptable. Neighbour Peter Nadler says that while some want no more than what current zoning allows on the site—four single-family houses—others would accept some densification, as long as most of the trees are preserved. “We have to accept increased density,” says Nadler, speaking for the second group. “What we’re after is balance.” Focus asked Mari if he would consider fewer townhouses on the property. He replied: “Yes, we could provide less homes on the property, but it would mean that we would be unable to provide 100 percent of the project under the BC Housing Affordable Home Ownership Program, which offers homes at more than 20 percent below market rates,” he said in an email. He also stated: “Regarding neighbour feedback, we have found some inconsistencies. On one hand some claim to express support for added density on the property but then are also seeking to enforce a restrictive covenant that limits the project to no added density, as the covenant supports the existing zoning to build four single family homes which will certainly be priced at well over $2m each. So we are left wondering which is it?” What’s next? The development proposal is expected to soon head to the City of Victoria’s committee of the whole to decide whether it merits proceeding to a public hearing. Aryze is well known to council members from numerous development proposals as well as its recent spearheading of a project to re-purpose shipping containers as tiny homes for 30 homeless citizens. As with other developers, Aryze officials were generous in their support for some candidates during Victoria’s 2018 municipal election. Mari donated $500 to the campaigns of successful council candidate Marianne Alto and Mayor Lisa Helps, according to Elections BC records. A $500 donation to Councillor Jeremy Loveday was declined by Loveday. Mari also gave to unsuccessful candidates Anna King ($500), and Grace Lore ($485.20). In addition, Aryze staffer Ryan Goodman donated $500 to Helps, and $485.20 to Lore. Donations to Victoria candidates from both Mari and Goodman in the 2018 campaign totalled $3,470.40. These donations fall well below the permitted limit. Elections BC rules set maximum individual donations to a single local election candidate at $1,200 for 2018. (Only individuals may contribute to candidates for municipal councils; companies, unions and other and organizations are now banned from reimbursing individuals who make campaign contributions.) While some claim donations from developers put council members in a conflict of interest, a recent ruling from the BC Supreme Court confirmed donations to local election candidates do not in themselves restrict successful candidates from voting on donors’ projects. Two lawyers with Vancouver-based law firm Young Anderson, Kathleen Higgins & Sarah Strukoff analyzed the court ruling in a January 12, 2021, report. “In summary, this case, along with others, suggests that a campaign contribution made by a developer, assuming it has been accepted in accordance with other applicable legislation such as the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act and even if made while the developer has an ‘in-stream’ application before council, is not a ground in and of itself for a disqualification of a council member on the basis of the conflict of interest provisions in the Community Charter.” Asked when he expects to see shovels in the ground, Mari replies: “In an optimistic world, Fall 2021.” As an intense wave of high-density development sweeps through Victoria, Madoff is troubled by what she sees as a common attitude about new projects, the mistaken view that there is no such thing as bad development. Says Madoff: “I really care about what’s happening to this city.” Russ Francis admits to liking both houses and trees—not necessarily in that order.
  7. I agree that residential wood burning is a serious problem. The BC Government reports that residential wood burning causes approximately 27 percent of BC's emissions of fine particulate matter (particles that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter, called PM 2.5), though in some areas the levels are much higher. The World Health Organization reports that there is no safe level for PM 2.5, which causes cancers, as well as serious heart and lung disease. As well, wood burning produces volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, and poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. And while BC's GHG inventory reports emissions from slash pile burning (3.3 Mt in 2018), it does not include this in BC's total emissions. How much does burning wood to heat homes contribute to GHG emissions? We don't know. The annual inventory lumps residential wood-burning in with all other types of home heating (4.1 Mt in 2018.) There is a common misconception that burning wood for heat is green, because trees absorb carbon dioxide when they are growing. In fact, it can be much worse than burning even fossil fuels, depending on how it is burnt and other factors. CleanBC's Better Homes program currently has rebates available for switching from wood heat to a high-efficiency central heat pump. Some become emotional about their dedication to wood burning, calling it cosy, traditional and romantic. To me, it's not terribly romantic living in a place where neighbours are dying from COPD--or on a planet made unlivable by GHG emissions.
  8. Globe and Mail columnist Scott Barlow says there is a quickly growing bubble in hydrogen stocks. Writing in the newspaper's February 15 issue, he says that "investors are currently pouring money into companies that won’t be profitable, or even have revenue in many cases, for many years." Adds Barlow: "Currently, 99 per cent of hydrogen is produced using fossil fuel-generated electricity."
  9. Image: An valley in BC's Interior fills with smoke from a forest fire. Three years after the New Democrats assumed power, BC is further behind in meeting emissions reductions targets. Go to story
  10. Three years after the New Democrats assumed power, BC is further behind in meeting emissions reductions targets. ON THE DAY FOLLOWING the BC government’s release of its 2020 Climate Change Accountability report, the December 17, 2020 Times Colonist front page was brimming with stories: COVID-19 rules, a column on government process, as well as a non-announcement of a possible future film studio, a story promising that unnamed investors for the studio were “hiding in the woodwork.” Notable for its absence—from the entire December 17 issue—was the one story that is arguably far more significant than nameless, invisible investors: that the target for BC’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has become ever more distant; that the government failed to come through on its promise to tell us how it is going to meet the required emissions reductions. And that BC’s emissions are vastly larger than the usually quoted figures, once forest-management-related emissions are counted. A ProQuest newspaper database search revealed that the Times Colonist was not alone in its inattention. Three other large dailies—the Vancouver Sun, the Province and the Globe and Mail all ignored the report on BC’s worrisome emissions predicament in a year when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told us we had to begin reducing emissions if we are to avoid making Earth uninhabitable. Readers of some regional newspapers fared better. The Abbotsford News ran a Canadian Press story in its December 17, 2020 issue, a story that included critical comments from environmental organizations Stand.earth, Sierra Club BC, Georgia Strait Alliance, and the Pembina Institute. Though the National Post ran a version of the same December 16 Canadian Press story, it was much shortened, and omitted the environmental activists’ criticisms. CBC’s online news site also ran a condensed version of the Canadian Press story, but offered no in-depth analysis. And the only person quoted by CBC was Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman. Not one environmentalist. Climate crisis? What climate crisis? Carbon intensity: not a relevant measure So what does the Province’s 2020 Climate Change Accountability report tell us? For one thing it proudly points to progress on the carbon intensity front: “Between 2007 and 2018, net GHG emissions grew by 6 percent while the economy grew by 26 percent. That means that the GHG intensity of our economy decreased by 16 percent since 2007.” It notes that the carbon intensities of population and buildings also decreased. Emissions per person and per square meter of building space both fell in the same 2007–2018 period. Does that mean we’re winning the climate change battle? Not so fast. The planet doesn’t give a flying fig about the economy’s carbon intensity, nor about how many tonnes of GHGs each person or each square meter in buildings is responsible for. When it comes to global heating, the relevant number is total greenhouse gas emissions. To demonstrate how silly focusing on carbon intensity is, consider this: By doubling the province’s gross domestic product—such as by having many more car crashes—the BC economy’s carbon intensity would halve, other things being equal, while our total emissions could increase. The energy intensity of floor space has dropped by 22 percent for commercial buildings and 23 percent for residential. However, the total building energy use has increased, thanks to more and bigger buildings. Similarly for population. Needless to say, the last thing the planet needs is more people, even though boosting the population would almost certainly reduce per-person emissions. Unfortunately, our total emissions continue to increase. The last year for which emissions are available is 2018, the first full year of the NDP’s reign. In that year, they jumped from 65.8 to 67.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e), 3.3 percent over 2017. To put that figure in context, Oregon’s emissions fell 1.1 percent from 2017 to 2018, though they increased slightly the following year, according to preliminary data for 2019. Washington State’s emissions rose 1.3 percent and California’s increased 1.9 percent in 2018. Once more, BC is lagging its US partners in the Pacific Coast Collaborative when it comes to getting a grip on controlling emissions, and getting further away from its legislated emissions reduction goal of 40 percent below 2007 emissions by 2030. Accountability lacking in accountability report In some respects, Clean BC’s 2020 Climate Change Accountability Report seems to have been rushed out the door weeks before the December 31, 2020 deadline, a deadline the NDP itself laid down when introducing CleanBC in December 2018. The report lacks a critical piece of information: How does the government plan to close the 6.5 Mt gap in emission reductions needed to reach CleanBC’s 2030 reduction target of 25.4 Mt? According to Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman, writing in the report’s introduction: “We encountered unexpected challenges, and while we have not met this target date we will redouble our efforts…” Translation: We failed. We still know nothing about where those extra emission cuts are going to come from, crucial information that we were promised by now. Heyman is now saying the new road map will come by the end of 2021. But it gets worse. That 6.5 Mt gap is now between 7.2 Mt and 11.2 Mt, thanks to improved estimates from the government’s own modelling. A second major problem with the December 2020 accountability report is that it says nothing about how well CleanBC is working, on the grounds that emissions data for 2019, the first year of the program, are not yet available. For reasons that are unfathomable to me, it takes approximately two years for the federal and BC governments to agree on emissions data for each year. In other words, there is little in the way of accountability concerning CleanBC—in CleanBC’s own accountability report. Perhaps the report should instead have been entitled: “A collection of euphemistic fog.” For what it’s worth, the report does update emission projections for 2030, admittedly not an easy task. The latest model estimates that BC’s emissions will then total 47.2 Mt, up from the earlier estimate of 44.3 Mt. Besides the accountability report itself, two related documents have also been released recently. One is a November 26, 2020 letter from the government’s Climate Solutions Council, which advises the government on meeting emissions. The Council’s letter warned that BC is falling behind schedule in reaching its legislated targets of 40 percent below 2007 levels by 2030, 60 percent in 2040 and 80 percent in 2050. “Recent ministry modelling shows that BC is not at present on track to meet its 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions target,” said the letter. Hence the 7.2 Mt to 11.2 Mt in emissions reductions yet to be found. The government-appointed volunteer council includes environmentalists, labour representatives, First Nations, industry representatives and others. One member is Scott Maloney, the “vice-president, environment” of Teck Resources, a company whose claim to fame includes proposing the development of one of Canada’s largest tar sands projects, near Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park. (Following energetic opposition by environmentalists, in February, 2020 Teck dropped the $20 billion project.) Another Council member is Skye McConnell, a manager with Shell Canada, which is the main partner in the wholly foreign-owned LNG Canada project. McConnell, a registered Shell Canada lobbyist, lobbied various deputy ministers and other senior officials in several ministries no fewer than 11 times since September 2020. As of February 4, her last reported lobbying involved Les McLaren, an assistant deputy minister in the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. Topics discussed at those meetings included “LNG Bunkering: exploring opportunities for use of LNG [liquefied natural gas] as a marine fuel.” Speaking of LNG: neither the Climate Solutions Council’s letter nor the accountability report itself even mentions the 8.14 Mt that the LNG Canada facility in Kitimat will add to BC’s emissions each year, purportedly starting years before CleanBC’s 2030 target date. As Marc Lee of BC’s Corporate Mapping Project has written: “BC’s targets are incompatible with provincial plans for an LNG export industry.” The second supporting document, released in January 2021, is Supporting the Development of CleanBC by Vancouver consultants Navius Research. Submitted to the BC Climate Action Secretariat, its 123 pages comprise a closely reasoned analysis of the methodology, assumptions and results of CleanBC. (More from Navius’s analysis below.) Offsets: like “Indulgences” in the Middle Ages The Province refers to 2018’s emissions of 67.9 Mt as “gross.” However, according to the December accountability report, the “net” emissions are 1.0 Mt smaller, once “offset” forestry projects are counted. These projects are those “that improve the storage of carbon dioxide in BC’s forests,” says the report. What are offsets? To explain, suppose that a factory currently emits 10 tonnes of CO2 -equivalent each year. Being a good corporate citizen, it wants to cut its emissions by 10 percent, but it proves costly to achieve this by modifying factory equipment. Instead, the facility buys one tonne of offsets from the BC Government’s offset program. That money might, for instance, be used to replace diesel generators in a remote northern community with solar- and wind-powered electricity. Consequently, emissions in the remote community fall, ideally by more than one tonne and at a lower cost than had the factory instead cut its own emissions. The result is an overall reduction in emissions. In this hypothetical example, the benefit is obvious. But BC’s offsets as specified in the accountability report involve forest management, and that suggests a problem. Mark Jaccard, who teaches sustainable energy at Simon Fraser University, helped design BC’s carbon tax in addition to other climate and energy policies. As well, he sits on the Climate Solutions Council. Jaccard’s 2020 book, The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success, is arguably the best book in years on climate policy. Its tone is irreverent, attacking various widely-held tenets of climate policy. He doesn’t hold back when it comes to carbon offsets, comparing them with “indulgences” paid the church in the Middle Ages by rich Christians to expiate their sins. Jaccard is especially tough on forest-related offsets, citing a Costa Rican program to help conserve forest land. Nearly all the land covered by the program could not be used for anything but forests. “Thus, forest land owners received money for not cutting down forests they were not going to cut down anyway,” says Jaccard. Put another way, the program lacked “additionality”—the requirement that it result in lower emissions than would have happened otherwise. Doubtless pushed by Jaccard, in a November 26, 2020 advice letter to Heyman, the Climate Solutions Council advised of the risks inherent in relying on offsets to meet emissions targets. In a three-page appendix, it cited several problems with offsets, including a lack of additionality. Another problem, said the council in the letter, is that offsets can be a disincentive to invest in carbon reduction, by encouraging the purchase of offsets rather than reducing emissions. Consequently, I will disregard the claim that BC’s 1.0 Mt in forest offsets means that emissions are really down by that much. BC’s 67.9 Mt of  “gross emissions” were the actual emissions in 2018, according to the latest GHG inventory. Smoke from a forest fire fills a valley in the Interior of BC Ignoring an emissions elephant But the province’s actual emissions are far greater than even the gross emissions addressed in the accountability report. As Focus publisher David Broadland has pointed out, missing from the official count are those connected with “Other Land Use.” In 2018, emissions in this category, by the government's own figures, totalled 236.0 Mt—approximately 3.5 times as much as the 67.9 Mt mentioned above. What caused this huge glob of emissions? The vast majority, 199.7 Mt, came from one source: wildfires, which were worse in 2018 than the previous year—though not by much. In 2017, wildfires resulted in 163.3 Mt of GHG emissions. Why not count those “other land use” emissions, which amount to 88 percent of BC’s emissions? In a phrase—they’re not our fault. Says the inventory’s so-called methodology book: They “are more volatile and largely determined by natural factors outside of human control.” The Chutanli Lake forest fire in 2018. Many forest fires in BC start in or near clearcuts. Huh? If the recent upsurge in forest fires isn’t largely anthropogenic, I don’t know what is. Of course, it is not just BC or Canadian humans contributing to the jump in forest fires. Does that mean we shouldn’t worry about it? Hardly. How about BC leading the way, and taking climate change more seriously than concerning ourselves with CleanBC’s politically-motivated goals of cutting only some of the trifling 12 percent of our actual emissions? Besides, as Broadland’s research found, clearcut logging increases the risk of wildfire—which BC can do something about. Moreover, the carbon emissions prematurely released as a result of clearcut logging on publicly owned land are also huge. By international convention, emissions associated with tree cover loss are attributed to the year in which the tree cover loss occurred. Those emissions in BC, according to Broadland’s research, have been averaging about 110 megatonnes each year over the past 11 years, and are completely within the control of the BC government. For 2018, the Province acknowledged 41.4 megatonnes of such emissions, but doesn’t include them in its account of “total” emissions. Slash piles being burned after logging on publicly owned land on Quadra Island By not counting BC’s largest emission source, we are at an even greater risk of contributing to runaway global heating. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that BC somehow does manage to hit its CleanBC 2030 target of a 40 percent reduction in “net” GHGs. But omitted from the ebullient government press releases at the time—as now—will be logging and wildfire emissions, which will doubtless be even larger nine years from now, larger because there is no requirement to reduce them to meet CleanBC targets. In turn, this will lead to even higher logging and fire emissions. Sierra Club BC senior forest and climate campaigner Jens Wieting urges the BC government to include forestry emissions in its official GHG inventory. In a September 3, 2020 news release, Wieting objected to the Province ignoring the “exploding growth” of BC’s forest management emissions, including those caused by clearcut logging, slash burning and worsening climate impacts like wildfires and insect outbreaks. “It is not too late for the BC government to amend CleanBC to make sure it addresses forest emissions as part of its efforts towards an economic recovery strategy post COVID-19,” said Wieting. The gaping hole in BC’s emissions inventory makes the entire reporting mechanism under the so-called Climate Change Accountability Act for GHG reductions a sorry joke, a gutless public relations exercise—one that the politicians hope voters will not see through. Forest management expert Dr Peter Wood wrote a detailed February 1, 2021 report for Sierra Club BC calling for a radical revision of how BC’s forests are managed. In particular, says the report, unless we stop clearcutting we face more frequent and intense forest fires, as well as increased risk of flooding, droughts and heatwaves. Wood agrees that it is unacceptable to omit wildfire emissions from the provincial inventory, and calls this part of “the mathematics of convenience.” We can expect more such numerical shenanigans, Wood told Focus. “As countries are pressured into making bigger commitments on emissions reductions, the temptation to look for or create loopholes will also increase,” he says. The slightly good news Of the 67.9 Mt of carbon emissions CleanBC is prepared to admit, the biggest source is transportation (including heavy trucks, passenger vehicles, and off-road industrial transport), which spewed out 41 percent of the province’s emissions in 2018—an increase of 6 percent over 2017. Next came the oil and gas industry (20 percent), other industries (19 percent), buildings (12 percent), waste (5 percent) and deforestation (4 percent, but this does not include industrial forestry since the assumption is made that clearcut areas are replanted). (The percentages do not add to 100 percent, due to rounding.)    There are a couple of bright spots in the CleanBC accountability report. One is electric vehicles. Electric cars have become an easy fix for part of BC’s growing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2019, helped by provincial and federal subsidies, sales of electric light vehicles more than doubled from 2018 and the province has nearly met CleanBC’s 2025 target—that 10 percent of new car sales be zero-emission—five years early, says the accountability report. (The term “zero-emission vehicles” includes those powered by hydrogen, a fuel which, depending on how the hydrogen is produced, may not be zero-emission—but that also applies to electricity.) In 2020-21, BC budgeted $20 million for rebates for plug-in hybrids and battery-electric light vehicles. The funding is growing. In the year beginning April 1, 2021, the Province will nearly double its spending on rebates, to $38 million. The Navius modelling assumes that this higher amount will continue through 2030. Thanks to the additional rebates, much cheaper batteries, and sharply reduced operating costs for electric cars—e.g., no oil changes, engine tuneups, or transmission repairs—it’s likely that the 2040 target that every new light-duty vehicle be zero-emission will also be reached early. As a result, Navius estimates that emissions from light-duty vehicles will drop 24 percent by 2030 from the 8.5 Mt they produced in 2020—about 10 percent of last year’s total emissions (i.e., without counting forest fires etc.) They would fall more, except for the fact that in 2030 there will still be many fossil-fuelled vehicles on the road. Another success lies in home heating, which represented 12 percent of 2018’s 67.9 Mt emissions. In 2019, the proportion of households warmed and cooled by heat pumps sat at 10 percent, more than three times the percentage in 2007, says the accountability report. Heat pump installations will likely continue to increase sharply, since government incentive money is projected to nearly quintuple in the next few years. By complete coincidence, these pending large increases in money to help voters buy nicer cars and home heating systems will take effect in the run-up to the next provincial election, due in October 2024. (Of course, Premier John Horgan has been known to ignore legislated election dates.) Despite these minor successes, BC’s total emissions continue to increase, while NASA reports that 2020 was tied with 2016 as the warmest year on record. Yet the Province still has no complete plan to help reverse this alarming trend. Russ Francis notes that a January 31, 2021 New Zealand Climate Change Commission report advises cutting livestock numbers in that country 15 percent by 2030 as a means of reducing biogenic methane emissions. The freed-up land in that country, heavily dependent on the animal exploitation industry, would instead be used for agriculture and exotic forestry. In BC, animal production caused 2.0 Mt of emissions in 2018. Yet CleanBC is silent on the issue.
  11. Posted December 30 2020 Late, over budget and made worse by the coronavirus, will “Canada’s largest infrastructure project” ever produce one gram of liquefied natural gas? Go to story
  12. On January 6, 2021, the BC Government extended increased rebates for replacing fossil fuel-fired space and water heaters with heat pumps. Registration is required by March 31, 2021.
  13. Late, over budget and made worse by the coronavirus, will “Canada’s largest infrastructure project” ever produce one gram of liquefied natural gas? LNG Canada’s project in Kitimat is now under construction (Photo by LNG Canada) TO SOME, it might be tempting to feel sorry for the LNG Canada construction project, now under slowing construction near Kitimat. A variety of reasons might invoke sympathy. For one thing, the world is quickly moving away from fossil fuels. To pick just one example, on the afternoon of December 18, 2020 Great Britain’s wind farms generated 17.3 gigawatts (GW) of electricity, amounting to a record 43 percent of Britain’s power at the time, according to Renewable UK. And it was just when the country needed it most, on a cold winter day. British solar isn’t far behind, in a country that not long ago relied heavily on burning coal to produce electricity. On April 20, 2020, solar produced a record 9.7 GW, or nearly 30 percent of UK demand, reported the Solar Power Portal. And let’s not forget that in December Prime Minister Justin “Kinder Morgan” Trudeau announced an increase in the carbon tax to $170 per tonne by 2030, which might even lead to Canada actually meeting its Paris climate targets in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Originally expected to begin churning out liquefied natural gas (LNG) by 2025, the Shell-led foreign consortium building the LNG Canada project faces intense competition from US plants that are either already operating or are further ahead than the Kitimat facility. Delays may well have pushed LNG Canada’s first production to at least 2026, possibly allowing competitors to jump ahead. The LNG Canada project calls for two trains (production units) to open initially, producing a total of 14 million tonnes per annum (MPTA) of LNG. How does this compare with competing US LNG export projects? There are currently 15 large-scale LNG export trains operating in the US, 4 of which began commercial operation just in 2020. The 15 now-operating trains have a total capacity of 76 MTPA—or more than 5 times the output of LNG Canada’s first stage. As well, another 7 are under construction in the US, all of which are projected to start exporting by 2025. One, in Corpus Christi Bay, Texas, will begin production in May 2021, according to the US Energy Information Agency. These new facilities will add a further 38 MTPA to US exports, bringing total US capacity to 114 MPTA in 2025, the year in which LNG Canada originally expected to begin producing one-eighth as much. While it is entirely possible that some of the new US facilities will also be delayed, it is clear that our southern neighbours have a significant head start on BC. According to a September 23, 2020 report by data analysis company Statista, COVID-19 “leaves the future of [LNG] terminal projects unclear.” By 2026, despite projections from industry cheerleaders of increased Chinese demand for LNG over the next decade, the combination of falling prices for renewable energy, growing US competition, and the greening of government policy could mean that the LNG Canada partners—Shell, Mitsubishi, Petronas, Petrochina and Korean Gas—could be stuck with a truly stranded asset, unable to profitably sell the plant’s fossil fuel despite $6 billion in subsidies from the BC government. Work sites are like “landlocked cruise ships” In recent months, the project has been hit by a number of unexpected issues. A few days before Christmas 2020, janitors at the LNG Canada site voted 84 percent in favour of a strike. In normal times, the threat of reduced or no cleaning might amount at most to a bit of a nuisance, but not earth-shattering. Serious pandemics such as COVID-19, however, mean that the times are far from normal. The accommodation facilities for workers at LNG Canada’s project in Kitimat (Photo by LNG Canada) “LNG janitors work on the front lines in construction sites surrounded by heavy machinery, cleaning work camps staffed by hundreds of other LNG workers,” said the janitors’ union, Unite Here, in a December 21 statement. “They are among the lowest paid workers on the LNG site. Janitors have not been provided with a living wage, adequate staffing levels, fair workloads, and enough health and safety equipment to protect against COVID-19 until recently.” The janitors, many of whom are Indigenous, work for Burnaby-based subcontractor Dexterra, which has since said that it continues to negotiate in good faith and is optimistic about reaching a satisfactory resolution. (Before November 13, Dexterra was known as Horizon North Logistics.) After the pandemic hit North America early in 2020, LNG Canada seemed to be taking appropriate steps. In March, the project laid off approximately 750 “non-essential” workers as a preventative measure against the virus, flying them back to their homes across Canada. But not all experts were convinced it was enough. The former Chief Medical Health Officer for Northern Health called for the immediate closure of all industrial work camps in the region, including LNG Canada. In a March 28 open letter to Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry, Dr David Bowering referred to such work sites as “essentially landlocked cruise ships.” Added Bowering: “The camps are and will be COVID-19 incubators placing the workers, the host communities, and the home communities of the workers at unacceptable risk.” However, Dr Henry declined to order such projects closed, noting that many had already reduced their staffing levels. “You can’t just abandon a large mine or industrial site,” Dr Henry said at a March 30 news conference. The LNG plant construction is governed by a contract between LNG Canada and a venture formed by Texan company Fluor and Japanese firm JGC. In November, the builders said they had received a number of questions about how careful they were about protecting workers and the local community. In response to the queries, LNG Canada construction manager Vince Kenny and JGC-Fluor Joint Venture construction director Berni Molz were reassuring. For one thing, the project is adhering to orders from Dr Henry, the pair said in a November 19 statement. Not only that, it was following the Industrial Camp Guidance issued by the BC Centre for Disease Control and also obeying WorkSafeBC’s safe construction worksite requirements. Actually, boasting that the consortium is abiding by such rules is a somewhat hollow gesture: Companies operating in BC are required to follow them. It’s a little like telling the world that you promise not to rob banks. In their statement, Molz and Kenny summarized the project’s approach: “We can assure you that together we are taking prudent measures to help stop and reduce the spread of the virus.” Apparently, those “prudent measures” were not enough. As it happened, though the statement did not mention it, on the same day (November 19), Northern Health declared a COVID-19 outbreak at the LNG Canada site, an outbreak in which 56 site workers eventually tested positive. (However, by December 11 all but one of the 56 had recovered.) A few weeks later, COVID-19 hit the project for a second time in an unrelated outbreak. Northern Health said in a December 17 statement that 15 of the 40 employees of Diversified Transportation who work at the LNG Canada site had tested positive. The outbreak declaration will remain in place until at least January 14, 2021. Wet’suwet’en worries confirmed The pandemic is also affecting LNG Canada in other ways. Adding insult to injury are problems with the Coastal GasLink pipeline, intended to ship fracked fossil gas 670 km from the Dawson Creek area to LNG Canada, over the continuing, strenuous objections of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. In case anyone remains unsure as to whether the chiefs remain opposed to the pipeline, a November 30 open letter from 22 female Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to Dr Henry puts any doubt to rest. “We understand that the Province has declared oil and gas work an essential service, however, we strongly encourage you to reconsider,” the chiefs said in the letter. “The economy cannot come before Indigenous lives.” “Living in these northern rural communities, we see and feel the influx of transient workers in our communities” they told Dr Henry in the letter, which calls for both the pipeline and the LNG Canada site to be shut down. “Our hotels are occupied by LNG workers, we see the traffic through our territories increase ten-fold, we see the workers eating in our restaurants, shopping at our grocery stores and visiting our local pubs and bars on a regular basis,” they said in the letter. “Not only have we witnessed an increase in drugs, alcohol and gang related violence in our communities, we are now faced with a disease that could kill any one of us.” The chiefs’ concerns were prescient. Less than one month later, Northern Health declared a COVID-19 outbreak at two Coastal GasLink worker accommodation sites, in the Burns Lake and Fraser Lake areas. To date, 27 employees had tested positive for the virus, and 17 cases remain active, Northern Health said in a December 20 statement. In addition, medical health officers issued an order that the worksites be limited to all but essential workers until health authorities approve an updated COVID-19 safety plan. The outbreak declaration will remain in effect till at least January 17. The multitude of COVID-19 outbreaks related to LNG Canada has not gone unnoticed by BC’s Provincial Health Officer. On December 23, Dr Henry announced new orders for northern industrial projects like LNG Canada and the Coastal GasLink pipeline, including a requirement that these companies must slow their usual January ramping-up of activities, when workers return to the sites from both inside and outside BC. “This large movement of people means potential for higher spread amongst employees, but also into communities along the areas where the industrial camps are in the north, and right now we know Northern Health is stretched,” Henry said, according to a transcript of her comments provided by the Ministry of Health. “We are already seeing many small, rural, and remote communities in the north under strain,” she said, adding that the order will help ease that pressure at the start of the year. Cost increases could lead to stranded asset Apart from the effects of the pandemic, how is pipeline construction coming along? In a December 18 update, Coastal GasLink issued a statement boasting that its team “has made an incredible amount of progress,” having completed 23 percent of the 670 km pipeline. But there was one slight hiccup. Ten days earlier, the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) issued an order following an inspection. Builders had failed to mitigate adverse effects of erosion and sediment control, as required by the project’s environmental assessment certificate, Clayton Smith, a senior compliance and enforcement officer, said in the December 8 order. Smith ordered the project to take a number of steps, including providing biweekly monitoring reports from an independent erosion auditor, beginning February 8, 2021. Not only must the auditor be independent, any monitoring reports the auditor writes must be provided directly to the EAO “without first being reviewed by [Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project Ltd.]” Given the disastrous record of BC’s supposed monitoring of mining, forestry, fracked gas and other so-called “natural resource” industries in recent years, the condition is reassuring. The sad part is that the EAO felt it necessary to spell out that an independent auditor must actually be independent. Such challenges, along with disruptions due to COVID, will affect both construction costs and the schedule for building the LNG plant. When costs rise above what was anticipated, the joint venture could end up losing money. In fact, less than a year after the LNG Canada contract was signed on October 31, 2018—and long before the pandemic—Fluor officials expressed concern about such fixed-price contracts, announcing that it would be much more cautious before accepting similar contracts. Construction of a storage tank at LNG’s Kitimat site (Photo by LNG Canada) On August 1, 2019, Fluor’s then-executive chairman Alan Boeckmann said he was “extremely disappointed” with the company’s performance. In the three months ending June 30, 2019, Fluor lost $555 million US. As a result, Fluor fired both its chief executive officer and chief financial officer, began selling off real estate, and cashed in some of its insurance policies. In a December 10, 2020 conference call with analysts, present Fluor chief executive officer Carlos Hernandez said that the LNG Canada project was moving along. “Up in Kitimat, progress continues to be made on the LNG Canada project despite the ongoing challenges presented by the government-imposed restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hernandez said during the call. The impact is also being felt on aspects of the project outside Canada. The modules for the LNG Canada plant are being built at the Zhuhai fabrication yard in China, which has been affected by the pandemic. “Ongoing COVID impacts and travel restrictions to China are hampering progress but mitigation actions are being taken,” the company said in the December 10 presentation. Explaining how COVID-19 has affected Fluor projects, Hernandez said that clients understand the impact. “[W]e are negotiating with the clients on the effects of the COVID impacts both as to schedule and as to cost, and I think that the discussions are very collaborative for the most part,” he said. “There is no question that there will be compensation to the contractor for impacts beyond our control, and we’re in process of resolving some of those at this point in time,” added Hernandez. “The problem is that, obviously, we don’t know what the final COVID impact is going to be until we get past the pandemic. But we’re engaged in some discussions right now with clients to resolve them to this point and then reserve the right to further negotiate, down the road, additional impacts.” Asked specifically about resolving problems with delays at LNG Canada, Hernandez said in the call he expects a “partial resolution” of the impacts to date. “And then later on when we’re in a position to assess additional impacts, we’ll negotiate that,” Hernandez said in the call. “[I]t’s not something we can negotiate all at once because situation of the effects are pretty lengthy.” Hernandez indicated that many of the impacts are the result of “government-directed lock-downs.” In other words, many of the delays are due to a “change of law,” a fact that may “give us the basis for resolution.” My translation: “The delays are costing us, but they aren’t our fault. So we’re expecting more money from LNG Canada. Oh, and we’re going to be late.” Joint venture partner JGC also hinted in November that COVID-19 is affecting the project. During a call with investors on November 10—nine days before the first outbreak at the plant—JGC was asked about the impact of COVID-19 on the company’s major projects. In response, an unnamed JGC official said that the pandemic had slowed the LNG Canada project, according to a company-supplied transcript of the call. “Production of some equipment ordered from European manufacturers has been delayed, but we are working with the client [LNG Canada] on this matter as we move ahead,” added the official. As the 40 percent owner of LNG Canada, Shell would likely control a decision on whether to throw extra cash at the joint venture. However, these days, like other fossil fuels companies, Shell may not have a lot of extra cash to throw around. In October 2020, Shell—the world’s largest LNG trader—said it did not expect to ever build another “greenfield” (previously undeveloped) gas-to-liquid project, like LNG Canada. And in a series of announcements in 2020, Shell wrote down the value of its oil and gas assets by a total of approximately $22 billion US, including a $1 billion US write-down of its Australian LNG assets. Adding to its problems, In December 2020 Shell appeared in a Dutch court facing demands by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Netherlands and other activist groups that the company cut its emissions by 45 percent below 2019 levels by 2030. LNG Canada senior communications advisor Crystal Sharwood said in an email that the consortium had no comment regarding possible variances in the construction contract. Fluor did not reply to a request for comment by the time of publication. What if Shell and their four foreign cronies dig in their heels, refusing to pay another cent to the Fluor-JGC joint venture contractor? If Fluor-JGC gets the bum’s rush from LNG Canada, the joint venture could end up losing money on its $14 billion US contract. And thanks to falling prices for renewable energy, increased competition from US plants, and greening government policy, delays could make selling LNG unprofitable by the time the Kitimat plant is actually finished. Horror of horrors: Canada’s largest infrastructure project—the one that was supposed to bring countless jobs and prosperity—could quickly become a stranded asset, never producing a single gram of LNG. This is despite $6 billion in the form of reduced hydro rates, cancelled LNG export tax, temporary waiving of provincial sales tax, and carbon tax subsidies from BC taxpayers (that’s us), plus another $1.275 billion from federal taxpayers (that’s also us, in part). “Stranded asset” is a term increasingly applied to antiquated ventures like the Alberta tar sands, a reference to the fact that vast sums of money have been invested in a facility that will no longer operate. But calling such projects “assets” may misrepresent their true status, as it implies that they retain some net value. Rather, Shell and company may end up losing their shirts, pants and socks on LNG Canada. In other words, LNG Canada could end up as a stranded liability. Not good for the fossil fuel industry. But an excellent outcome for the planet. Russ Francis is pleased to learn that after inexplicably cancelling the $5 increase in the carbon tax scheduled for April 1, 2020, the BC government is resuming the annual $5 increase per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent, reaching $45 this April 1.
  14. Posted December 4, 2020 Image: A recent photograph of construction at BC Hydro's Site C project. When it comes to encouraging citizens to reduce electricity consumption, is BC Hydro like the fox being in charge of the chicken farm? Go to story
  15. When it comes to encouraging citizens to reduce electricity consumption, is BC Hydro like the fox being in charge of the chicken farm? THERE CAN BE LITTLE DOUBT that we will pay a lot more for electricity before long, thanks to the Site C mess and declining revenues at BC Hydro. This is in spite of December 1st news releases from both BC Hydro and BC Minister of Energy Bruce Ralston trumpeting a supposed rate decrease in Hydro rates, retroactive to April 1, 2020. As a result, residential ratepayers will get a credit in early 2021 of $4. Don’t spend it all at once, because you’re going to need it—to pay BC Hydro rate increases that took effect last year. The two releases omitted that minor fact. Decisions on rates are made, not by Hydro, but by the BC Utilities Commission—which gets its marching orders from the Province. The Commission made its rates decision on October 2, 2020, and issued a press release three days later. In that decision, the Commission did indeed approve a 1.14 percent decrease effective last April. But in the same decision, it also retroactively approved a 6.85 percent increase in rates, effective April 1, 2019. Had the Commission not approved that increase on October 2, we would likely be receiving a far bigger refund than $4. As well, the Commission said rates are subject to “adjustment” due to the cost of installing electric vehicle charging stations. BC Hydro’s Site C dam and powerhouse under construction In his cover letter for a July 31, 2020 report to the BC Utilities Commission, BC Hydro President and CEO Chris O’Riley said he had “serious concerns…regarding schedule, scope and budget” regarding the Site C project. O’Riley could not even estimate the final cost, let alone the completion date. Budgeted originally at $6.2 billion, Site C is now officially expected to cost $10.7 billion. A 2017 BC Utilities Commission report said the final price could hit $12.5 billion. As well, BC Hydro’s revenue is falling, another fact omitted from the December 1 news releases. According to its September 17, 2020 financial report, net income for the three months ended June 30, 2020 was $6 million—$19 million lower than the same period a year earlier. That’s a 76 percent drop. Hydro is already using “deferral accounts,” which despite government protestations could well mean that future ratepayers and taxpayers will be dinged for the missing loot. In February 2019, then-BC Auditor General Carol Bellringer said that the utility had amassed a total of $5.5 billion in its 29 deferral accounts. Somebody is going to have to pay them off, and the tooth fairy doesn’t have pockets that deep. For these reasons, it is not unreasonable to expect sharp increases in electricity charges sooner rather than later. My guess is that we will start getting dinged through sharp increases in electricity charges sooner rather than later. Heat pumps may be one part of the solution to the looming increases. By transferring heat from the outside—even when the temperature is minus 20 degrees Celsius—they produce up to 5 times as much heat energy as they use in electric energy. This compares with electric baseboard heaters—the most common kind of electric heating in BC—which produce approximately the same amount of heat energy as they use in electric energy. For those now heating their homes with natural gas, a significant benefit in replacing the furnace with an electric heat pump is the virtual elimination of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced largely by problematic fracking. Heating BC homes results in total annual emissions of 2.6 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 equivalent, plus an additional 1.8 Mt for water heating. (Figures are for 2017, from Natural Resources Canada.) Nearly all of these emissions are from burning gas. Emissions from residential space and water heating amounts to approximately 7 percent of BC’s total GHG emissions. But heat pumps are not cheap, even with rebates of up to $6,000 offered under the BC government’s Better Homes program. No qualifying heat pumps cost as little as $6,000, and not everyone can afford to pay $10,000 or more up front, no matter how much energy they would save by making the switch. The rebate scheme may in fact be supporting those who would have installed heat pumps anyway, then happily pocket the handout. (The program also offers up to $2,000 in rebates for heat pump water heaters.) A simpler way of reducing BC Hydro payments is to generate your own electricity. Home solar power makes more sense these days, given dropping prices and increased efficiency. The cost of photovoltaic (electricity-producing) solar panels has dropped by 85 percent in the last 10 years, and their efficiency has doubled in the same period. Also, unlike Site C power, solar is genuinely green. Does solar power make sense for homeowners? Dozens of my neighbours in the Southern Gulf Islands think so. Tom Mommsen is the co-founder of the Southern Gulf Islands-based Salish Sea Renewable Energy Co-op (SSREC), which actively advocates for zero-emission energy. But SSERC does more than advocate. It makes bulk purchases of solar panels, and arranges inspections as well as installation and tie-in to the BC Hydro grid. Tom Mommsen, co-founder of the Southern Gulf Islands-based Salish Sea Renewable Energy Co-op “Residential solar is already less than half the cost of retail solar from BC Hydro, with costs decreasing steadily while BC Hydro rates keep increasing,” Mommsen said in an email. “Solar power is considerably cleaner than mega-hydro, does not involve transmission losses, can be deployed quickly, and its production is under local control. All this is anathema to a utility like BC Hydro that runs centralized generation stations far away from the majority of its customers.” At current costs, Mommsen said, homeowners with solar panels produce 1 kilowatt hour (kWh) of energy for less than 6.5 cents (after taxes), while they would have to pay 10 to 15 cents, plus taxes, for the same kWh delivered by BC Hydro. Mommsen provided an example, based on his experience with recent solar installations, which are tied to the BC Hydro grid to ensure power is available at night and on cloudy days. Average BC annual residential electricity consumption is approximately 10,000 kilowatt hours (kWh), costing about $1,200 annually, not counting connection fees. To cut that bill in half, a homeowner could install a 4.5 kilowatt (kW) solar system, at a cost of $9,000, Mommsen suggested. Even with an interest-free loan, using the resulting annual BC Hydro savings of $600 to pay off the loan would take 15 years to repay the $9,000. (Energy output from the solar panels refers to installations in the Southern Gulf Islands.) Mommsen noted that financial assistance could make a huge difference in the uptake of solar power. (Oh, the BC government doesn’t have a lot of money to play with these days? I know where they could find around $6 billion to subsidize solar installations. Hint: It starts with ‘L’, ends in ‘G’, and has an ‘N’ in the middle.) In practice, the savings from solar installations will increase, as BC Hydro rates inevitably grow and solar costs continue to decrease by at least 5 percent per year, Mommsen said. “Still, anyone with solar will have loans with very long terms unless financial backing is provided,” he said. Not only that, BC Hydro is unlikely to take widespread adoption of solar power sitting down. Said Mommsen: “You can rest assured that BC Hydro is already thinking about increasing the monthly connection fees for solar customers.” Concludes Mommsen: “Anybody thinking about energy would be showing off their ignorance by not going solar.” BC Hydro did not respond to a Focus request for comment on financing energy upgrades by the time of publication. Are reduced electricity costs from energy upgrades only for those who don’t need them: the wealthy? One way to encourage widespread adoption of home energy upgrades is to offer low- or zero-interest loans, repaid through the resulting energy savings. That means customers might no longer need to find large sums upfront, and once the loan is paid off via energy savings, they would end up with large reductions in their energy bills. In fact, the Province’s CleanBC Better Homes program does have a low-interest financing program for switching from a fossil fuel heating source to a heat pump. Loans range up to $40,000. However, the amortization period is five years, meaning that even at zero interest, participants have to repay the entire sum in that period. For the maximum loan, participants would have to come up with an extra $8,000 per year for five years: The program is plainly not for the average BC household. Besides the Better Homes loan, BC does have some experience in financing energy upgrades. In November 2012, the Province launched two pilot programs, using “On-Bill Financing” (OBF)—in which loans are repaid through utility bills. The pilots were in Colwood, involving BC Hydro, and in the South Okanagan with Fortis BC. How did they turn out? “Both pilots were major failures,” reported the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions in a September 2015 study. A grand total of two residents took part in each program, who were lent a grand total of $20,000. This compares unfavourably with a highly successful Manitoba Hydro program, which consistently attracted 5,000 new participants annually, and lent a total of $300 million over a 13-year period. Average energy savings per household reached 825 kWh per year. One drawback of BC’s 2012 OBF scheme was that the loans were taken out by individual homeowners, which can be problematic. For instance, what happens if they move before paying off the loan? The answer to this and related issues may be to register the loan against the property title. That is exactly the thinking behind Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, which now operate in 37 of the 50 US states. That way, when a house is sold, both the upgrades and any outstanding loan balance form part of the sale. So far, according to the PACENation website, more than $8 billion US has been invested in 280,000 programs across the US, producing more than 134,000 jobs. Municipal governments are pushing PACE programs for energy upgrades. But they cannot launch in BC without enabling legislation from the Province. Required are amendments to the Community Charter and the Vancouver Charter. At the 2019 convention of the Union of BC Municipalities, delegates approved a resolution urging the Province to pass such legislation. In its response, the government waffled. “The experience of other jurisdictions with PACE has been mixed, including some concern with unintended consequences…” said an unnamed spokesperson in the then-Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, in a written response to the UBCM. “The Province is open to further discussions with UBCM about whether PACE, or a different approach, can best deliver on goals.” Despite this lukewarm response, BC’s newly re-elected New Democrat government is now publicly acknowledging the importance of low-cost financing for building energy upgrades. Among Ralston’s tasks, as laid out in his November 26 mandate letter from Premier John Horgan, is to “enhance energy efficiency programs and incentives for residential and commercial buildings, including Property Assessed Clean Energy financing to help homeowners make energy-saving retrofits and repay the cost of them over time.” (In the November cabinet shuffle, Ralston continues his role as energy minister of the renamed Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation.) As well, this fall, in its September 17 Economic Recovery Plan, the Province committed $2 million towards a “road map” and pilot PACE program. “PACE is a financing tool for home and building owners that addresses key market barriers to the adoption of energy efficiency and low-carbon retrofit measures in commercial and residential buildings,” an energy ministry spokesperson said in an email to Focus. Madi Kennedy is an analyst with the Pembina Institute, a non-profit think tank that has long advocated for PACE programs, playing a leadership role in PACE BC, a coalition of environmental organizations and building owners, among others. She said in an email that PACE programs need to be scaled up considerably. “In BC, to meet climate targets, we need to retrofit 30,000 homes, 17,000 apartments, and 3 million square metres of commercial space every year until 2050,” Kennedy said in an email. BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau said energy retrofit programs should treat all electricity customers equally. “It is important to make climate policies accessible to all—not just those who own their own homes and have disposable income,” Furstenau said in an email to Focus. “Enacting PACE-enabling legislation is one way to provide access to long-term financing, repaid through an addition to property tax bills and transferred from one owner to the next when properties are sold.” SSERC’s Mommsen said much depends on whether BC Hydro is in charge of energy upgrade financing, noting that there is a clear conflict of interest between energy efficiency initiatives, BC Hydro’s business model, and government policy regarding fossil fuels and mega-hydro. “As long as efficiency, solar policy, and rebates are run by BC Hydro, there is no hope,” Mommsen said. “The foxes are in charge of the chicken farm.” Russ Francis wishes well-paid so-called “public engagement” staff—formerly called public relations experts—in the BC Government, BC Hydro and elsewhere would stop omitting highly relevant bad news in their “everything is wonderful” press releases. Doing so might boost their credibility.
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