Energy and Mines Minister Rich Coleman has admitted that one of the B.C. government's three proposed liquefied natural gas plants in Kitimat will be powered with greenhouse gas-emitting natural gas.
He said the development of the natural gas industry in northern B.C. is a generational opportunity that comes with some environmental concerns, but the government is looking to minimize the potential harm.
Premier Christy Clark promised to develop three LNG plants by 2020 in her government's throne speech last year and development of the natural gas industry is a major focus of her jobs plan.
But Simon Fraser University climate scientist Mark Jaccard, a champion of the Liberal government's climate-change fighting agenda under former premier Gordon Campbell, said the current Liberal government needs to tell British Columbians its promise of jobs today could threaten future generations.
"BC Hydro could get the electricity for those plants without burning natural gas. . . What I'm afraid of is that people will start to burn natural gas and that means we don't meet our provincial climate target and politicians have to come clean on that," he said.
"I actually think it's a really interesting question for humanity because what you are basically saying is we're not going to worry about (your) kids, but we're going to make sure our incomes are good enough right now," said Jaccard.
Coleman said the plans to construct a pipeline from northeast B.C. to Kitimat, where frozen natural gas will be placed onto tankers and exported to Asia, represents an opportunity to create thousands of jobs and billions in revenue for business and the government.
"This is actually a game-changer for the finances of the future of the province," he said. "If we can move our natural gas at a price that's higher worldwide it means that everybody benefits, the communities, the First Nations, the job creators and the people with the jobs."
Coleman said BC Hydro told the province it has enough electrical power to start up the first plant and it is tweaking the grid line from Prince George to Prince Rupert to supply clean electrical power for the second LNG plant.
But the third and largest LNG plant, slated for 2020, will likely require natural gas as its primary energy source, he said.
Coleman acknowledged the third plant could threaten B.C.'s law to cut greenhouse gas emissions by one-third by 2020, but the government is considering storing the emissions underground.
"I have concerns, but at the same time, I know that we have a resource that can help us," he said. "At this point in time I feel pretty comfortable about the first two phases and I think we're going to have to get pretty aggressive and creative as we have more plants come on board. I think we can accomplish the goal."
Coleman said the government is planning to release its LNG strategy later this month or early in February. He said he's already reviewed a draft plan.
"I think we have a bit of a challenge if we have to shape the power with natural gas," he said. "Some people will say that is not going to help with the greenhouse targets, but at the same time we will look for opportunities to sequester the carbon."
Carbon sequestering is a process still in the developmental phases.
In a year-end interview, Clark said she doesn't want to be known as the premier who gives up leadership on the environment, but the promise of jobs and revenues is testing her green resolve.
Coleman said the government is looking at wind and run-of-river power opportunities for the LNG plants.