VANCOUVER - Premier Christy Clark has tweaked regulations to ensure her job creation plan that includes building three liquefied natural gas plants in northern British Columbia squares with the government's aggressive plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Clark has previously acknowledged the plants — which are known energy hogs — could be at odds with the provincial Clean Energy Act, but she's relying on them to create employment.
On Thursday, Clark announced she will be redefining only natural gas that's used to power the northern LNG plants as "clean energy," while keeping the classification of all other natural gas in the province as is.
The province's Clean Energy Act already included cases in which burning natural gas could be considered clean, and so the altered regulation effectively brings the natural gas used to fuel the LNG plants in line.
"To make sure that B.C. can win in the global marketplace, while also doing our best to make sure we're protecting our environment, we'll be announcing a new regulation," she told a conference of energy sector companies in Vancouver.
Clark added the designation will only apply to power generation that meets a set of environmental emissions standards.
"This is consistent with our comprehensive natural gas strategy and it's also consistent with our efforts to use renewable energy," she said.
The government has said the current hydro-electric grid will supply energy for two LNG plants, while the third plant will receive power from hydroelectric and natural gas sources and possibly wind power.
Clark supports the change because she said it will help reap upwards of $1 trillion in economic benefits for the province over the next three decades.
She argued that exporting the gas to Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea and China, will help them switch away from coal-fired power that causes climate change.
Greg D'Avignon, president of the Business Council of B.C., called the altered regulation "intellectually and public policy honest."
He said such a change is required for the industry to gain ground in a world that has experienced economic turmoil.
"We're making a net contribution to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and a net contribution to climate change that's very positive, not just for British Columbians but also for the country and the globe," D'Avignon said.
But sustainable energy experts disagree, saying there is vast scientific evidence that burning natural gas still produces carbon emissions.
"Her announcement is a direct contradiction with her families policy, because it's helping to destroy the planet," said Mark Jaccard, professor of sustainable energy at Simon Fraser University.
"She is deliberately deluding voters into thinking that somehow natural gas will decrease greenhouse gas emissions in China. It won't."
Jaccard was an adviser during the creation of the Clean Energy Act who has worked with other leading global energy experts and none of them have concluded that increased natural gas imports into Asia will lead to lower carbon emissions there, he said.
"She's changing the policy. You're now allowed to generate electricity in B.C., but only for one purpose. And that purpose is to assist in the export of natural gas."
Guy Dauncey with the Sustainable Energy Association called the move "deceptive," adding countries like China will import the gas but there's no reason to believe they'll subsequently stop using dirtier energy sources.
"It's invalid to discount a potential reduction in China's emissions against B.C.'s commitment to reduce B.C.'s climate impact," he said. "That's simply not the global way of operating."
Clark said the LNG industry could generate up to $6 billion in economic activity over the next 30 years, with another $500 billion from spin offs.
"I really believe that natural gas is nothing less than the opportunity of our lifetimes here in British Columbia."