There is a pervasive myth out there that most of British Columbia's energy needs are being met via renewable energy sources (primarily hydro). Based on this myth, environmental activists have suggested that it should be relatively easy to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and thus we have no need to improve our oil transportation infrastructure (like our network of oil pipelines).
Activists also use the same myth to suggest that we no longer need to build any large energy projects, like the Site C dam.
The truth is that the majority of British Columbia's electricity supply (almost 94 per cent, according to the province) is supplied via renewable energy sources. The problem is that electrical energy only represents a small percentage of British Columbia's total energy consumption.
While good numbers are hard to find, a reasonable estimate of British Columbia's total energy consumption was reported by the GLOBE Foundation as approximately 317,500 Gigawatt-hours (GWh, equivalent to 1 billion watt-hours) in 2000. BC Hydro reports that it generates between 43,000 GWh and 56,000 GWh a year.
- About 33 per cent was supplied via fossil fuels (excluding natural gas)
- About 26 per cent was supplied via natural gas
- about 20 per cent was supplied via burning of waste biomass in industrial facilities
- and the remaining was mostly supplied via coal and coke (mostly for use in cement plants).
Let's accept, for the moment, that natural gas represents the cleanest of the fossil fuel sources of energy and go after the dirtier stuff first.
According to the GLOBE Foundation, of the 105,560 GWh of petroleum products used for energy in British Columbia in 2000, approximately 50 per cent was gasoline, 24 per cent was diesel, 20 per cent was aviation fuel and six per cent was heavy oil.
To further simplify the math, let's now ignore aviation fuel and heavy fuel oil and stick only to the gasoline and diesel. If through some feat of magic we were able to convert all the cars and trucks in B.C. to electrical vehicles overnight, and assuming 100 per cent charging efficiency, we would need to generate around 78,000 GWh of additional energy to run all those vehicles. This would represent more than doubling the electricity currently supplied by BC Hydro.
Consider that the Site C dam, once completed, is expected to generate 5,100 GWh of electricity. To replace the energy currently provided by gasoline and diesel fuels only, we would need to find the energy equivalent to almost 15 Site C dams!
Remember we have only been talking liquid fuels here. For a 100 per cent fossil fuel-free B.C., we would also need to replace the natural gas used mostly for industrial purposes and for home and water heating. That would represent another 16 Site C dam equivalents.
Let's return to the real world. With improved transit and smart planning we should be able to reduce our energy needs for transportation; but the vast majority of British Columbia cannot be served by mass transit. There is simply not enough money available to give every driver from Creston to Fort Saint John and from Invermere to Prince Rupert an alternative to driving. That means that for most of British Columbia, we will still need personal vehicles.
Moreover, all the transit in the world will not address the need for panel vans and light trucks. Contractors, suppliers and salespeople cannot rely on the transit system. Try to imagine a plumber attempting to transport a new sink or toilet and all her supplies/tools to a job site on a bus?
Finally, no amount of transit will reduce the need for the transport trucks that bring the groceries to market and supply the boutiques of Vancouver. The last time I looked it was pretty much impossible to move a pallet of milk or apples on SkyTrain.
Given our current technological state we are nowhere near a position where British Columbia can achieve 100 per cdent fossil fuel-free status. Any plan that ignores that fact is simply magical thinking.
Our society is dependent on fossil fuels and that being said, we need to safely transport those fossil fuels. We know that pipelines and double-hulled tankers are safer and less ecologically risky modes of transport than oil-by-rail, oil-by-barge or oil-by-road. As a pragmatic environmentalist, that means it is time to get behind the drive to improve and upgrade our pipeline systems, not to fight them.
In order to achieve a "fossil fuel-free B.C." we would need to somehow replace the almost 60 per cent of our energy needs currently being met with fossil fuels through alternative sources. To even make a small dent in that demand means we are going to need to develop a LOT of new electricity. Unfortunately, we have already exploited almost all of the easily accessible hydro.
If your goal is to fight climate change and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels then it is time to aggressively develop our hydroelectric and geothermal energy capacity wherever we can. Finally, anyone who tells you that we don't need the new power from a project like the Site C dam doesn't understand British Columbia's energy picture.
Also on HuffPost:
This type of thermostat, also called a "learning" thermostat, can be programmed to raise and lower the temperature your home automatically. This way, you're not heating or cooling the home when you don't need to. Dave Walton, director of home ideas at Direct Energy says you can save up to four per cent on your heating bill by programming your thermostat to a lower temperature at night, and after you leave for work.
Air leaks are often caused by old and cracked caulking around windows and doors in your home. Caulking around existing openings can help save you money on your next energy bill.
Here's a bright idea: change up your light bulbs. Energy-saving light bulbs (LED or fluorescent, for example), can last up to 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb, and use up to 75 cent less energy. "A single 20 to 25 watt energy-saving bulb provides as much light as a 100-watt incandescent bulb while also emitting less heat," Walton says.
If you have lights in your backyard patio space or in front of your house, check your settings and timers. With longer (and brighter) days ahead, adjusting your timers will help you save energy.
In the summer, the blades of the ceiling fan should operate in a counter-clockwise direction to move the air downwards and maximize air circulation. In turn, the air conditioner cooling your home doesn't have to work as hard. During winter, the blades should operate in a clockwise direction, helping to push the warm air from the ceiling down into the room.
During hot summer months, the air conditioner gets a lot of use. Make sure you have a qualified professional perform an annual maintenance check on your system before it starts to get hot. As part of the inspection (and on top of making sure the system is operating to manufacturer specifications), the inspector would be able to check for leaks, and that the right amount of refrigerant is in the system.
Take a look around your house: how many outlets are you using? Things like phone chargers, toasters, hair dryers and other "zombie" electronics do not need to be plugged in if they are not in use.
As soon as the weather gets warmer, take advantage of cooking outside. Barbecuing outdoors in the summer is much more efficient than using a conventional stove — which often warms the house and causes us to crank up the air conditioner.
Don't lose money cooling rooms that are not in use. Close the vents and shut the doors.
If you're in dire need of new windows, consider choosing something with low-e coatings, argon gas filled and insulated spacers to avoid air leaks.
Your central air conditioner relies on your furnace to push cold air throughout your home, Walton says. "A clean filter means dust and allergens are less likely to be distributed throughout your home and, the furnace motor will operate more efficiently with a clean filter."
If you're shopping for new appliances, look for the Energy Star sticker. These products approved by the government of Canada to be more energy efficient and help reduce your energy costs.
Defrost your freezer regularly. When ice builds up, your freezer uses more electricity. Walton says you should also keep your freezer at least three-quarters full for maximum efficiency. To clean things up around the house, consider getting rid of that old fridge in your garage or basement if it’s only keeping a few beverages cold.
Consider upgrading your old furnace to a new energy-efficient unit. "An older conventional burning furnace operates at 60 per cent efficiency meaning 40 cents of every dollar you spend on heating your home is going right up the chimney," Walton says. On the flip side, a new high-efficiency furnace operates at over 90 per cent; wasting less than 10 cents on every dollar you spend heating your home.
Energy audits will help you conserve more energy in and around your home. This can include identifying where energy and money is lost through leaks, and also a pulse check to see if your appliances need replacing.
Follow Blair King on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BlairKing_ca