11/01/2011 09:16 EDT | Updated 01/01/2012 05:12 EST

Why Fear B.C.'s Clean Energy Policy?

In recent years British Columbia has emerged as an international leader in the development of policy and solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation. B.C.'s innovative revenue-neutral system of carbon pricing was recently copied by the Australian government, which passed similar carbon legislation two weeks ago. B.C.'s goal of becoming a green energy powerhouse is far-reaching in its ambition and scope and forward-looking in terms of future economic planning. B.C.'s commitment to a carbon-neutral government has meant public sector leadership in the transition to a low-carbon economy. And the introduction of B.C. Hydro's smart meter technology is a crucial first step on the path towards better energy conservation and base-load electricity management.

As B.C. forges ahead with the implementation of its environmental and clean energy policy, there will be those who will resist the change. But change does not have to be something we fear. Change can be exciting and empowering.

Take smart meters for example. In B.C., we have known that they were on their way since 2007. Successful pilot projects were run in several local communities including Vancouver, Campbell River, and Fort St. John. Smart meters will improve service. They will create opportunities for consumers to conserve electricity, introduce smart appliances and monitor their energy use. The modernization of our electricity grid is long overdue. What are we afraid of? Likely it is our instinctive fear of the unknown which, when combined with our natural tendency to resist change, feeds our insatiable desire to criticize.

As B.C. breaks new ground on greenhouse gas management, there will be teething pains. The carbon neutral government regulation in B.C. requires the public sector to buy offsets from the Pacific Carbon Trust, a B.C. Crown Corporation. The Pacific Carbon Trust has been heavily criticized for doling out public sector money to a fossil fuel energy company for a greenhouse gas offset project. In their defence, the Pacific Carbon Trust can argue that they were simply following the rules set out in B.C.'s Emissions Offset Regulation. But that doesn't make it right.

There's also a glaring inconsistency between B.C.'s treatment of the public sector and the fossil fuel industry -- an industry that produces 24 per cent of B.C.'s greenhouse gas emissions. B.C. has no hope of reaching its legislated emissions reduction target of 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020 if it doesn't tackle growing emissions from this sector. And the only way to do that is through regulation or emissions pricing.

Does this mean we should repeal the requirement of carbon neutral government as some have suggested? Is this really a solution? I think not. As a society we look for leadership by example from our public sector. What the carbon neutral requirement has done is provide an incentive for the public sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

For example, the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) certainly lived up to its branding as Canada's Green University by installing a modern biomass gasification system to provide heat for the Prince George campus. By replacing natural gas as its heat source, up to 3,500 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year are being kept out of the atmosphere. UNBC also saves about $87,500 annually in offset costs.

But here's the problem. Unfortunately, current carbon regulation means that Nexterra, the B.C.-based company that built the biomass facility, could not access Pacific Carbon Trust funds for the project. If Nexterra had instead built the biomass facility for a private sector client in B.C., it would have been able to sell offsets to the Pacific Carbon Trust. In essence, public funds would then have been used to support industry projects.

Rather than turning back the clock to 2007 and abolishing the requirement for a carbon neutral public sector, it strikes me as more progressive to simply adopt an additional regulation that public sector funds must be used for public sector projects. That way, offset funds become a source of capital for the promotion of innovative private sector projects aimed at reducing public sector emissions. And reducing emissions also improves the annual operating budget for public institutions. Everybody wins.

Based on all the scientific evidence before us, the only compelling argument for inaction on greenhouse gas reduction is that as a society we do not believe that we have any responsibility for the well-being of future generations.

Premier Clark has clearly stated that the B.C. government is committed to sustaining its leadership in the fight against climate change. The Official Opposition is committed to the same goal. Opinion poll after opinion poll tells us that Canadians are looking for such leadership. It's a basic human instinct to want to provide for our children and to offer them a better life.

But when we get leadership, we need to support it. That doesn't mean that we can't be critical or hold governments accountable for their actions. Nor does it mean that policy can't be modified when unforeseen consequences are discovered. But it certainly requires us to redirect the energy we expend in opposing each and every suggested solution into more constructive things like ensuring that effective solutions are in fact put in place. And this applies to not only B.C., but to other jurisdictions across North America as well.