B.C. Green Energy: Left Behind

Creating green jobs is the biggest economic opportunity of this century. Will B.C. stand on the sidelines?

Last year, Pricewaterhouse Coopers released a report on the economic impact of the clean energy business in B.C. To no one’s surprise, it indicates that by 2020 capital investment in B.C.’s independent power sector could reach $26 billion and create 9,100 full time jobs.

So, where are we in British Columbia? Are we taking the steps necessary to be part of this movement, or is it just rhetoric from Victoria and our business leaders on our clean, green future?

Surviving in the business world is no easy feat for the mostly small independent power producers. It takes a forward-thinking corporate group willing to gamble their own money and whatever else they can raise in projects that may not see a return for many years. Meanwhile, the costly work of moving a project through all the bureaucratic, environmental and community consultation red tape and construction must still proceed.

Companies like EarthFirst have already failed and Naikun Wind Energy has already issued lay off notices. But there are those ready to take over these projects. Plutonic Power and its partner General Electric have stepped in. These are big corporations already well vested in the clean energy sector. As it’s becoming abundantly clear from Cleantech Group reports and other industry analysts like New Energy Finance, clean tech is the new wave and forward thinking companies are catching that wave.

Let’s compare the emerging clean tech industry to the organic food industry. In the past decade, the trend towards healthy eating grew exponentially. As more organic foods began appearing on mainstream grocery shelves, costs have declined. Today, most buyers of natural foods are unaware that many of the organic brands are owned by US giants, like Coca-Cola, Walmart, Colgate-Palmolive and Kraft Foods The natural food industry attracted these big companies with the lure of profit that follows a trend or shift in buying. The smaller players have been crowded out or bought out, no longer able to compete with the Walmart’s of the world.

The same can happen here if our largest BC-based companies don’t start investing in and supporting our independent power projects. Within a decade, demand growth for BC electricity is forecast to equal 50% of supply. BC Hydro and IPP’s will be expected to meet this demand. That means investments of $30 billion in capital expenditures including upgrades to existing hydro facilities, creating jobs and driving economic development across the whole province.
BC is ripe for the picking from foreign companies, unless we act to secure our future.

In this province, our top 100 companies include Jim Pattison Group, Finning and Terasen, just to name a few. These three alone generated more than $13 billion in revenues in 2007. Teck Cominco, Best Buy and Vancity are a few more of the big players. What are they doing to improve our future? Have they researched our clean tech companies and IPP’s here in BC and considered investing, even if it’s a minority share, in clean energy projects that can make a substantial difference in our children’s future? These companies have the deep pockets and the business acumen to make our IPP’s truly locally owned, operated and with their help, successful and local. The movement towards clean energy is not going away. In fact, it is growing. Like the organic food industry, the Coca-Cola’s and Walmart’s may soon own our energy companies. We have a responsibility to not let that happen.

Mike Chisholm
THE contributor

Mike Chisholm is the director of SI Communicators, a communications consulting firm specializing in the clean energy sector. He can be contacted through the Scotia International website. He is the author of the Cleanenergy BC blog.