Giles Parkinson - Climate Spectador
Heard the one about the idiot climate change denialist journalist, writing crap about a carbon tax in Canada's British Columbia, that he claims is making minuscule reductions to emissions and having zero impact on the world's temperature?
It's not that I'd normally take the Herald Sun's Terry McCrann seriously enough to bother contradicting him. Except that a quick check of the facts about BC would destroy his typically hyperbolic claim that if we "put a price on carbon" we will blow up our economy and live miserably ever after.
Except that while one Herald Sun business journalist writing crap about carbon might, to borrow from Oscar Wilde, be unfortunate, two writing crap looks like carelessness. And it does rather make you wonder what they have taken to adding to the normal News Ltd Kool-Aid.
My apologies to McCrann for the above rant, but I have simply copied the opening paragraphs of his Tuesday column in the Herald Sun and substituted the name of his target, Fairfax journalist Michael Pascoe, with his own, and changed a few words here and there.
I wouldn’t normally bother standing in the middle of an argument between two prominent columnists – and they are both big enough, ugly enough, well paid enough and experienced enough to look after own affairs and reputations. But I could not think of a better example of the polemics around climate change and clean energy, and how the facts are so readily distorted and debased, and of the lack of civility that has crept into the debate.
The target of McCrann’s anger was a piece written by Pascoe on Monday that quoted an article from The Economist about how British Columbia had introduced a carbon tax and continued to have a thriving economy.
McCrann was clearly appalled, and said the “big inconvenient truth” was that BC got 86 per cent of its electricity from hydro power and got “Zero. Zip. Nada. Nothing” from coal fired energy. In short, he said: “BC's move to tax carbon dioxide emissions is not the direct attack on its cheap and reliable power that Julia's tax is on us.”
Well, that’s not quite true. As McCrann must have often found in his many years as a leading business commentator, things are rarely as simple as they first appear.
Yes, almost all the power generated within the province’s borders comes from hydro, but it also imports nearly 20 per cent of its energy needs from mostly coal-fired power sources from the north-western states of the US, and it wants to replace it with home grown green energy – solar, marine, wind, biomass and geothermal – as well as small-scale hydro.
By 2016, BC wants to be “energy self sufficient” – even to allow for those seasons when its hydro capacity is low – and by 2014 it wants to close down its only large fossil fuel generator, the 800MW Burrard gas-fired power station. And by 2026, it wants to establish 3000 gigawatt hours of “insurance” – or surplus capacity – based entirely around clean energy, just to make sure it doesn’t have to import dirty energy from elsewhere.
Just like Australia, this has caused an uproar about rising costs of electricity from the Opposition, which would much prefer the province retain its comparative cost advantage and continue to import cheap coal-fired power from the US.
But the unexpected aspect about the debate in BC is that the Clean Energy Act is being prosecuted by the centre-right Liberal government, and its vigorous opponents and defenders of cheap and dirty coal-fired energy are those from the left wing New Democrat Party.
But then it gets even more intriguing. The carbon tax – which began at $C10 a tonne and rises by $C5/t a year (it is now $C25/t) – which forms a central plank of a clean energy policy, is designed to help reduce emissions in BC by 33 per cent from 2007 levels by 2020. Even with virtually zero emissions from its stationary energy sector, which most people would regard as the low hanging fruit in any emissions reduction plant, the conservative government wants to slash emissions by a third. Australia, even with all its low hanging fruit still in place, is aiming for a 5 per cent cut from 2000 levels.
The task is complicated by the fact that, like Australia, BC anticipates demand for energy to soar by up to 45 per cent over the next 20 years. So in 2007, it implemented a couple of hard and fast rules to meet what it calls the “hydro gap” of nearly 30,000 gigawatt hours of electricity by 2025 – two thirds of that demand will be met through energy efficiency measures and energy conservation, while renewables will account for 93 per cent of new energy build.
Janice Larson, the director of renewable energy development at the province’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, explained the strategy in a presentation at the EcoGen conference in Sydney last October. She said the province is implementing ambitious green building codes and fuel efficiency standards, and is also looking at direct funding and large-scale feed-in tariffs to encourage the exploitation of its solar, wind, wave, tidal, and biomass resources, and its active hydrogen cell industry.
“The clean energy vision really starts with proactive energy efficiency and conservation, since the cheapest and cleanest energy is the energy you save… and the more you can save, the less new energy you’ll need,” she said. “It seems like a pretty good foundation upon which to develop a clean energy vision.”
The carbon tax is revenue neutral, where money raised is returned via tax credits and incentives. And BC – a province that, like Australia, has traditionally relied on commodity exports such as pulp and paper, forestry, mining and metallurgical products – now also boasts the world’s third biggest cleantech market, after California and Germany’s Rhine Westphaalia.
Larson noted that BC’s cleantech sector (not including hydro) currently employs more than 22,000 people and generates revenues of more than $2.5 billion. “We are looking to the low-carbon economy of the future,” Larson told the EcoGen conference. “We favour proactive policies, we see the the green economy as a local and a global economy, so everyone can and should be part of it.”
The point is that BC, which already has the lowest emissions per capita in north America, is still seeking to cut the remaining emissions - centred around transport (36 per cent), fossil fuel extraction (18 per cent), other industry (19 per cent) and buildings (11 per cent) by a third, and is using a carbon price to do so. These are areas that remain largely untouched by Australia's carbon price. It hasn't weakened the BC economy at all, and the province now has a new industrial sector to boast of and to provide jobs.
No wonder it is such a scary proposition to the anti-carbon price brigade. And all this from a right-of-centre government. It must be a plot.