Natural Gas “ban” in Vancouver and what Port Alberni is doing

Subtitle: “In defense of difficult, yet necessary, conversations and policy.”

(Updated, see P.S. And P.P.S. At the bottom)

I am about to say something controversial. (Big surprise right? :)).

The City of Vancouver’s policy on 100% use of renewable energy by residents and business in the City and an 80% reduction in GHG emissions before 2050 is proper, wise, policy.  (I have a problem with their claim of using “renewable natural gas” but we’ll get to that another time)

It is far from popular. I listened to the screaming on CKNW yesterday that they would “ban” natural gas (which isn’t right… it is a phase out, not a ban) and have witnessed plenty of angry 😱😤😤😱😡😡 emoticons across Facebook and Twitter. (There appears to be confusion, possibly intentionally sown? between the targets for new construction and renovation markets, clarification here)  This is an understandable and reasonable reaction.

But here’s the thing: If we all accept the climate science, and most Canadians do (“Canadians Back Bold Climate Action“), and we are serious about addressing the problem then this must happen. There is no way around it.


What is that number? That is our CO2 “budget”. That is the amount, in billions of tonnes (GigaTonnes) of CO2 humanity can emit after 2015 in order to have a good chance of limiting warming to less than 2°C.  It is from the IPCC and reiterated in a report released yesterday.

The city of Vancouver is planning for there to be zero use of Natural Gas by 2050. People are very upset.  People, especially folks like the Canadian Tax Payers, Federation say it costs too much money.  And yet what those voices ignore is the cost of doing nothing.  Not reducing our total fossil fuel usage to zero before hitting that 843 budget will have consequences that will cost taxpayers billions, perhaps trillions, of dollars.  Already, we have had disasters like those in Fort MacMurray, connected to climate change, that will cost the insurance industry billions, cost government hundreds of millions just for dealing with the disasters at the time (Infrastructure repair comes later), and cost residents thousands in expenses trying to put their lives back together.  The same goes for other flooding and fire disasters in Canada over the past few years. And this, with only 1ºC of warming in the world so far…

So this policy is what climate action means. In order to stop pushing our planet to an unliveable state, we must stop using fossil fuels and a gradual decline to zero before 2050 makes sense. Replacing heating appliances using Natural Gas with electricity and requiring buildings to be far more energy efficient is the low hanging fruit.

So you might ask if there are similar plans in Port Alberni. Do we have similar reduction targets? No. Should we? Honestly, yes, but we’re not there yet. Instead, we are working on policies that will help people transition even if the implied end goal is not yet spelled out.

The City of Port Alberni is working on a program to be implemented soon that will give homeowners rebates if they switch their oil (and possibly natural gas) home heating appliances (furnaces) to electric.  There are similar programs in Nanaimo and other cities.  There will also be rebates that will encourage making your home more energy efficient because the best way to save money isn’t to pick the cheapest fuel, it is to reduce the need for any fuel at all.

We will try to help that happen and in the process we will be starting to make the required reductions that Vancouver has been so brave as to state in full.  We will all need to be more brave in the coming years, this change will be very rewarding, but undeniably difficult.

By the way, the conclusions of the report I linked to at the top before the little table…. was that the math shows us we cannot start any new fossil fuel infrastructure. None.  The operations in the world today that are currently extracting coal, oil, and gas, have more than enough carbon in them to put us over the 2ºC limit (just under 1000 gigatonnes).  So that makes questions about whether or not to support things like LNG, Kinder Morgan, Dakota Access, and other new infrastructure pretty moot…. the report recommends no new fossil fuel infrastructure be approved or built.

This reinforces many research papers published recently showing that 99% of unconventional (i.e.. oilsands and fracked gas) and 72% of conventional oil reserves remaining in Canada must stay in the ground. (Nature – data table 3)


There seems to be talk in the media about an incredible 70% decrease in 4 years.  This is false.

The 70% by 2020 refers to new construction only, not existing buildings (renos). Vancouver are focusing on their building bylaws (because they can do that under the Vancouver Charter). They want all new construction to be 100% renewable by 2030. 90% by 2025. This is Reasonable.

Here is the report that is being referenced, it says:

“Analysis undertaken in the development of the Renewable City Strategy estimated that of all the buildings (measured by floor space not number of structures) that are anticipated by 2050:
30% would be built prior to 2010
30% would be built between 2010 and 2020
40% would be built after 2020.

If all buildings are to use only renewable energy by 2050, the sooner new buildings achieve near zero emissions, the fewer buildings there will be that require costly and challenging deep energy retrofits to achieve the target.”

The best way to make that switch isn’t shift from nat gas to electricity, it is to reduce energy usage to as close to zero as possible, and that is exactly what they have proposed to require new developments to do by adopting Passive House or alternative zero emission building standards”

from their third recommendation:

“THAT Council direct staff to build all new City-owned and Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) projects to be Certified to the Passive House standard or alternate zero emission building standard, and use only low carbon fuel sources, in lieu of certifying to LEED Gold unless it is deemed unviable by Real Estate and Facilities Management, or VAHA respectively, in collaboration with Sustainability and report back with recommendations for a Zero Emissions Policy for New Buildings for all City-owned and VAHA building projects by 2018.”

Council Document

Coal Trains still coming back to Vancouver Island?

Certainly looks like it.

A few months ago there were some articles online about a company looking to get the rights to and then mine coal near Courtney here on Vancouver Island. It caused quite a stir, particularly in the rail community as the company directly mentioned the close proximity to the E&N and the deep sea port at Port Alberni in its literature.

Well, even though the economy has gone in the tank, it seems as though things are still proceeding.

In February and March, Compliance Energy Corporation went through and signed a partnership in the project with I-Comox Coal Inc a subsidiary of ITOCHU Corporation and LG International Investments (Canada) Ltd. a subsidiary of LG International Corp. They also signed a deal with West Fraser Mills, the original holders of the land to purchase around 29,000 hectares near Buckley Bay and Courtney.

Below is an overview map of the area… with the “Bear” area just south of Cumberland and Comox Lake and the “Raven” area nearer Buckley Bay.

View Larger Map

The Main find that includes Metallurgic (iron/steel) grade coal is in the bottom middle of the image, near where it says “Comox Strathcona A”. This terrain view is easiest to see where the claim is as it relates to surrounding communities. The entire flat area between the water and where the mountain hills start from Fanny Bay in the South to Comox Lake in the North is the general area of the plot.

Here is a slide from a recent presentation given by CEC.

Presentation Screen Cap of VI Coal interests
You can see the various interests CEC has, with Raven being the one considered most profitable.

Their latest filings show that they are still actively pursuing the Raven project.

CEC has provided $7 Million to its Asian backers to “fund all of the activities necessary to reach a production decision on the Raven Coal Project.”

Notice that they said “production decision”, which is quite different from production itself. That said, they seem very optimistic on both the quality and marketability of the project. Other documents say they are hoping to have their first shipments in 2011 or 2012… but this little paragraph in their latest filing indicates there are financial pressures coming to bear that are not unrelated to the wider economy.

The Company will continue to require funds and as a result, will have to continue to rely on equity and debt financing. There can be no assurance that financing, whether debt or equity, will always be available to the Company in the amount required at any particular time. Management is of the opinion that sufficient working capital will be obtained from external financing sources to meet the Company’s liabilities as they come due.

So we’ll see what happens here. The partners in the project, ITOCHU and LG, are multi-billion dollar players in the asian coal and steel industry, so their financial well being is not in doubt. What is in doubt with whether this small company, lead by CEO John Tapics (out of Alberta electricity/coal sector, click for more on the Board), can make this happen, and more importantly, sell it to Island residents.

Transition Town Port Alberni first gathering!

7:57:30 PM: We’re talking about what Transition Towns is…

8:01:23 PM: Went through the Transition Primer and the Principles in the Transition Handbook (

8:07:27 PM: the global problem is just too much to consider…

8:07:42 PM: have to act locally because that’s the only change we can make anyway

8:07:59 PM: you can be a role model in your own community

8:08:45 PM: it’s just a matter of being a role model to Transition to a low-Energy pathway.

8:18:24 PM: Talking about creating a local currency for Port Alberni area businesses to encourage the business community

8:24:56 PM: Modelled after the Saltspring Island Dollar.

9:21:34 PM: The meeting just ended. Had a great discussion about what the next steps will be

9:21:46 PM: There will be another meeting on or around the 6th

9:22:04 PM: Dan is going to create a Port Alberni Transition mailing list

9:23:05 PM: We all agreed to try to bring 2 more people that might be interested to learn about what starting a Transition Town involves

9:25:17 PM: Throughout the meeting Guy kept bringing us back to the principles of Transition Town list in the book and on the primer (linked before)

9:26:12 PM: It naturally matched up with what we were chatted about during the meeting

9:26:55 PM: So… that’s it I guess. Next meeting, May 6, Dans place, you can email me to get on the mailing list if you’re not already.

9:30:45 PM: The short term goal is to get enough interested people in order to get a Transition Town Steering Group together.

Trudeau era Minister helps bring Alternative Energy to Ucluelet BC

Very cool Alternative Energy news out of Ucluelet and the Alberni Valley Times today. With an interesting link to a long past era.

The Pacific Coastal Wave plan is to build a demonstration project which will generate up to four megawatts (mw) of electricity, using the movement of the ocean swell to pump water to a shore-based turbine station

Pacific Coastal Wave is a company co-owned by Global Energy Horizons, of Victoria B.C., Canada . Anthony Abbott, a former Minister in the Pierre Trudeau Cabinet from 1976-79 serves as a Director of the company amongst other high-powered executives.

The other partner in the venture is Renewable Energy Holdings… a seemingly behemoth alternative energy holding company. In their latest report, they do seem quite enthused with the prospect of wave energy in Ucluelet, and that’s what is important here. From their report:

sites include Bermuda, West Coast Vancouver Island, Canada and others under review, all of which offer excellent wave regimes and exposure to high economic returns.

As is noted here by REH, Wave Energy has the potential to produce over 2 TeraWatts of power. Equivalent to 400,000 single 5MW wind turbines.

Ucluelet and Vancouver Island are ideally placed because of the near constant rolling swell of the NE Pacific along the West Coast of North America, and the close proximity of the BC Hydro electrical grid to that water.

A little more about the project itself:

The CECO system uses a multitude of buoys anchored to the ocean floor, between 15 and 50 metres deep. De Clare said the submerged buoys are set in constant motion by the ocean swell (not the waves). Those constantly moving buoys in turn provide the motive power for a patented “sloppy pump” system on the ocean floor.

“They push sea water onto land at a pressure of 1,000 pounds per square inch (psi),” de Clare explained.

In Ucluelet, that water pressure will drive a turbine generator, but it can also be used to turn sea water into fresh water.

“You need 800 psi to desalinize water,” de Clare said. “The government in Australia particularly likes that part.”

The sloppy pump system is self-lubricating with sea water, and the generation takes place on land – that removes two major environmental objections to the CECO system, de Clare said. The materials used in the CECO system – Hypalon plastic, stainless steel and concrete – are familiar and benign, he added.

Simple, and effective.

This is excellent news for Ucluelet, a former fishing and forestry village, which like so many other BC Communities, has had to turn to Tourism to create jobs. It has done this reasonably successfully, but something a little more concrete like Alternative Energy would be more than welcome for the local economy. And the benefit potentially won’t stop in Ucluelet. A little further inland and up the Alberni Inlet from Ucluelet lies my hometown of Port Alberni. In much the same way as Ucluelet, its’ primary, traditional, industries have been decimated over the past few years, but with a Deep Sea port and lots of industrial space, this might be a door to a whole new industry building these systems and exporting them all around the world.

One can only hope. It’s nice to have some good news for once.

In response to David Schreck on BC-STV

A letter opposing BC-STV appeared yesterday in the Parksville Qualicum News. It was written by David Schreck, secretary-treasurer of the No BC-STV Campaign Society.

Full Disclosure: I have joined the Pro STV campaign as a volunteer in the Alberni-Qualicum riding. Here is my response to Mr. Schreck

He says:

[BC-STV] replaces local representation with regional representation on a huge scale…. North Island-South Coast, with four MLAs, would be as large as Ireland. It would include Bamfield, Port Alberni, Sechelt, Powell River and Port Hardy. That’s right — the Sunshine Coast gets merged with the northwest coast of Vancouver Island.

#1: The number of MLAs will not change in the BC Legislature.

#2: The MLAs per population actually ends up being *more* equally spread out with the multiple MLAs in larger ridings.

#3: Ridings “as large as Ireland” is a red herring. BC is larger than France, should we elect 200 representatives to the Legislature? Ridings are based on population per MLA and socio-economic compatibility. BC-STV improves things on both those fronts.

#4: Powell River truly is a brother-from-another-mother when it comes to sharing issues with other Vancouver Island communities. In fact, as an example of the commonality, this new riding would have 3 of the 4 remaining Catalyst mills all in the same riding. Major employers all facing extreme hardship and causing extreme concern in each of Powell River, Campbell River, and Port Alberni. Another point: In other countries with STV, elected representatives have often set up shop in different communities in the large riding, effectively acting as representives for those communities so that constituents in the riding feel that they have a local person to go to.

At the bottom of this post you can see 3 images showing the current Provincial map (FPTP), Federal Map, and proposed BC-STV.

moving on….

It would merge the 85 local constituencies used in the May 12 election into 20 giant constituencies which would each elect from two to seven MLAs, but voters would just get a single vote.

(Emphasis added)
This is a misleading statement, bordering on false. The assumption that BC-STV does make is that your “#1” choice is the most important, and so it always gets full weight while subsequent choices are weighted. It is up to the voter to choose whether to only mark their ‘#1’ choice.

They can also choose to enter their 2nd, 3rd, 4th… etc.. choices down if they want. If they do so, then their ballot may be considered multiple times…. up to as many times as there are MLAs to be elected.

In effect, BC-STV will give constituents who now only have the possibility of affecting 1 seat in the Legislature, control over 4 seats in the Legislature, in my case. So you could be voting for both who you think would be the best local candidate for your town or district, and also the best regional candidate as a whole. Or, if you had a more partisan view… you vote for every Liberal or NDP candidate so as to give your party the best chance at winning the largest number of seats in the Legislature.

Personally, I see this as a huge plus in terms of making sure quality candidates are chosen, and voters political preferences are always respected.

STV elects candidates who get a minimum percentage (12.5 per cent to 33.3 per cent, increasing as the number to be elected decreases).

Again, another misleading statement… because BC-STV employs multi-MLA ridings, it must set a “minimum” in order to be able to fairly, and proportionally, elect the other candidates. This is the entire point of having a system based on Proportional Representation.

Just as it is now with FPTP, it can not be known what percentage will be required for a candidate to win in BC-STV as it depends completely on voter turnout. One could say that in Alberni-Qualicum, Scott Fraser only needed 36.8% of the vote in order to beat Gillian Trumper in the 2005 election. Of course, he actually received 52% of the vote, and in BC-STV you would still know who received the most #1 votes in the riding, as well as all the other preferences people had. Knowing peoples preferences would actually be a very valuable tool to gauge how BC voters really felt about their candidates, their parties and their ridings.

BC-STV MLAs can get just as large a mandate as FPTP elected MLAs. If 75% of voters put Scott Fraser as their #1 choice, then that’s what he gets, and no doubt that would be what the Media would highlight. The likelihood of one candidate getting that much support is obviously mighty slim, but it is no less likely than it is with FPTP, and if it did happen, the other candidates would still be easily elected from peoples 2nd and 3rd choices, and that’s what makes BC-STV great. Choice.

The counting system is so complex that it takes weeks to count the votes. It might be possible to computerize the complex count, but it is not so easy to design a computer system that is subject to verification and that allows recounts while protecting voter secrecy.

First, let me say that I am a computer technician and web programmer by trade, and I loathe the thought of computer based voting systems for both technical and ethical reasons.

That said, his statement about complexity is simply false. Unless our elections volunteers have a problem with long division, then I think they will do just fine.

The ballots still only need to be counted and tallied once. The added time will come from tallying each of the voters preferences, but again, as long as the elections officials know how to use a pen on a whiteboard to write down how many 2nd, 3rd, or 4th choice votes an MLA receives, then I’m sure they will be fine.

Knowing the “first choice” elected MLA in a BC-STV riding should be just as fast as the present system. The rest is just division, and will be known for sure once officials know the final number of votes cast.

No computers needed. (or wanted, in my opinion)

Changing the voting system doesn’t change politics. Don’t be taken in by BC-STV. It requires enormous electoral areas that make politicians even less accountable than they are now and makes political parties even more powerful.

On one point, David and I agree. Changing the voting system doesn’t change politics, not one bit, it will be as nasty as ever. However, the notion that BC-STV would stifle the opportunities for smaller candidates to run is silly. Again, we already live in a system where the chances of a non-major party candidate winning a seat are so remote as to be nearly impossible.

That is a voter, party, and candidate problem, not an electoral system problem. So unfortunately, that will not change in BC-STV in my opinion. Smaller candidates will still have the ability to run in their riding of choice, and could run as a sub-regional candidate if they thought it would better their chances of getting one of the seats. The money spent by riding associations is already minimal even at the Federal level. The best chance a small party/independant candidate has to win has always been, and will always be, their ability to communicate, make a good showing at the ACMs and network.

However, what BC-STV *does* address is the problem of a minority of voters electing a super-majority of MLAs. In 2001, BC elected 77 Liberals and 2 New Democrats to the Legislature. 97% vs. 3% of the seats. Yet, the actual popular vote was 58% Liberal, 22% NDP, 12% Green and 8% went to smaller parties and independants. BC-STV will ensure that that level of misrepresentation, regardless of political party, never happens again in BC Politics, and that is a huge step forward in our democracy.

Provincial FPTP
Current Provincial Ridings
Current Federal Ridings
Proposed BC-STV
Proposed BC-STV Ridings