High voltage part two
Energy companies lament shortages but sell our energy abroad.
Dateline: Monday, December 12, 2011
by Joyce Nelson
[Editor's note: SGN presents the second part of Joyce Nelson's incisive and disturbing report on the way that non-profit "institutes" and for-profit energy companies are setting Canada's energy policies on the basis of maximum profit, rather than environmental or other public good issues.]
Along with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation's ("the NERC") recommendation to build 32,000 miles of transmission lines across North America, another boost for the Global Energy Network Institute (GENI) vision of a vast supergrid was provided by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper, during Obama's February 2009 visit to Ottawa. The two leaders launched the "US-Canada Clean Energy Dialogue," or CED. According to a February 19, 2009 news release from the Office of the Prime Minister, the Clean Energy Dialogue is mainly devoted to two projects:
- developing carbon capture and storage (CCS), and
- building "a more efficient electricity grid based on clean and renewable generation." The CED Action Plan was released in Washington on September 16, 2009 by Environment Canada and the US Department of Energy.
BC's Northwest Transmission Line At the same time, Harper announced that he was providing $130 million for "a green infrastructure project in northern British Columbia involving the construction of a 335- km transmission line that will support the development and use of green energy in the area... [and facilitate] the development of an estimated 2,000 megawatts of renewable electricity generation."
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Apparently, if all goes as planned, BC could ultimately be powering not only air conditioners in California, but computers in Japan.
The $400 million, 287 kilovolt Northwest Transmission Line (NTL) had long been advocated by a coalition including engineering giant SNC Lavalin, the Mining Association of BC, and the Northern Development Initiative Trust — whose founding CEO, Janine North, is a director of BC Hydro. SNC Lavalin chair Gwyn Morgan (former CEO of EnCana) is a top advisor to BC Premier Christy Clark.
The first purpose of the Northwest Transmission Line is actually to power mining development in the Dease Lake area, which Harper didn't mention. Those mining companies will pay less than one half the cost of the new supply BC Hydro will need to acquire.
A Government of Canada Clean Energy Dialogue "backgrounder" further explained: "The project is also a key step in a potential interconnection between southeast Alaska and the North American transmission grid via British Columbia."
North to Alaska
The Terrace Standard (May 18, 2011) reported that "BC Hydro is quietly laying the groundwork to extend the Northwest Transmission Line past its currently scheduled end point at Bob Quinn on Hwy 37 North," up to Iskut, 105 km north. "Under the terms of the federal-provincial agreement, BC Hydro is obligated to electrify Iskut within one year of the [NTL's] completion, now scheduled for December 2013. "
In 2010, Calgary-based AltaGas signed a 60-year sales deal with BC Hydro to feed power into the NTL through its $1 billion run-of-river projects at Volcano Creek, McLymont Creek, and the 195 MW Forrest Kerr project, which will divert the Iskut River.On the Alaska side, International Water Power (August 18, 2009) reported: "The most studied Alaska-BC (AK-BC) transmission intertie proposal is the Bradfield Intertie, which would connect the existing Tyee Lake hydroelectric plant in Alaska to BC" via the Forest Kerr project.
For Peter Meisen at the Global Energy Network Institute, such regional links are all part of his vision of a vast global grid, where ultimately power from western North America could be transmitted by undersea cable across the Bering Strait into Russia. He has written that Russian and Alaskan power system planners have been meeting since 1992 "to discuss an east/west intertie between Alaska and Siberia," with the possibility of "making an interconnection between Russia and its Asian neighbours: Japan, North Korea, South Korea and China."
Apparently, if all goes as planned, BC could ultimately be powering not only air conditioners in California, but computers in Japan. When asked if BC was important to his GENI vision of a global grid, Meisen told me, "Absolutely! The cheapest, cleanest power comes from BC, and in fact, from across Canada."
Northeast Energy Link On the East Coast
GENI envisions major High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) lines connecting power throughout all Atlantic provinces and states. A project called the Northeast Energy Link is currently being developed by Emera (parent company of Nova Scotia Power and Bangor Hydro Electric Company) and the UK's National Grid. The project would transport 1,100 MW of eastern Canada power — from New Brunswick, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island — into Massachusetts and Connecticut markets, saving US consumers $1 billion annually.
A power-point prospectus on the Northeast Energy Link states that the project would allow "access to low marginal cost and clean energy resources [from Canada] for a benefit to all New England consumers of $500 million to $1.3 billion per year in energy cost reduction alone."
The US-Canada Clean Energy Dialogue envisions that Canada's "cheap, clean" power not only continues to flow across the border, but ramps up production. To that end, Harper and his Cabinet appointed "the Mechanic."
As a political fixer, Bruce Carson was good at getting things done — that is, before his activities became a major political scandal that erupted earlier this year. Among Carson's many duties in 2009-2010, the former senior advisor to Stephen Harper held responsibility for the US-Canada Clean Energy Dialogue, and organized a variety of conferences on that theme. One such conference, held in Banff on June 4-6, 2009, involved leaders of the oil, gas and electricity sectors, academics, and provincial and territorial Ministers of the Environment and their Deputy Ministers.
As Carson reported a few days later in a June 19, 2009 speech to the Canadian American Business Council in Washington, DC, the Banff group discussed Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), "as well as the creation of a Smart Electricity Grid — both North-South and East-West." Apparently, Canada's provincial/ territorial Environment Ministers offered no resistance to the massive environmental destruction involved in hydroelectric megaprojects. And there was no one at the Banff conference to question the spending of Canadian taxpayer megabucks on grid "improvements" so that US consumers can have cut-rate power.
Meanwhile, the private energy sector was also targeting the US federal budget. In June 2010, a group calling itself the American Energy Innovation Council (AEIC) urged the federal government to more than triple its spending on clean energy research, development and deployment (RD&D) to $16 billion annually. The seven members of the American Energy Innovation Ccouncil include GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. According to the New York Times (June 10, 2010), the AEIC urged that the annual $16 billion for clean-tech funding "be spread across nuclear fission, solar, wind, fossil fuels and other energy technologies."
On January 21, 2011, President Obama appointed GE's Jeffrey Immelt as his top outside economic advisor and chair of an expert panel charged with boosting job creation and competitiveness. The appointment had many scratching their heads: since 2002, GE has eliminated a fifth of its workforce in the US (though it did create many new jobs in China). The additional roles for GE's Immelt followed his 2009 appointment as a member of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board.
The president and CEO of GE Canada, M Elyse Allan, is even more central to decision-making in this country. Ms Allan is the Chair of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which last year successfully lobbied to kill the climate change bill (Bill C-311) in the Canadian Senate. She is also a member of Finance Minster Jim Flaherty's Federal Finance Advisory Committee; a member of the Alberta Premier's Council for Economic Strategy; a member of the Ontario Investment & Trade Advisory Council; a director of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives; a director of the CD Howe Institute; a director of the Public Policy Forum, and a former member of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy.
Just days after Obama's appointment of Immelt, Harper and Obama met again in Washington to announce a controversial North American "security perimeter." They also received the second report to leaders on the Clean Energy Dialogue, which (according to a Government of Canada news release) "lays out progress achieved in 20 joint projects in such areas as solar energy, advanced biofuels, and carbon capture and storage." Just what those "20 joint projects" fully are, we have not otherwise been told, but they may include natural gas — which GE now sees as central to its energy future.
Over the last year, GE has bought at least four companies involved in shale gas production. Then in May 2011, GE announced its new natural gas power plant design — the FlexEfficiency 50 — a "combined-cycle" power plant that "allows grid and power plant operators to better manage power supply and demand, and integrate natural gas power with clean power." As the new TV ads for www. canadiannaturalgas.ca say, "When the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine..." Obviously, shale gas (along with run-of-river) will be used to power the new HVDC transmission lines. But shale gas will also be part of the "energy convergence" that the big players like GE are planning.
National Energy Policy
The old fraudster Bruce Carson was also involved in a new corporate initiative called the Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC), chaired by David Emerson. In 2010 Carson served as vice-chair of EPIC, which is writing a national energy plan. The members of EPIC (see www.canadasenergy. ca/who-we-are/members/) include not only Independent Power Producers (IPPs) companies such as GE, Plutonic, Fortis BC, Emera Inc., Atco Power and AltaGas, but also major natural gas producers such as Apache and EnCana; all the major tars sands bitumen producers; forest companies such as Domtar and Canfor; and pipeline companies such as Enbridge and TransCanada Corp.
Although the very words "national energy policy" have long elicited rage, fear, and loathing in Canada's oil patch, the Energy Policy Institute of Canada's national energy plan is being designed by the corporations for the corporations. And it will be presented to PM Stephen Harper (son of an oilpatch executive), who was reelected in 2008 after David Emerson co-chaired his national campaign.
As outlined by EPIC Chair David Emerson in Policy Options (February, 2011) , EPIC's most astonishing recommendation is this: "Energy-related infrastructure should be strategically planned and optimized to minimize transportation costs and environmental disruption in North America, while ensuring energy security for Canada, the US and Mexico. This should include transmission lines with 'smart grid' capability as well as pipeline capacity [my emphasis]
Pipelines, transmission lines and major projects could benefit from joint development arrangements among western provinces, for example."
So the new HVDC (High Voltage Direct Current) transmission line corridors would also contain pipelines for shale gas, bitumen, and (potentially) water. GE is one of the biggest water privateers in the world, but that's a topic for another time.
On May 17, the Calgary Herald's Jason Fekete reported that a recent Wikileaks release of cables sent from the US embassy in Ottawa (2003 and 2008) revealed that Alberta Tory politicians offered to export power to the US using excess electricity generated by tar sands operations. One cable noted that "This could over time make significant new electricity exports available to the United States, but at least for now there is limited capacity to move this west and then south through British Columbia and on to our Pacific Northwest."
On May 26, Andrew Nikiforuk wrote in The Tyee that, shortly after the cables were sent, the Alberta government proposed a $14 billion upgrade to its transmission system "at taxpayers' expense with no public needs assessments." Moreover, writes Nikiforuk, the province intends "to give away that very infrastructure to two private transmission companies (Atco and AltaLink), along with a promised rate of return of nine percent." AltaLink is a subsidiary of SNC Lavalin, the new buyer of the nuclear reactor division of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. for the yard-sale price of $15 million.
A Few Somebodies
Since 2006, Ontario electricity customers have paid at least $1 billion to subsidize power exports, with private- sector energy traders (remember Enron?) profiting handsomely from these exports. Nevertheless, the Ontario government has committed to $87 billion in electricity "upgrades" over the next 20 years to increase exports; Alberta at least $14 billion; and Manitoba is considering spending $20 billion. In Quebec, one single hydroelectric mega-project — the Romaine River project — will cost taxpayers $8 billion, with all the electricity intended for export to the US.
Our "cheap, clean" electricity is increasingly very costly not only to our environment, but also to taxpayers right across the country. But for the Independent Power Producer companies (like GE, Fortis BC, AltaGas), the Information and Communication Technology sector (GE, IBM, Itron, Corix), Global Energy Network Iinstitute participants (GE, Mitsubishi), Energy Policy Institute of Canada members (GE etc.), and the American Energy Innovation Council (again GE), the future is bright indeed. "I love the energy field," AEIC member Bill Gates said in 2010. "There is a big market. If you can make a real breakthrough, a few somebodies will get very rich."
Joyce Nelson is a freelance writer/ researcher and the author of five books.
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Smart meters report usage daily or hourly, helping utilities to anticipate usage and build appropriate generation capacity and, perhaps, to bill more for electricity at peak periods.
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