The people of BC have been told repeatedly that the province is a “net importer” of electricity and needs to become “self-sufficient” – claims that are used to justify everything from “run of river” independent power producers (IPPs), to energy megaprojects such as Bute Inlet and the Site C dam. But a US electricity expert told me that California has been “buying a tremendous amount of power from BC over the past decade.”
Peter Meisen, founder and president of the San Diego-based Global Energy Network Institute (GENI), said during a phone interview last year, “BC sells a lot of excess electricity through the Pacific intertie into southern California. It’s the cheapest electricity we have and they’ve been selling it to us constantly over the past decade.”
Spin and Lies
The people of BC are not the only ones being lied to about their electricity needs while their rates skyrocket. Canadians are constantly being told that we must make major investments in our electricity systems and take on massive hydro-generating projects, or (it is implied) see the lights go out. For example, on May 12, 2011, Pierre Guimond, head of the Canadian Electricity Association told the Toronto Star that Canada needs to invest “$15 billion (€11.27 billion) a year over the next 20 years” in order to “upgrade” the system.
But the Electricity Sector Council, established and funded by the Harper government, recently noted “Canada produces nearly four per cent of the world’s electricity, exporting between $1 billion and $2 billion (€0.75 – €1.5 billion).
Most of the electricity is intended for export to the US. What do Canada’s National Energy Plan, smart meters, Site C, IPPs, nuclear energy in the tar sands, and BC’s high voltage Northwest Transmission Line have in common? The plans for renewable energy high voltage transmission have been spun over the decades, but now large corporate players, controlling strategic committees in Washington and Ottawa, are ready to transform the continent and drain Canada of energy – oil, gas, and hydro. The only public involvement is that taxpayers will foot the bill. It’s all wrapped up in the “Clean Energy Dialogue” about renewable energy, and nary a word about the sacrifice of wilderness.
Others, such as the C.D. Howe Institute, give an even higher annual hydro-export figure of $2.6 billion (€1.95). There is no real domestic need for the excessive electricity generation and “upgrades” being called for in Canada, but, under the radar, something much bigger is going on. It has to do with “energy convergence.” We tend to think of the electricity sector as separate from the oil and gas sector. But increasingly, the same corporate players are involved in both. What they are planning is literally continent transforming and would drain Canada of oil, gas, and hydro ⎯ all without any public involvement except that taxpayers are expected to foot the bill. The most obvious of these boondoggles is the smart meter.
The Smart Meter
“The truth is that smart meters aren’t exactly necessary for a smart grid,” stated Forbes (Feb. 1, 2011), “but for technical and economic reasons, they’re here to stay.” Just what those technical and economic reasons are, even business consultants have been hard-pressed to explain, especially because eliminating thousands of meter-reader jobs during a recession doesn’t play well. The business case for rolling out expensive smart meter networks is often thin,” noted a March 2011 report rom global research/consulting firm Ovum, so utilities need to “investigate alternative revenue generation opportunities from their smart meter infrastructure.”
One of those “opportunities” is data sales. As the Guardian’s John Vidal explains (March 30, 2011), through smart meters, “power companies will be able to tell everyone’s energy-use habits precisely, to the point of knowing which appliances they use, when people are in or out of a house, how efficient their boilers are and what they cook. This data is commercially valuable and it can be expected that it would be sold to other companies.”
The journal Science enthused last year (May 21, 2010) that all this data from smart meters could even help in health research: “Algorithms might be designed, for example, to infer how many times per day a refrigerator door was opened (relevant to dietary and obesity studies),” or epidemiologists could use the data in “studies of health impacts of electromagnetic fields [EMFs].”
Seeing through such blather, the people of the Netherlands raised such an outcry against mandatory smart meters that their government was forced to abandon the policy. The key reason for smart meters is huge profits for the ICT (information and communications technologies) sector — IBM, Cisco, General Electric, Oracle, Itron, etc. In other words, the reason for smart meters is to sell smart meters, and then smart appliances.
Within the appliance manufacturing industry, the “smart appliance” sector is currently in fierce competition with the “energy efficient” appliance makers for sector dominance — much like the competition between Betamax and VHS back in the 1980s. While energy-efficient appliances don’t need the smart meter (or a smart grid) to function, smart appliances do. According to a recent report from Sage Environmental Consultants in California, in order for the smart meter to control energy usage in the home (rather than just convey billing data), “the consumer must be willing to install power transmitters” for each new smart appliance to communicate with the smart meter. “A typical kitchen and laundry may have a dozen power transmitters in total.”
So making the smart meter mandatory is a crucial step in determining who wins the competing system protocols, and an obvious boost for smart-appliance makers like General Electric, and the whole ICT industry. While committing billions to smart meters in 2009, US President Obama enthused: “We can imagine the day when you’ll be able to charge the battery on your plug-in hybrid car at night, because your smart meter reminded you that night-time electricity is cheapest.” (A large note held by a fridge magnet would accomplish the same thing, but in Obama’s imagined future, perhaps people will have become so gadget-addicted, or brain addled by EMFs, that they wouldn’t see it.)
BC Hydro has awarded the first smart meter contract to Corix Utilities. One of the two owners of Corix is CAI Capital Management, whose senior advisor is David Emerson, Executive Chair of the BC Transmission Corp, Chair of the BC Premier’s economic Advisory Council, Chair of the Alberta Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy, director of Timberwest Forest Corp., former CEO of Canfor, and (as we shall see) current chair of something called EPIC.
The other owner of Corix is the British Columbia Investment Management Corp (BCIMC). Direct Current. The BCIMC manages $86.6 billion in investment funds for clients such as the Province of BC, public sector pension plans, and trust funds. Three out of seven of the BCIMC’s board of directors (including its Chair) are appointed by the BC Minister of Finance. One of those appointees is Joanne McLeod, who is also a director of the BC Transmission Corporation, which was hived off from BC Hydro in 2003 and then reintegrated in 2010.
In 2008, the BCIMC joined 43 other investors in writing a letter to the US Congress to push for a new high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission grid across the US. Just months later, their push for HVDC was helped by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, usually called “the NERC.” The NERC oversees the entire electric power system of the US and Canada. It is a private-sector body that regulates and maintains the reliability/ security of the whole electricity system. All Canadian provinces are members of the NERC, along with US states. In October 2009, NERC recommended building 32,000 miles (51,500kms) of new HVDC transmission lines in the US to access renewable energy. In its press release, NERC urged, “state and provincial siting and permitting processes must be expedited to allow for the development of needed resources and ensure reliability.”
Just as energy-efficient appliances don’t need a smart-grid to function and save energy, renewables have no need for HVDC transmission lines in order to function locally. The only reason for HVDC is very long distance transmission, with 79m (259ft) high pylons marching through right-of-way corridors. But that is rarely explained to the Canadian public, who are instead led to believe that expensive HVDC “upgrades” are necessary to handle renewables. The NERC’s recommendation for a massive transformation of the grid fits in nicely with the plans that Peter Meisen of GENI has been promoting for 25 years.
Peter Meisen likely thinks of himself as an environmentalist, but “off the grid” or “small is beautiful” have never been part of his lexicon. Founded in 1986, GENI advocates globally, especially to investors, for cross-border electricity interconnections. Meisen would like to see the entire planet served by a global grid relying on regional sources of renewable electricity, all interconnected through HVDC power lines, with undersea cables where necessary to connect all the continents.
As Meisen enthused on the GENI website after NERC’s Oct. 2009 recommendation, “For the first time, the NERC 10 Year Assessment is in alignment with GENI’s initiative to link renewable energy resources across all regions… In many cases, the best [renewable energy] sites are found in remote locations and even neighbouring nations.” BC “has much more hydro potential that could be built and exported to the US,” Meisen told me. “I know the arguments against it – such as ‘why should we spoil our region in order to run air conditioners in California’ — but the BC and West Coast regional [electricity] intertie is exactly what we’d like to see worldwide.” Meisen’s GENI vision has some high-powered corporate players behind it.
In 1995, Earth Island Journal reported that “GENI’s participants include the World Bank, Westinghouse, Pacific Gas & Electric, Mitsubishi, General Electric, and Siemens.” In recent years, General Electric, Siemens and Mitsubishi have been rapidly buying into the $41 (€30.8) billion smart grid transmission and distribution market, as well as the multi-billion smart meters global market.
As most BC readers know, GE has teamed up with Vancouver-based Plutonic Power on the 196MW Toba-Montrose hydroelectric project near Powell River, and both companies are pushing for mega-projects on BC’s Central Coast. The GE/Plutonic Bute Inlet project, currently on hold, calls for 17 river diversions to generate 1,027MW of electricity carried by HVDC lines. In the meantime, Plutonic merged with Magma Energy Corp earlier this year, and now goes by the name of Alterra Power Corp – though as Rafe Mair would say, it’s still GE in drag.
Clean Energy Dialogue
Along with NERC’s recommendation, another boost for the 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 CED is mainly devoted to two projects:
1) developing carbon capture and storage (CCS), and
2) 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 (€97.5) for “a green infrastructure project in northern British Columbia involving the construction of a 335km (208mile) transmission line that will support the development and use of green energy in the area … [and facilitate] the development of an estimated 2,000MW of renewable electricity generation.”
The $400 million (€300), 287kV 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 NTL 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 CED “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, 105km (65miles) 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 Dec. 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 (€0.75 billion) run-of-river projects at Volcano Creek, McLymont Creek, and the 195MW 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 GENI, 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 also 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 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 1,100MW of eastern Canada power – from New Brunswick, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island – into Massachusetts and Connecticut markets, saving US consumers $1 billion (€0.75 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 (€375 – €908 million) 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, D.C., the Banff group discussed 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 (€12 billion) annually. The seven members of the AEIC 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 (€12 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 C.D. 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 CED, 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.” Canada’s national energy plan is being designed by the corporations for the corporations.
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 IPP 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, EPIC’s national energy plan will be presented to PM Stephen Harper (son of an oil patch executive), who was re-elected 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 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 more about that in a later issue.
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 “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 (€10.5 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 per cent.” 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 (€11.3 million).
A Few Somebodies
Since 2006, Ontario electricity customers have paid at least $1 billion (€0.75 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 (€65.1 billion) in electricity “upgrades”over the next 20 years to increase exports; Alberta at least $14 billion (€10.5 billion); and Manitoba is considering spending $20 billion (€15 billion). In Quebec, one single hydroelectric mega-project – the Romaine River project – will cost taxpayers $8 billion (€6 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 IPP companies (like GE, Fortis BC, AltaGas), the ICT sector (GE, BM, Itron, Corix), GENI participants (GE, Mitsubishi), EPIC 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. High Voltage: Spin and Lies of a Global Energy Grid was previously printed in the Watershed Sentinel, the independent voice for environmental news in British Columbia. Visit: http://www.watershedsentinel.ca