COLUMN: Is gas-fired generation a better long-term solution?

Despite having travelled extensively in B.C., I have been to the Peace Country but three times in my life...

Despite having travelled extensively in B.C., I have been to the Peace Country but three times in my life. Once in the dead of winter looking for work, once to cover the opening of the Bennett Dam and once during the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Highway.

It is an awesome land, powered by agriculture and the oil/gas industry. A place where, if the winters weren’t so long and cold, and it wasn’t so very far away, I wouldn’t mind living.

But, like most British Columbians, the considerably milder climate and diversity of employment opportunities keeps me mainly in the tiny triangle of dense population that is the Lower Mainland. And the relative remoteness of The Peace keeps most people from ever visiting it, and thus completely off their NIMBY radar.

That perhaps, is why 10,000 or more acres of viable farmland, much of it considered among the best in the country, will be acceptably flooded by the Site C dam. We all want and need the power it can generate, and since the 83 or so kilometre reservoir is out of sight and thus out of mind for most of us, there is little opposition outside the Peace Country.

Yet, down here in the “centre of the world” most attempts at eliminating farmland are met with great hue and cry. Take Delta, for example.

There is a great gnashing of teeth and political hand wringing over attempts to pave over farmland for industrial purposes next to Deltaport and on the Tsawwassen First Nation lands. Throw in the proposed housing development on the former Spetifore (now Southlands) farmland adjacent to the Tsawwassen village, and the crescendo of concern escalates.

Funny though, that Delta seems more than content to bury prime farmland under greenhouses that use not one speck of Canada’s number one soil. The argument, I suppose, is that greenhouses are providing agricultural products. But couldn’t they just as well be located on former gravel pits?

Of course, there is the long-term possibility that those greenhouses could be removed, and the land beneath them returned to productivity.

I remember decades ago meeting then-Premier Bill Bennett at a coffee party hosted by former MLA Bill Ritchie.

I asked Bennett about the environmental losses caused by huge hydro dams on our rivers. His shrugged reply was that dams could always be removed. Uh huh.

Let’s be clear, however, I am not against hydro generation, and we do need the power that Site C could produce. But is losing that much agricultural land and wildlife habitat environmentally better or worse than the greenhouse gases that would be produced by natural-gas-fired power plants?

As I understand it, some or all of the proposed LNG plants on the north coast will use gas-fired plants to generate the energy required to liquefy the product for overseas shipment.

Why not, with all the bounty of natural gas that B.C. holds, build gas-burning power plants instead of, in my mind, perpetuating old technology by constructing hydro dams?

I’m certain with proper scrubbers and advancing technology, the gas burners could and would become clean, efficient and have a minute footprint in comparison to a dam and reservoir. And if the Asian LNG market ever fails, or is supplanted by home-developed sources, British Columbia will have a boundless supply of gas for electrical generation already adjacent to the power grid that supplies the Lower Mainland.

And unlike dams, should they ever become obsolete, they are far easier to decommission.