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Electrification and more needed in all sectors, BC Hydro CEO says

Energy efficiency and fuel alternatives will have a role in meeting GHG targets, he says

While electrification across all areas of society will be integral, BC Hydro’s CEO said Wednesday that B.C. won’t meet its climate targets through clean power generation alone.

Chris O’Riley, who heads the crown corporation, told Greater Victoria business and community leaders that meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets will take electrification plans mingled with more energy efficiency, buildings swapping natural gas for biofuels, carbon capture and more.

The province is fortunate and well-positioned with about 98 per cent of its electricity coming from renewable sources, mostly from hydropower, but O’Riley emphasized that about 70 per cent of all the energy consumed in B.C. still comes from fossil fuels.

Noting climate change is spurring more extreme and unpredictable weather that’s hitting all of B.C., O’Riley said the goal is to have clean electricity responsible for about a third of all energy use by 2040. That, he said, will take switching from light-duty gas vehicles to electric models, replacing gas furnaces with heat pumps and having industry shift from diesel to alternatives.

As other jurisdictions, like neighbouring Alberta, have significantly reduced emissions by decommissioning coal power plants, B.C. cutting GHGs will take action from all sectors, O’Riley said. The BC Hydro leader is confident they can meet the demands of a more electrified society, pointing to the Site C dam that will generate enough power for half-a-million homes and how the crown corporation recently made its first call for new power in 15 years.

“We’re now forecasting that the need for new renewable energy resources, like wind and solar, has moved up,” he said.

Those two sources are expected to dominate the call for power as wind especially has seen a lot of technology and cost improvements in the last decade and a half.

BC Hydro’s goal will be to have large solar and wind projects scales to keep rates affordable and is looking especially to remote areas in the province’s North that have been identified as good suitors for those projects.

The CEO added that renewable prospects like tidal and offshore wind likely won’t be scaled up due to the costs of connecting those generation types to the grid. Asked about the small amount of generation on the Island, O’Riley said cables from the mainland will continue to be the primary electricity source for Islanders.

Several Greater Victoria communities have enabled the recently implemented zero carbon step code, which gives municipalities the authority to mandate the amount the emissions from new buildings. BC Hydro supports cities taking those strides as O’Riley said it’s much harder to retrofit existing buildings – which account for about 21 per cent of provincial emissions and overwhelmingly use natural gas for space and water heating.

The CEO noted the province’s plan also calls for reducing emissions from natural gas utilities by 47 per cent and they’re looking to support Fortis in those reductions.

“It’s a big chunk of the emissions and I do worry that gas utilities aren’t pushing on that as hard as they could be,” he said. “But we also recognize that, today, the most mature pathway is electrification.”

He sees significant opportunity for electrification in the industrial sector – which across oil, gas and other operations produces 40 per cent of B.C.’s emissions – adding he hopes existing facilities will switch to electricity and new ones will choose clean power over natural gas. O’Riley also gave the example of BC Hydro helping a Princeton copper mine using hybrid hauling trucks instead of diesel for a portion of their operations.

READ: ‘Long overdue’: B.C. introducing new powers to limit emissions of new buildings

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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