VANCOUVER - B.C.'s Green party leader says investors hankering to fund renewable energy projects are being shut out because of the province's regulatory barriers.
Jane Sterk said sectors such as wind energy would create jobs faster than the far-off liquefied natural gas industry that Premier Christy Clark has been promoting as an economic saviour in her bid to win the May 14 election.
"B.C. could be a green technology powerhouse," Sterk told a news conference Thursday. "We need to address some of these regulatory issues that have made it very difficult to do business in British Columbia.
"We have this massive investment that people want in wind, we have companies who have talked to us who want to do geothermal projects. They encounter the same kind of regulatory barriers."
Both the Liberal party and the NDP favour extraction of liquefied natural gas and shipping it to Asia.
Clark has said the development of three LNG plants in northern B.C. by 2020 could potentially wipe out the provincial debt, eliminate the need to pay sales taxes and create thousands of jobs.
Sterk is against pipelines altogether. She said current regulations for other projects are so onerous, they're hampering investment even though the Liberals claim to be a free-enterprise party.
Jason Bak, CEO of Finavera Wind Energy, said he was an entrepreneur based in Ireland in 2005 when he decided to develop the wind industry in B.C.
Bak's company was awarded 300 megawatts of power contracts in 2010 through a competitive process by BC Hydro.
But he said the projects' development has been suspended because of the Liberal government's mismanagement of the Environmental Assessment Office, which has been criticized for not doing enough to protect the environment.
"The EAO is underfunded," Bak said. "It's a new industry, there's not a level playing field for wind energy versus coal mining, LNG etcetera."
Bak said one of Finavera's projects is atop the HD Mining coal mine, which is being developed in Tumbler Ridge, B.C. The mine has been granted a permit to extract thousands of tonnes of rock as test samples while the environmental assessment process is underway. Meanwhile, Bak said guidelines are still being established for wind energy.
Bak said the land his company was planning to use was clearcut by a forestry company, which is governed by the Forestry Act, under a different set of rules compared to wind energy.
"The challenge is that the legislators have been focusing on the hydro carbons, on the coal, on the LNG, while not focusing enough time on making it easy to invest billions of dollars on creating clean energy for this province."
Green candidate and climate scientist Andrew Weaver, who is running in Victoria, said Clark's LNG projections are a pipe dream.
He said the government's 2007 legislation calling for a reduction in greenhouse gases of one third by 2020 can't be met without a clean energy industry and must be repealed.
Weaver said a 2011 report by KPMG identified 202 clean technology organizations in B.C. and that revenues from the industry had increased by 57 per cent — from $1.6 billion in 2008 to $2.5 billion in 2011.
"We believe that the LNG exports and the focus on fossil fuels and pipelines and the transport of this to Asia is yesterday's thinking and not tomorrow's thinking."
The Green party says renewable energy sources can be integrated with existing BC Hydro generation and distribution systems and with full support of First Nations.
Paul Kariya, executive director of Clean Energy Association of BC, represents 225 private-sector developers and operators in wind, hydro, natural gas and the emerging geothermal, tidal and solar areas.
He said 12 projects currently being built in B.C. have created 2,300 jobs, including 690 for First Nations.
"In terms of jobs and economic development, we're a tried and true industry that knows what we're doing, that can provide competitively based electricity for the grid, for British Columbia."
Kariya said the clean energy sector has replaced the commercial fishery for 125 of about 203 First Nations in B.C.