BC Hydro

Careless or captured?

When you read or listen to resource industry advocates, especially ones masquerading as objective political pundits, compare their concerns in 2009 about burning natural gas to generate peak-demand electricity to their recent support for burning BC natural gas elsewhere in the world in the form of LNG.

The following was first published at In-Sights on August 4, 2009. I think it fits with my July 22 article about partisan punditry.

Despite deep cynicism about journalists backing BC Liberals, I had long held respect for the writing of Vaughn Palmer. My reservoir of appreciation has now run dry.

He has been bright, skilled and articulate, usually worth reading throughout 35+ years with the Vancouver Sun. Now, I don’t know. Is he distracted, overburdened, grown careless or captured by his subjects?

What can explain Palmer’s early reporting about the British Columbia Utilities Commission decision on BC Hydro’s 2008 Long Term Acquisition Plan. July 31, on his regular Vancouver radio outing, he led with this:

I think it means the BC Utilities Commission is out of touch. You know, they said, “We’re not persuaded we need all this new green power because you’ve got the Burrard Thermal Plant sitting out there in Port Moody and it could run full time and take care of your power needs for many years.” Which, is completely out of touch.

…the Utility Commission’s belief that the Burrard Thermal is the answer to any of the province’s power needs for the future just ignores its impact on air quality among other things.

That is not merely weak reporting of the Commission’s determination. It is a reprehensible misstatement that totally fails to reflect the actual decision. I can think of only two possibilities. One is that Palmer had not read the report but relied on someone’s corrupt précis. The other is that he intentionally misled the audience for some purpose.

Sidekick Keith Baldrey, of Global TV, contributed:

And, that’s why I don’t understand why a number of environmental groups who are applauding this decision have remained silent on the fact that Burrard Thermal is to be relied on at an increasing rate because it produces dirty energy. That’s a contradictory and hypocritical position and a number of people haven’t really squared themselves with that.

No Keith, the BC Utilities Commission simply didn’t say that.

Palmer subsequently shifted his attack, all but accusing the BCUC of joining forces with uninformed racists:

You know, that bit about the First Nations – I mean think about this for a minute – if we go out and get public opinion on First Nations, one of the first things you hear from people is, “You know, they always want a handout from the government, they’re always taking government money.” You know, here you got a bunch of First Nations in British Columbia – some of the best led native bands in the province – gone out and they’ve found private partners to develop their own resources on their own traditional territory and the big provincial government regulator has slammed the door on their face. I mean, it’s no wonder that they’re feeling frustrated.

Baldrey added:

…these independent power projects have as economic partners First Nations groups. These are a huge economic development tool for impoverished First Nations and Vaughn and I were reading this morning, from the Sechelt Indian Band, a letter they’ve written the BC Utilities Commission accusing them of essentially, and I quote, “This appears to us to be nothing less than regulated racism.” So you’ve got First Nations now very much up in arms. With the stroke of a pen, the Utilities Commission has kiboshed what they saw as the number one tool to lift a lot of their people out of fairly extensive poverty and I don’t know if the Utilities Commission thought this through properly.

I was interested to note that at 9am July 31, Baldrey and Palmer knew the contents of the Sechelt Band’s letter and were even armed with the pointed quote claiming “regulated racism.” Yet that letter was still warm from printing, being dated only one day before, July 30. I wonder how it came to be reviewed so promptly and publicly by the Victoria based journalists.

Was the Public Affairs Bureau (PAB) or the Independent Power Producers Association of BC (IPPBC) helping Chief Garry Feschuk of the shíshálh First Nation circulate the letter? Were the flacks also providing digested interpretations of the BCUC decision to certain journalists? Were “First Nations now very much up in arms?” (An insensitive, if not racist, characterization.) Did indigenous people find private partners or did politically connected promoters find a few cooperative band leaders?

Palmer went on to provide a bit of accurate detail, saying the BCUC decision did not reject green power, private power or run of the river facilities and that, primarily, BC Hydro had to rework the scheduling of projects. Mind you, Palmer ignored the BCUC determination that BC Hydro had been either inaccurate or dishonest in its power needs forecasting. That should have been news. At best, Palmer had part of the story correct but his headline material was worse than sloppy.

We cannot though accuse all professional journalists of faulty or inadequate reporting. Mark Hume at the Globe and Mail had no difficulty understanding the entire BCUC decision and writing conclusions based on the Commission’s actual findings. He said:

The commission’s ruling made it clear, however, that there is no energy crisis – and that when there are energy shortfalls, such as during droughts or the period of peak demand in December, BC Hydro has a solid backup system in the Burrard Generating Station, an old, mostly idle plant fueled by natural gas.

The commission is not saying we should run the Burrard plant, or that Burrard is a better source of energy than clean resources,” said economist Marvin Shaffer. What the commission determined is that Burrard is valuable as a backup facility, and that in that role it has the capacity of at least 5,000 gigawatt hours, not the 3,000 GWh estimated by BC Hydro.

By refusing to accept the lower capacity, the commission called into question the need for BC Hydro to purchase backup power from IPPs.

Had the British Columbia Utilities Commission not intervened, B.C. would have been damming its wild and scenic rivers, not in a noble fight against global warming, but in order to run air conditioners in California.

Contrast that analysis to the simple one by Keith Baldrey:

Yes, they (BCUC) just said go and use Burrard Thermal.

One does not need to be a sophisticated media analyst to conclude that Canwest Global’s Palmer and Baldrey reported on the BCUC in a manner that is entirely below the standard set by Mark Hume. The Globe and Mail faces the same financial challenges as every newspaper publisher but in the western bureau, they employ and deploy high quality staff, particularly in comparison to the competition.

21 replies »

  1. You are wrong.

    BCUC explicitly said that Burrard must be fired at 5000 GWh/a in order to make up for the deficit. This would be almost 20 times more than it was used last year.

    You should UBC Prof. Hoberg on this.

    Mark Hume's article on the other hand was full of ideologic inaccuracies against renewable energy.



  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment Sia. The 236 page decision of the BCUC is available online.


    Could you direct readers to where the explicit statement is made that Burrard Thermal MUST operate at that level. No, in fact, that is a theoretical amount for planning system wide capacities. In a year of high water levels, Burrard might not be operated at all.

    By downplaying its reserves, BCH seeks to justify advance contracts for high cost power from private sources. That is like boarding up rooms in the back of my house and saying I must hire a contractor to build an addition because space might be in short supply if a number of people come to stay.

    Also, you don't strengthen your position by suggesting that any BC writer named HUME stands against protection of the environment. The long record is quite the opposite.


  3. In the interest of fairness and respect for factual discussion, I link to the reactions written by Dr. George Hoberg:


    It includes:

    “For the most part, the Commission is critical of the lack of evidence or analysis underlying BC Hydro’s plan.”

    Dr. Hoberg provides a thoughtful conclusion:

    “While the decision certainly creates short term confusion, it may have valuable benefits in the medium and long term. BC Hydro will be forced to provide more rigorous and transparent justification for its decisions – the Commission requires that a new LTAP be submitted by June 30, 2010 (p. 151).

    “In my view, one lesson of the decision, and the controversy over it, is the illustration of the limitations of using quasi-judicial proceedings to make public policy decisions so crucial to the province. Perhaps the BC government will take this opportunity to engage in a more open, public dialogue about BC’s energy future, an argument this blog has promoted several times before.”


  4. So what baldry and palmer are saying is,it's ok for the ipp's to rip us off,as long as we give some of that ill gotten game to the natives,those two shills should give their heads a shake and realize that the gig is over!!!!The resources belong to all the people of BC not the natives and certainly not the American giants that all the former liberals work for,it's amazing to me how those two can sit there and tell us those baldry face lies!!!No wonder cannedwaste glowball is broke!!Ciao dave and lenny,but I doubt anyone will meet them in the food bank line up.


  5. Sometimes people, who are desperate, hungry and facing unemployment, turn to the oldest profession. When they do, not many notice or really care. The few who knew them and what they once were, observe with a mix of disgust and pity.

    Baldrey and Palmer have moved from the shadows to stand directly under the street light.

    Keep it up Norm.
    The endless hours you put in, keeping us informed, are very much appreciated.


  6. I try to understand:

    BC Hydro is discouraged from using Burrard Thermal, supposedly due to CO2 emissions?

    But burning huge amounts of natural gas to power LNG plants, then shipping the LNG 7,000 km across the Pacific, on CO2-emitting ships to Asia, where the LNG would be turned back into natural gas and burned, partly to generate electricity (like Burrard Thermal), is ok?

    And apparently it's ok to drain water out of BC Hydro's Williston reservoir, where it might have been used to generate clean, renewable electricity, instead to be used for fracking.


    • The BC LNG project was a “Hail Mary, full of grace” appeal for Devine intervention for Christy’s job creation and heritage fund promises. Nothing like going into business with an LNG company run by corrupt Malaysian regime finagles fracking pipeline concessions. This project will materialize on a “Wing and a Prayer” like everything else this government has done with the horse and the sparrow economic policies.

      ‘The market in China is long gone and Europe will not be economically feasible. Oil, gas and coal, nuclear and LNG acquisition, provisioning, transport, pipelines, storage, exploration, resource development, is well on its way and some completed in the Maritime region of Siberia with contracts let in the Orient. The following contracted ‘deals’ are ‘base paired’, not merely supply-purchase deals.’ Gigantic projects are under way to build the Altai Pipeline. http://bittooth.blogspot.ca/2014/05/tech-talk-china-russia-and-

      Two gigantic projects, the Power of Siberia and the Altai Pipeline. (Maps above link) The development of Eastern Siberia and the European section of the Black Sea pipeline through Turkey into Southern Europe. will deliver Russian and Central Asian gas to Eastern China, Japan and Central Asian gas as well as Middle East gas to tie Balkans, Italy and Central Europe. The two of the largest projects in mankind’s history, simultaneously are under way and some already liquefying gas. While Christy fiddled and BC burned with the audacity to fool us one more time with a transfer of $100 million from healthcare to the LNG rainy day fund.

      ‘September, it began with Russian shovels and Chinese advance payments, $25 Billion. Once connected, the two nations will receive ‘marrow’ transfers each requires to continue growth. Siberia and the Far East come alive as viable sectors of the Russian economy; China receives clean energy and moves people into its Northwest and North, and some into Far East Russia’ where land will be leased for 60 years to Chinese companies for food production. So where does this leave us in BC – well move over sparrow.


  7. Hi Norm: Again, thank you for your efforts to record what is actually said by these two patrons of the current government. Was just thumbing through a “Walrus” magazine in their letters section and there were several responses to a previous story on the lack of criticism of mainstream media in Canada.

    Two comments are worth repeating: (Katherine says) “Maybe the lesson here is don't trust your news until you know who it's sleeping with” and (Peter points out) “The Internet provides a great forum for policing the media, as evidenced by the Wente fiasco, but we can't let a system of volunteer bloggers and tweeters take the place of real media reporting”.

    It seems we have been in a holding pattern for a long time when it comes to MSM credibility and others are starting to notice it. Keep up the good work.


  8. With respect to the MSM an interesting quote today about the latest article in the Tyee about the Health Ministry Firings…… ” Bang on.. Wonder why emails were given to @TheTyee and not @vancouversun ….Because the Tyee will publish. #bcpoli “

    So true and the same applies to Norm Farrell who will publish what the MSM won't

    Guy in Victoria


  9. Palmer and Baldrey have forever sullied themselves through their own words and actions. They’ve earned our derision and deserve to be mocked; not with the unrealistic goal of their resurrection, but as an example to budding journalists.

    Those who must be shamed or dragged protesting into our search for truth make untrustworthy allies. Without our trust they are useless; eventually even to their masters.


  10. Norm, You continue to mistake Palmer and Baldrey for political analysts. They have not performed that role for some years now. Just give up man. It's not going to change now.!


  11. Norm Farrel quoted,
    “I can think of only two possibilities. One is that Palmer had not read the report but relied on someone's corrupt précis. The other is that he intentionally misled the audience for some purpose.”

    That purpose would be to protect his own investments in government projest such as ipp's or lng


  12. The BC Liberal response to the BCUC decision was the Clean Energy Act, which in addition to making the IPP rape of river and crony-enrichment scheme legal, put the BCUC on indefinite leave of absence for review of any meaningful BC Hydro projects, especially the Site C travesty.

    Palmer and Baldrey's response was to voluntarily take a leave of absence from the same reviews, leaving more time for BC Liberal cheerleading


  13. Kudo’s to Baldrey and Palmer for a job well done…..Narrows Inlet IPP is going ahead (after 8 years of influence peddling and still without fully approved water licences). The Sechelt Band, BlueEarth Renewables from Calgary, and the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund are happy….the majority of BC citizens and BC Hydro ratepayers not so happy (especially the ones that like visiting pristine fjords)….only 13 more to go in Jervis and Princess Louisa Inlets.

    What stick could we use to measure how happy Baldrey and Palmer are?


  14. Palmer and Baldry are pawns of the PAB for a number of years. Christy dictates their script. Then their media outlets gets to have BC Lib Adv..


  15. ‘Not sure where Tom Fletcher is going on about — but in this week’s rant, he says: “Horgan has turned green, and I don’t mean in a Hulk sort of way. He cries now. He drives a Prius. He loves small hydro projects, once derided by the NDP as “pirate power.”

    “Not long ago, lefty economists, the Wilderness Committee and COPE 378, as MoveUp used to be called, ran a bitter campaign against private hydro. Now let 100 power flowers bloom, all in the unionized monopoly model of BC Hydro. That’s been Horgan’s only real problem with independent power all along.”

    Does anyone know what he’s talking about?



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