Community is in some respects like a fabric, with all its individual strands woven together into something functional, robust, and often beautiful. The strength of both, fabric and community, is magical–they are held together without visible glue or bolts or welds. In this sense, community is a function of the invisible bonds and relationships between people.
But fire and other violent forces can destroy a fabric. And powerful external forces-war, earthquakes-can sometimes destroy a community. Buildings and people may remain, but “community” takes a long time to reweave itself.
Perhaps the most common of these powerful external forces are industrial projects and large developments, uninvited, brought to town by corporations and senior governments, often working with each other in seeming collusion against the local citizens.
These projects can divide a community. Some residents are for them, some opposed. The stress of the polarizing situation takes its toll on the fabric of community. Sometimes the damage is irreparable.
Many projects are pitched; few are built.
The history of British Columbia is a collection of stories of communities which have grown, prospered, then floundered and sometimes collapsed because of industrial projects imposed and controlled from outside the community. The number of stories increase a hundredfold when you add in the projects pitched, but never realized.
The list of controversial projects that didn’t fly in BC, in all sectors-energy, mining, transportation, real-estate development-is extensive. A few hotly battled energy projects in south-western BC were approved but never built, include the Westcoast LNG Storage Facility at McNabb Creek, the Georgia Strait Crossing Pipeline, and Duke Point Power.
Texada Island is the target of the latest project that is causing distress in its host community. Introduced earlier this year by WestPac LNG Corporation, a Calgary company, WestPac is proposing to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminal and a “co-located” natural gas electricity generation plant. The company suggests the appropriate site is on the northern tip of Texada Island, at Kiddie Point.
Although WestPac LNG has been around for a number of years, its proposal has changed significantly.
The original proposal was to bring LNG by tanker to BC’s coast at the Ridley Island deep sea port, near Prince Rupert. From there, LNG would be barged to Haida Gwaii and many other remote coastal locations, as well as down Johnston Strait. The LNG would replace barged-in diesel fuel used for electricity generation. At the time, a large price differential existed between natural gas in North America and LNG sourced from places like Qatar, Australia, and Russia, creating a profitable opportunity, but the company’s ambitions also appeared to have some social and environmental benefits, reducing the greenhouse gas and other emissions from the diesel it replaced.
Times have changed, and so has WestPac. The company was forced to abandon Ridley Island and now wants to bring its LNG tankers to Texada Island: one every ten days or so, adding to the never-ending chain of commercial and recreational marine traffic in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Georgia Strait. Each tanker increases the likelihood of a marine disaster. WestPac wants to put most of its gas into an adjacent gas-fired generation plant on Texada, piping the remainder to Vancouver Island and Powell River. The huge gas-fired generation plant will add up to 4 million tonnes of new greenhouse gases to the atmosphere per year.
The company states the LNG terminal will have the capacity to re-gasify up to 500 million cubic feet per day of gas. That is five times the capacity of the cancelled GSX Pipeline, and is one-quarter the capacity of the Spectra Energy BC Pipeline (formerly known as the Westcoast Energy BC Mainline) which moves much of BC’s natural gas production to the Lower Mainland and into the U.S. at Sumas.
At 1,200 megawatts, the gas-fired generation plant would be nearly five times the size of the rancorously controversial Duke Point Power project-which BC Hydro cancelled-and twice the size of the hotly disputed and ultimately abandoned Sumas Energy 2-which the BC Government opposed.
What has motivated WestPac’s change in plans? WestPac LNG has a problem; it has been unable to secure cost-effective LNG for its terminals and doesn’t have buyers for the gas anywhere in North America. Construction costs have skyrocketed.
Westpac has turned to electricity ratepayers in BC to underwrite what is increasingly looking like an economic non-starter. It is presenting a gas-fired generation plant as some sort of public service to all of us needy BC electricity users. The truth is, a successful electricity purchase agreement (EPA) with BC Hydro is a life-ring to the company, ensuring its income for decades. Without an EPA, almost certainly there will be no LNG terminal.
WestPac LNG tells us that its generation plant “will enable the development of wind, run-of-river hydro and other green power solutions by providing necessary firming capacity for these intermittent types of power generation. The project could also contribute to improving air quality in the Fraser Valley by enabling the decommissioning of the Burrard Thermal Generating Station.”
That is pretty ambitious. It’s also preposterous. WestPac is proposing to build a much bigger version of plants that were rejected at Duke Point and Sumas. It is going to emit some four million tonnes of new greenhouse gases annually, in a province where government policy is clearly focussed on reducing greenhouse gases. That’s a very peculiar way to “enable” power projects that do not emit greenhouse gases.
Furthermore, the Burrard Thermal contribution to Fraser Valley air pollution is insignificant, given that BC Hydro runs the plant only minimally. WestPac’s logic suggests that the spurious air quality improvements in the Fraser Valley will be obtained at the expense of air quality and public health on Texada and in nearby Powell River.
The neighbouring Comox-Strathcona Regional District recognizes the greenhouse-gas inconsistency. In August it passed a resolution asking Gordon Campbell’s government to require “100 per cent carbon sequestration to all fossil fuel-fired projects.”
The people on Texada Island think it’s preposterous too. Nobody asked them if it’s a good idea to have LNG tankers cruising by their shores. Nobody asked them if they wanted the emissions from gas-fired generators, or the visible plumes, or the noise. They weren’t asked about the new transmission line that would be strung half the length of the island.
But they’ve been speaking up. And they don’t reckon anyone on Texada will get any of the 75 jobs. They’re concerned about impacts to real estate values as the value of property on the island finally moves in line with other Gulf Islands. They recognize that taxes are paid to the provincial government, not the island.
Texada residents filled the rooms at WestPac’s open houses in Van Anda and Gillies Bay on September 10 and 11. The overwhelming message to the company was opposition to the project and anger at having it imposed. The company rather misguidedly showed a U.S. film that went on about “homeland security.” Asked point blank whether the company would withdraw the project if the community decided against it, Westpac gave an answer that was anything but straighforward, but seemed to be “no.”
We’ve seen it time and time again, in one project after another, as proponents forget that the people they are talking to can think for themselves. Many live where they do because they like it that way. And they’ll fight to keep it that way.
WestPac says its consultation program is to “keep the Texada Island and neighbouring communities informed and to encourage an open exchange of ideas.” There’s no hint of, “If
you don’t like it, we’ll go away,” in that statement.
Texada Island’s community will be tested in this struggle. But it is made of strong fabric, and its resolve is unwavering.