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Don Pettit: Warnings about warming

Bad politics making bad choices makes for bad outcomes, and global heating is a very bad outcome

donSitting in my hot little home office, with temperatures headed for 40C over the next few days, it’s hard not to worry a bit about climate change.

The more accurate terms “global heating” or “climate crisis”? Not so nice.

Globally, nine of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last ten, and it looks like this year is headed to break that record again. Changes predicted by the experts for the end of this century are beginning to happen now.

As the World Meteorological Organization secretary general recently put it, “these are more than just statistics. Increasing temperatures mean more melting ice, higher sea levels, more heat waves and other extreme weather, and greater impacts on food security, health, the environment and sustainable development.”

Power to the people

Hotter weather means more need for cooling. During the heat wave, British Columbia broke all records for electricity consumption, peaking at 7900 megawatts (MW) this past week.

To put that in perspective, all of B.C.’s hydropower totals 11,880 MW. Add in about 500 MW of Peace Region wind power (the only commercial wind power in the province, a tiny bit of our wind potential), and we have a grand total of 12,381 MW for the province.

That’s how much power these hydro facilities could provide if they were all working perfectly at their maximum rated capacity – which never happens.

Something called the “power capacity factor” gives a more realistic picture. This factor takes into account down time for repairs, low water levels, and other factors that reduce the amount of power actually available over time. The official BC Hydro capacity factor for hydro electricity is 60% (coal is usually considered to have a capacity factor of 80%, really good wind power about 40-50%). So in reality the power we can expect to have at our disposal is closer to about 7300 MW.

So the record of 7,900 MW probably had somebody scrambling to pull power in from elsewhere! (Cheap coal power from Alberta?)

Too bad B.C. shut down both its budding wind and solar industries about 10 years ago. If we had let wind and solar grow here as they had wanted to, we would now have at least another few thousand megawatts of wind and solar power on line, not to mention two new and growing clean energy industries with tens of thousands of permanent jobs.

And solar, since it is generated during the day when it’s most needed for cooling, would be an even better fit than wind or hydro. Roof top solar, even better, since it’s generated right where it is needed with no transmission losses.

Today across B.C. there are less than 4000 roof top solar arrays. Pitiful. Many provinces in China and US states are each installing that much solar every evening.

Bad politics making bad choices makes for bad outcomes, and global heating is a very bad outcome.

Sorry for the rant

Maybe it’s the hot weather pushing me over the edge, away from my usual cautious optimism. B.C. certainly deserves some credit for its energy efficiency grants, electric vehicle subsidies and its carbon tax, and the new Federal Greener Homes program shows promise (up to $5000 for a home solar power system! Check it out!) But these are all nowhere near the scale of action now required.

A new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency has put a number on the scale of action needed to keep the climate crisis at bay: US $4.4 trillion in renewable energy infrastructure needed annually until 2050. That’s a lot of cash, but a small fraction of the world economy and much less than we now spend on war and weapons.

The pandemic has proven that immediate and extreme global action is possible and that the money, the intelligence and the technology are all available when we really need them.

It has shown us that the human race is amazing: smart, resourceful, adaptable, and able to communicate and co-operate like no other species on earth.

As we face this next global crisis, the climate crisis, business as usual and power politics will have to take a back seat to necessity... and a back seat to survival.


Don Pettit is a community columnist living in Dawson Creek and Executive Director of the Peace Energy Cooperative.