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The dirty little secret of importing power
Description: As its name suggests, B.C. Hydro counts on water to keep the lights on, tapping a network of dams and reservoirs to churn out electricity around the clock. That network has provided British Columbians with some of the cheapest elect
Date: 26 March 2007
Author: Wendy Stueck
Source: Globe and Mail
VANCOUVER — As its name suggests, B.C. Hydro counts on water to keep the lights on, tapping a network of dams and reservoirs to churn out electricity around the clock. That network has provided British Columbians with some of the cheapest electricity on the continent.

It also helps British Columbians feel a little smug when it comes to climate change. Hydro projects, once up and running, don't generate greenhouse gases, giving B.C. a huge advantage over hydro-poor jurisdictions when it comes to reducing emissions.

But not all of the province's electricity comes from mighty rivers and not all of it is clean.

Since 2001, B.C. has been a net importer of electricity, bringing more power into the province than it ships to customers such as California. Much of the imported electricity comes from emissions-heavy coal-fired plants in Alberta. B.C.'s new energy plan calls for the province to be self-sufficient by 2016.

Until then, the province's emissions picture may not be as virtuous as its hydro-heavy reputation would suggest. B.C. Hydro reported 1,223 kilotonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2005. If emissions from electricity imported from Alberta and the U.S. were taken into account, that total would more than double, to 3,259 kilotonnes, the David Suzuki Foundation estimates.

"Our [greenhouse gas] numbers for B.C. exclude the footprint of that imported power," said Guy Dauncey, president of British Columbia Sustainable Energy Association. "Our footprint extends way beyond British Columbia."

B.C. Hydro does not include emissions from imported electricity in its greenhouse-gas reports. That's not unusual: For the most part, greenhouse-gas emissions are reported in the jurisdiction where the energy is produced, not where it's consumed.

But some energy experts are taking a different approach, arguing that emissions from imports should be taken into account as part of a move toward life-cycle accounting for energy choices.

Hadi Dowlatabadi, a professor at the University of British Columbia's Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, recently co-wrote a paper on the economics of ground-source heat pumps. As part of that study -- geared to finding which parts of Canada might see the greatest bang for their buck from widespread adoption of heat pumps -- Prof. Dowlatabadi looked at how electricity imports affected province's greenhouse-gas intensities (the amount of CO2 sent into the atmosphere for every unit of electricity or economic production).

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