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Electrification plan can empower B.C. to win in the new economy

The province's source of clean power is a clear economic advantage
BC Hydro’s capital plan includes investments in infrastructure to support electrification and carbon pollution reduction, write the authors | BC Hydro

At 98 per cent clean and renewable, British Columbians can be proud of our clean electricity system.

But in the 21st century, this statistic doesn’t just represent an environmental benefit – it’s an economic advantage.

It is unequivocally good news for B.C. that the provincial government and BC Hydro have announced a $36 billion capital plan to build out the electricity system over the next decade. As Premier David Eby put it: “We must expand our electrical system like never before, to power industrial development, to power our homes and businesses, to power our future.”

Increasingly, investors and companies are prioritizing access to clean electricity when determining where to invest, as exemplified by a string of EV battery manufacturing announcements in Ontario and Quebec last year, all of which referenced the appeal of those provinces’ relatively clean grids. Similarly, buyers of resources and products are considering the carbon intensity of various suppliers when choosing who to buy from. For example, automakers from Tesla to GM are on the hunt for battery metals with the lowest carbon footprint.

Closer to home, late last year, E-One Moli – a member of New Economy Canada – and the governments of B.C. and Canada announced a $1-billion-plus partnership to bring lithium-ion battery cell production to Maple Ridge. The ability to tap into B.C.’s clean electricity and participate in BC Hydro’s electrification plan empowered E-One Moli to switch all of its energy use from natural gas to electricity, strengthening the case for this investment.

As our members – comprised of the business, labour and Indigenous leaders driving Canada’s economic transition – have emphasized, increasing the supply and resilience of clean and affordable electricity and the infrastructure to move it to where it’s needed are critical to attracting investment in B.C.’s emerging climate-aligned industries, while simultaneously helping existing industries electrify and reduce carbon pollution.

As just one example, B.C. has a rapidly emerging opportunity in mining the metals and minerals that are key for clean energy technologies, from batteries to solar panels. A recently published analysis commissioned by the Mining Association of BC found that if the 16 critical mineral mines or mine expansions proposed were to be built, these mines would generate $36 billion in initial investment and deliver a whopping $791 billion of economic output over their lifetimes. But to seize this opportunity, we need to move quickly and ensure the electricity is available to lock in the province’s low-carbon advantage.

BC Hydro’s capital plan will deliver exactly that, with a boost in investment from what had been planned – from $1 billion to $10 billion – in infrastructure to support electrification and carbon pollution reduction. This investment is coupled with a commitment to work with the B.C. government to deliver a streamlined, one-window approval process to speed up approvals to get electricity to in-demand industries faster.

But there’s another ingredient that’s key to success, and that’s continued and strengthened support for First Nations and their businesses to participate as partners in and owners of climate-aligned clean energy infrastructure, procurement and related economic growth. BC Hydro’s upcoming call for power is an important opportunity to develop First Nations co-owned wind and solar projects with companies like Innergex Renewable Energy. The government and BC Hydro’s commitment to reconciliation bode well for this to happen, but there are still more details needed and work to do to deliver.     

When it comes to providing citizens with the affordable and reliable energy they need to stay warm, keep the lights on and compete in the new economy, our advice to governments has been simple: We need to step up and stand out with forward-thinking approaches to the energy transition, Indigenous reconciliation and the shifting demands of investors and markets. With their announcement, Eby’s government and BC Hydro have done just that, and as a result, local businesses, the British Columbians they employ and the communities they call home are well positioned to compete and win in the new economy.

Merran Smith is president of New Economy Canada; Colleen Giroux-Schmidt is vice-president, corporate relations, at Innergex Renewable Energy; and Graeme Hutchison is president of MoveUP.