11 August 2010

A summer like no other: torquing in Technicolor on the cheap

One of the great things about summer for perpetual campaigning is that cabinet ministers can spit out sheer nonsense and reporters for the local paper won’t even bother to ask pesky questions.

Like how will an imaginary project could ever  lower carbon emissions in the real world.

And in this bucolic world, where minister’s publicists apparently don’t have to pitch a puff piece, even one of the most incompetent of ministers can sound like she knows something.

The result is better than the stuff pumped out by the official government publicity system:  in this case, the reporter’s name goes on the piece and it appears in a local newspaper. Having gone through a supposed editorial review, the resulting piece suddenly has way more credibility than it actually deserves.

Charlene Johnson – arguably the second biggest bumbler in the current provincial administration  - recently got the chance to dazzle readers of the Western Star with her thoughts on how the province has an opportunity to lead the world in tackling global warming.

“There are opportunities to use energy more efficiently, displace fossil-fuel based power generated by Holyrood with renewable energy from Lower Churchill, and ensure we continue to manage our land and forests in ways that store greenhouse gases rather than release them to the atmosphere,” Johnson said.

If Johnson knew something more than her briefing books or was willing to speak frankly, she’d acknowledge a couple of relevant points here.

The most obvious is that the Lower Churchill doesn’t exist and likely won’t exist within the next decade or two.  As such, any ideas about reducing emissions from Holyrood using the Lower Churchill is just pure bullshit.

Second, the government’s energy plan places economic benefits ahead of environmental ones.  It isn’t about sustainable development or reducing the province’s greenhouse gas emissions.  It isn’t an energy plan or environmental plan as much as it is a business plan.

Everything is held hostage to the LC anyway, but the project talks about ways of building new energy generation for export.  It doesn’t address local needs at all.  If it did, the plan would set policies that encouraged energy conservation on the island and the development of new generation that has a low environmental impact. 

You can see this rejection of local needs in the Lower Churchill environmental review documents, for example. The first thing that strikes you is that the LC isn’t needed to meet current or anticipated energy needs on the island. 

Those demands are so minor that a combined program of conservation (including improved efficiency) coupled with new generation (more than 54 MWs of wind) would meet any demand anticipated in the LC documents.  And just remember that document was drawn up in a world where all that hydro from Abitibi’s Grand Falls-Windsor operation was making jobs in central Newfoundland.

As for Labrador, the Lower Churchill documents plan to continue using diesel generation, despite the fact power lines for the Lower Churchill would pass right by some of the communities it plans to leave on diesel generation. As astonishing that seems, that is the project the province’s environment minister is holding out as a way of dealing with emissions in the province.

This is not a new idea, by the way.  The 2005 climate change action plan contains the same fundamental bias in favour of large, expensive megaprojects.  It anything but a modest development of wind energy because wind is supposedly intermittent.  However, experience elsewhere shows that wind can deliver consistent power levels if a series of projects over a wide area are joined together and managed effectively.

There are opportunities for Newfoundland and Labrador in the fight against global warming.  The problem is that the provincial government policy rejects ideas that could take advantage of those opportunities or puts obstacles in their way.

Anyone can see the fundamental problems in the provincial government’s policy – it doesn’t actually have a sustainable development act or a green energy policy, for example – if one had the time or took the time to read.

Fortunately for Charlene, the crowd at the Western Star didn’t have the time to get ready for her.  As a result she gets to spout complete bullshit and have the Star present as if it were gold.

What better way for a bumbling minister top spend August than torquing in Technicolor on the cheap.

- srbp -