In-Sights: Comfortable

The first part of this article was written in November 2009; the addendum added April 2016.



In the days when the Fraser Valley had working forests, my Grandfather was its chief forest ranger, employed by the Province of BC.

An inquisitive child, I asked Grandmother, “Are you rich?”

She said, “No, but we’re comfortable.”

Still curious, I asked, “Will you get rich?

Her reply, “No, you don’t become rich working for the government, but you can get a small pension and be comfortable.

As time went by, comfortable turned to something else. The old girl lived to be 100, four years longer than her forest ranger. But, this was a time without adjustments or indexing. You opened and ended retirement with the same pension. Life though offered them rewards in other ways. They had unending pride in the land they pioneered. Something about service to the country and making it better for 24 grandchildren.

I imagine that senior public servants in modern days are much the same, happy to build a great land and proud of commendations from the high and mighty. Some may labour for years with little notice. Others are more fortunate.

Lee Doney is one example of a loyal public servant who was noticed. He retired in 2004 after more than 30 years of service and Hon. G. Campbell paid this tribute in the Legislature (Hansard, April 27, 2004):

Today I rise to recognize the many contributions of a career public servant, Lee Doney. He’s joined today by his mother and his family.

Lee is retiring this year. Certainly, it will be a great loss to British Columbia’s public service. . . . He has, in fact, been an exemplary public servant for the last 30 years.

Mr. Doney worked hard for this province. We hope he remains healthy and isn’t forced to take on part time jobs to remain comfortable.

ADDENDUM – 2016

It turned out that the retired public servant was forced to find new employment. Despite the generous pension afforded senior government executives, Doney has eked out a living by working in various suites of offices including those of the Public Sector Employers’ Council Secretariat (President), the Columbia Power Corporation (Chairman) and Western Forest Products Inc. (Chairman). No doubt his part time employment and close relationship with BC Liberals is helpful in WFP’s dealings with government.

Here is a recap of government payments to Mr. Doney as reported in Public Accounts.

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In-Sights: Careless or captured? (A 2009 repeat)

When you read or listen to resource industry advocates, especially ones masquerading as objective political pundits, compare their concerns in 2009 about burning natural gas to generate peak-demand electricity to their current attitudes toward burning natural gas to liquefy natural gas. The following was first published at Northern Insight on August 4, 2009.

Despite deep cynicism about those backing Gordon Campbell’s Liberals, I’ve long held respect for the writing of Vaughn Palmer. My reservoir of appreciation seems now to have run dry. He has been bright, skilled and articulate, usually worth reading throughout 35 years with the Vancouver Sun.

Now, I don’t know. Is he distracted, overburdened, grown careless or captured by his subjects? What can explain Palmer’s early reporting about the British Columbia Utilities Commission decision on BC Hydro’s 2008 Long Term Acquisition Plan.

July 31, on his regular Vancouver radio outing, he led with this:

“I think it means the BC Utilities Commission is out of touch. You know, they said, “We’re not persuaded we need all this new green power because you’ve got the Burrard Thermal Plant sitting out there in Port Moody and it could run full time and take care of your power needs for many years.” Which, is completely out of touch. … the Utility Commission’s belief that the Burrard Thermal is the answer to any of the province’s power needs for the future just ignores its impact on air quality among other things.”

That is not merely weak reporting of the Commission’s determination. It is a reprehensible misstatement that totally fails to reflect the actual decision. I can think of only two possibilities. One is that Palmer had not read the report but relied on someone’s corrupt précis. The other is that he intentionally misled the audience for some purpose.

Sidekick Keith Baldrey, also of Canwest Global, contributed:

“And, that’s why I don’t understand why a number of environmental groups who are applauding this decision have remained silent on the fact that Burrard Thermal is to be relied on at an increasing rate because it produces dirty energy. That’s a contradictory and hypocritical position and a number of people haven’t really squared themselves with that.”

No Keith, the BC Utilities Commission simply didn’t say that.

Palmer subsequently shifted his attack, all but accusing the BCUC of joining forces with uninformed racists:

“You know, that bit about the First Nations – I mean think about this for a minute – if we go out and get public opinion on First Nations, one of the first things you hear from people is, “You know, they always want a handout from the government, they’re always taking government money.” You know, here you got a bunch of First Nations in British Columbia – some of the best led native bands in the province – gone out and they’ve found private partners to develop their own resources on their own traditional territory and the big provincial government regulator has slammed the door on their face. I mean, it’s no wonder that they’re feeling frustrated.”

Baldrey added:

“. . . these independent power projects have as economic partners First Nations groups. These are a huge economic development tool for impoverished First Nations and Vaughn and I were reading this morning, from the Sechelt Indian Band, a letter they’ve written the BC Utilities Commission accusing them of essentially, and I quote, “This appears to us to be nothing less than regulated racism.” So you’ve got First Nations now very much up in arms. With the stroke of a pen, the Utilities Commission has kiboshed what they saw as the number one tool to lift a lot of their people out of fairly extensive poverty and I don’t know if the Utilities Commission thought this through properly.”

I was interested to note that at 9am July 31, Baldrey and Palmer knew the contents of the Sechelt Band’s letter and were even armed with the pointed quote claiming “regulated racism.” Yet that letter was still warm from printing, being dated only one day before, July 30. I wonder how it came to be reviewed so promptly and publicly by the Victoria based journalists.

Was the Public Affairs Bureau (PAB) or the Independent Power Producers Association of BC (IPPBC) helping Chief Garry Feschuk and the shishalh First Nation circulate the letter? Were the flacks also providing pre-digested interpretations of the BCUC decision to certain journalists?

Palmer went on to provide a bit of accurate detail, saying the BCUC decision did not reject green power, private power or run of the river facilities and that, primarily, BC Hydro had to rework the scheduling of projects. Mind you, he ignored the BCUC determination that BC Hydro had been either inaccurate or dishonest in its power needs forecasting. That should have been news. At best, Palmer had part of the story correct but his headline material was worse than sloppy.

We cannot though accuse all professional journalists of faulty or inadequate reporting. Mark Hume at the Globe and Mail had no difficulty understanding the entire BCUC decision and writing conclusions based on the Commission’s actual findings. He said:

“The commission’s ruling made it clear, however, that there is no energy crisis – and that when there are energy shortfalls, such as during droughts or the period of peak demand in December, BC Hydro has a solid backup system in the Burrard Generating Station, an old, mostly idle plant fueled by natural gas.

“The commission is not saying we should run the Burrard plant, or that Burrard is a better source of energy than clean resources,” said economist Marvin Shaffer. What the commission determined is that Burrard is valuable as a backup facility, and that in that role it has the capacity of at least 5,000 gigawatt hours, not the 3,000 GWh estimated by BC Hydro.

“By refusing to accept the lower capacity, the commission called into question the need for BC Hydro to purchase backup power from IPPs.

“Had the British Columbia Utilities Commission not intervened, B.C. would have been damming its wild and scenic rivers, not in a noble fight against global warming, but in order to run air conditioners in California.”

Contrast that analysis to the one by Keith Baldrey:

“Yes, they (BCUC) just said go and use Burrard Thermal.”

One does not need to be a sophisticated media analyst to conclude that Canwest Global’s Palmer and Baldrey reported on the BCUC in a manner that is entirely below the standard set by Mark Hume. The Globe and Mail faces the same financial challenges as every newspaper publisher but in the western bureau, they employ and deploy high quality staff, particularly in comparison to the competition.

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In-Sights: Crime (still) in progress (a 2010 article repeated)

News item:

British Columbia Liberals announce the new Clean Energy Act sets the foundation for a new future of electricity self-sufficiency.

Definition:

Self-sufficiency: The ability to satisfy one’s basic needs without outside help.

News item:

General Electric, the multinational corporation ranked in 2009 by Forbes as the world’s largest, invested $727 million in British Columbia’s Toba Inlet hydro power project and the first phase of the Dokie Ridge wind farm project in the Peace River.

News item:

Finavera Renewables Inc., a Vancouver company with no revenues, an accumulated deficit of $41.7 million and an overall shareholder deficiency of $5.5 million at the beginning of fiscal year 2010,  was selected by BC Hydro to build four electricity-generating wind farms in northeastern B.C. The projects are expected to cost at least $800 million. General Electric has negotiated the exclusive right to provide 100 per cent financing for Finavera’s four wind projects.

I invite readers to consider this statement written by the auditors of Finavera and attached to the 2009 annual financial statements:

The [Energy Purchase Agreements] with B.C. Hydro provide a revenue stream based on a defined price and are the commercial cornerstones of any power project in British Columbia, providing the basis to move forward towards project construction and operation.

Despite all the disingenuous and misleading B.S. issued by Liberal politicians and operatives for private power producers, that single sentence, which is carefully constructed and required by professional audit standards, demonstrates the reason why there is a rush of private power projects.

The applicants do not need money or experience, they simply need political influence with Gordon Campbell and his associates. The energy purchase agreement provided by BC Hydro removes substantially all business risk and the favored ones take the project to the money brokers who readily fund it because the credit worthiness of British Columbia stands behind each EPA. This would be like buying a house you intend to rent to a provincial agency through a 40 year lease at double market rates, with payments guaranteed by the province.
Multinational, multi-industry companies like General Electric are quick to join because they earn giant returns at the capital stage of the project, selling turbines, generators and infrastructure equipment.  As an equity and financing partner, GE guarantees it will provide the hardware. With a guaranteed market and a guaranteed profit, the initial partners can hold shares long term for income or, more likely, dump them into institutional markets for quick capital gains, on which they will barely pay taxes. And that, is ironic because taxpayers are essential elements of the deal.
The whole program of private power production founded on BC Hydro Energy Purchase Agreements allows outrageous enrichment of a small number. The program is facilitated by influence peddling and its government facilitators are either witless or dishonest. One thing I believe about Gordon Campbell is that he is not witless.

Read Will McMartin’s outstanding article at The Tyee. BC’s Energy Independence? Don’t Believe It.

[Energy independence], it’s all a sham. British Columbia under Gordon Campbell’s BC Liberal government has become increasingly dependent on non-B.C. owned corporations to produce high-priced electricity, which BC Hydro is forced (by government edict) to buy, and in turn sell at inflated prices to captive residential and commercial consumers.

See also McMartin’s May 11 piece, General Electric and BC’s Private Power Gold Rush.

In February and March, $142,420 was generated through the sale of just over 2.8 million share-warrant units at five cents apiece. A few weeks later, another 10 million shares were sold at six cents each and fetched a total of $600,000.

The former sale appears to have gone to Anchorage Capital Master Offshore Ltd., a New York-based hedge fund founded in 2003 by Kevin Ulrich and Anthony Davis, a pair of alumni from Wall Street’s largest investment bank and brokerage, Goldman Sachs.

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