Month: May 2018

No Fuel For Energy for Five Days

You wake up one morning, turn on your smartphone – or your slow PC – to see if the world is unfolding as it should. You are informed that all gasoline and fuel oil sales have been suspended for at least the next five days.

Although you had been warned such a thing could happen if Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley didn’t see some positive movement on new pipeline construction, you didn’t believe that our friendly neighbour would ever do such a thing.

Citizens of the eastern United States must have had similar feelings the day their morning newspapers informed them that, “effective tomorrow,” coal could not be used on specific days, even to generate modest heat.

The 1918 edict banning coal as an energy source was issued by a presidential decree supported by Congress and the Senate and it applied to “all manufacturing plants with but few exceptions in all states east of the Mississippi River.”

In my hometown of Victoria on the distant Pacific Coast of Canada, the local Daily Colonist ran the story front page on January 17 – a Thursday. The five-day total ban for major manufacturing plants kicked in the next day to be followed by partial closures of “all activities that require heated buildings.” They will “observe a holiday every Monday for the next 10 weeks.”

The Colonist noted the Monday “holiday” would do more than shut down factories and create spells of mass unemployment; it would also close down all “theatres, saloons and stores – excepting drug stores and food stores – and hotels and rooming houses heated by coal furnaces.

There were protests, with one of the loudest coming from the New York theatre district, claiming the Monday closing of all theatres could result in serious psychological problems. “On a public with nowhere to go but home on a Monday evening, that could be demoralizing for the people of New York,” the Colonist reported. No explanation was given as to why Monday without theatre would be more demoralizing than Monday without pubs.

It all happened “entirely without warning” when oil, gasoline, and electricity were in their infant years. Coal and coke were the fuels that drove huge manufacturing plants and kept America rich and warm and able to fight in a world war. Stocks were running dangerously low when the five-day shutdown was ordered. There are those who say the shock of the 1918 coal shortages as the first World War came to a close hastened the end of the black stuff as a prime energy source. At the time oil and gas were edging in as cleaner and more efficient replacements – as solar, wind and electric power are today, sounding the death knell for their old unclean ways.

But, the world is not quite ready for the next big shift to wiser, more efficient, energy.

Maybe a shutdown of supply is what we need to convince the “ban pipelines and oil tankers” naysayers that until we have a cleaner energy source to turn on, we need fossil fuels to keep us moving, eating, and staying warm in winter.

Five days to 10 weeks without the lifeline of oil – which one day The Big One might bring coastal BC  “entirely without warning” – would be a hard way to learn and admit that evil fossil fuels have brought us many comforts on their way from welcome to disgrace.

Retire them we must, and the sooner the better. But not until we have found, and have in place, a better way.





Electric Trains From Victoria to Air and Ferry Terminals

If you have ever been fortunate enough to roll from central London, England, to the heart of Heathrow Airport for a flight to wherever in the world you want to go, you will know how easy it is. At the busy but orderly Paddington railway station, you step aboard the quietly purring Heathrow Express, stash your luggage on a low-level shelf, and settle yourself on a comfortable clean seat for a 15-minute glide to the airport.

There’s a train every 15 minutes; the journey itself takes the same amount of time – 15 minutes from the centre of one of the busiest cities in the world to the middle of an airport with tentacles reaching every major city on Planet Earth. Just enough time to check your latest electronic gadget for e-mails courtesy of free wi-fi throughout the train.

Some 100 years ago, a traveler living in Victoria, British Columbia, could have enjoyed the similar ease of connected travel. The journey itself may have lacked the clean comforts we demand on our modern public transports, conversations would be limited to fellow travelers, speed would be slower, the ride itself perhaps a little less smooth. But, in the early years of the 20th Century, a traveler could climb on board an electric train in downtown Victoria and get off at a place called Tatlow where, in 1914, the BC Electric Railway Company built The Chalet to feed day trippers or more leisurely vacationers. It’s just a little north and west of Sidney and close enough to the airport to call it neighbour

A few days ago, I was reminded of another once vital transportation connection between Victoria and its suburban neighbours when Premier John Horgan downgraded old proposals to restore what was once a vital railway link between BC’s capital city and the western communities, now called the West Shore. The premier said he would prefer to see the historic Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway right-of-way used as a fast bus and possibly multi-passenger car lane, rather than see it reborn as a light rail rapid transit system.

The dream of a modern transportation system to service the growing West Shore population would have to wait, and while waiting, the old right of way, owned by the Island Corridor Foundation, could be used to get some heavy traffic off the main highway into special bus lanes where it could continue to speed up global warming and increases pollution at will.

That’s an interesting proposition promulgated by those who have never heard – or never want to be reminded – about the Victoria and Sidney Railway (1892) or the BC Electric Railway Company’s once famous Interurban Railway Line (1913). Wikipedia tells us the early negotiations between Victoria City Council and V&S Railway involved “certain tax concessions and various loans” before construction of the line connecting Victoria and Sidney started in 1894.

In the early years, the V&S prospered but aging equipment and the challenge in 1913 of BC Electric’s Interurban Line offering ultra-modern equipment plus faster and more frequent service proved too much. In 1919, V&S ceased operations and its line was abandoned – although a few spots like “Veyaness Road” remain on street maps, inadvertent historic markers that “a railroad once ran here.”

The Interurban Line didn’t survive much longer, although it was often praised for the beauty of its route out along Burnside Road, Interurban Road, Interurban Road Rail Trail, West Saanich Road, Wallace Drive, Aldous Terrace and Mainwaring Road. One section of the old track is now an airport runway; another section is part of the old Experimental Farm now known as the Sidney Centre for Plant Health.

In 1923, the Interurban Line was officially shut down. “Tatlow Station” no longer exists but Tatlow Road does and still leads to The Chalet with its continuing five-star claim to fine dining.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful for we southern Vancouver Islanders if the Interurban Line right of way had survived intact and been developed as a clean energy 21st Century light rapid transit system with transfer stops at the airport, the ferry terminal, downtown Sidney – and of course, before the return run home – The Chalet for lunch or dinner?

Maybe Premier Horgan should consider the lessons of the past and the times and costs of missed opportunities.





Hold The Applause ’til The Final Curtain

It’s a year now since British Columbia, true to its maverick reputation in politics, re-elected the ruling Liberal party to continue to run the province. The reigning Liberals won more seats than any other party but not enough to control the Legislature. When three Green Party MLA’s officially pledged their support to the New Democratic Party then Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon felt that with guaranteed support from the Greens John Horgan’s New Democrats offered a better chance at stability.

John Horgan became Premier Horgan, threw himself into the job with great energy and sometimes surprising “presence” and a never-ending supply of self-praising announcements when new schools, hospitals, parks or playgrounds were opened with each event a reminder that good things were happening since he was elected Premier of BC. Once in a while, a background voice would murmur he had been appointed rather than elected premier and the Green Puppy Party would yelp what they hoped sounded like a threatening bark as a reminder the Green trio holding him in place was very fragile.

By and large, as 2017 rolled into ’18 the NDP world was unfolding comfortably, although not as perfectly as a first glance might indicate.

When two new hospitals opened a matter of weeks after the election it did not escape public attention that hospitals are not planned and built overnight or even a short 12-month span. It was remembered by many that location of the new facilities to serve the Comox Valley and Campbell River had generated fierce debate locally and that the massive financing came from the taxpayers of British Columbia courtesy of the then Liberal government, not from the ribbon – cutters on hand for the Grande finale with speeches seeking praise for  a new government after only a few weeks in office.

Last Thursday, May 10, the BC Ministry of Finance issued a press release announcing Moody’s credit rating agency had reaffirmed British Columbia’s status as a Triple-A credit rating holder. It holds similar status with the Standard and Poor’s and Fitch agencies and remains the only Triple-A rated province in Canada so rated by all three international accredit rating agencies. The release carries a statement from newly minted Finance Minister Carole James: “Moody’s affirmation of our Aaa rating is further validation that our plan to make life more affordable, improve services and create good jobs for people is prudent and fiscally sustainable….It signals confidence in our province and in the future of our strong economy.”

It is true that a Triple-A rating is a prized confirmation of British Columbia’s economic stability, a feather in our cap. It is also true that the recognition was not earned last year but decades ago. Premier Horgan, held in office by three Green fellow travelers, inherited a prosperous province with a sound economic base and programs. Neither he or his finance minister played a positive role in building that solid economic base.

It would be foolish to expect a newly seated government to praise too loudly – or even softly – a predecessor’s accomplishments, but it should not be beyond reason to expect the new team to boast only of its own laurels. In that way Premier Horgan and his team can claim some credit for the announcement a few days ago of a $90 million affordable housing plan to ease if not eliminate what is now a lack of housing crisis. It’s an ambitious plan with three levels of government jostling for credit with Ottawa tossing in $30 million; the province matching the federal donation with another $30 million,  and the Capital Regional District (CRD)  topping it up to $90 million to, claimed Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Jean-Yves Duclos, federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development “effectively end chronic homelessness in the capital region.”

It is a project long overdue, too long ignored but we, especially “the government”  must never forget that every one of the $90 million dollars comes from taxpayers, not a magic money tree money planted and nurtured by the NDP.

Sadly it must be remembered the “choir” gathered to praise the “end to chronic homelessness in the capital region” has less than sterling reviews when staging mega construction projects. Its most recent performances – a multi-million wastewater-sewage treatment disposal system now under construction but years behind schedule and wildly over original budget, and the expensive comic opera involved in replacing an old cross-harbour bridge with a new one were disasters in budgeted cost control and construction timetables. So, while I welcome the new hymn of praise for affordable housing I shall wait a while before joining the adulation chorus – and hope I can live long enough to join it. And we should all hold the full “hallelujahs” until the last unit is built and occupied.







Who Creates Oil Spill Threat, Consumers or Companies?

Spent one of our rare recent sunny mornings counting cars. Make that – watching vehicular traffic – on the Pat Bay Highway which links Southern Vancouver Island to mainland BC and the rest of the world via Swartz Bay ferry terminal and an international airport. It’s a busy highway, with drivers seemingly desperate to get where they’re going in excess of the 80 km limit and with a minimal separation gap between one car’s rear bumper and the next car’s front. Ambulance and police sirens are among Pat Bay’s regular sounds.

But, on this sunny day, I’m not concentrating on traffic accidents, careless drivers or the endless procession of cars, trucks, semi-trailers, and buses loaded with tourists or commuting citizens. I’m wondering where all these vehicles will be getting the power to move their wheels 15 or 20 years from now if the “no oil tankers – no extended pipelines – no Site C Hydro expansion” puppet-trained chorus get its way. And, on this sunny day, I’m just looking at a small section of highway that would be rated moderately busy if compared with the downtown rush hour gridlock or the everlasting crawl when Greater Victoria’s western communities citizens head for their city-based job in the morning and repeat the crawl home in late afternoon.

If all their vehicles could, by the wave of a magic wand, be converted overnight to hybrid gas-electric status or – miracle of miracles – full electric use with powerful long-distance batteries, where would they re-charge the batteries when the need arose? The experts say the day will come when such questions will be answered – but it may be 20 years before the full automobile electrical power demand is felt. As I understand, Site C – if it proceeds to power generation capacity without further delays – will not be ready to offer its boost to electric power for at least 10 to a dozen years. And, it could be a while after that before homeowners will be able to plug-in and re-charge their car at home – after taking out a second mortgage to pay their hydro bill.

Back in 2016, Mayor Lori Ackerman of Fort St. John bought a full-page ad in the Vancouver Sun to try and explain to protesting British Columbians what it was like to live in a small city smack in the middle of natural gas and oil reserves and surrounded by pipelines – or living on top of them. “So, let’s talk about pipelines,” she wrote. “Canada has 830,000 kilometers of pipelines. Three million barrels of crude oil is transported safely every single day. BC has over 43,000 kilometers of pipelines … Between 2002 and 2015, 99.995 percent of liquid was transported through our pipelines safely. You probably spill more when you fill up at the gas station …”

Vancouver Island readers should pay special attention to her specific note that for the last 20 years the USA has been shipping thousands of barrels of crude daily from Alaska to the Puget Sound through the Salish Sea, and to her reminder that the Island has one pipeline only which carries natural gas. “Vancouver Islanders receive all of their petroleum by barge every day.” Transport Canada records show 197,000 vessels arrived or departed west coast ports in 2015, 1,487 of which were tankers carrying an “average” 400,000 barrels a day.

A final note from Mayor Ackerman to those who display “No Tankers” and “No Pipelines” posters, but know not what they’re protesting: “If you want to do something about our reliance on fossil fuels, address the demand for them; not the transportation of them. Change starts with the consumers; not industry.”

Her Worship may have a good slogan but, oh dear, if fossil fuels disappeared before we have enough power to go fully electric, how would objectors get to their protests? Don’t be rude if you decide to answer.

(For the full online text of Mayor Ackerman’s old but still relevant letter, Google “Mayor Lori Ackerman, Ft. St. John, BC.”)