Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bute Inlet power project on the ropes

Grizzly bears at the Orford River, Bute Inlet. Photo Isabelle Groc, Tidelife Photography.

For months, the writing has been on the wall that BC’s river privatization scheme was in deep trouble. Well folks, we’re here. The entire scheme spawned by the BC Liberals and their corporate friends is facing potential collapse, starting with its flagship – General Electric and Plutonic Power’s Bute Inlet megaproject. That project is not technically dead yet, but from where we stand it looks like it has entered a slow and irreversible agony.

Plutonic has just announced that it was pulling the Bute Inlet proposal out of BC Hydro's 2008 clean power call. “There are too many things unanswered”, Plutonic CEO Donald McInnes offered as an explanation. “We need to study more fisheries patterns,” Plutonic spokesperson Elisha McCallum said. “We need to study more of the grizzly bear habitant. We need to study more vegetation and riparian areas habitat. We just need to have a better grouping of data that will be solid for us to take forward to a federal panel review.”

“It's just a matter of timing,” McCallum quickly added. “We still believe that Bute is an exceptional opportunity that'll be developed in due course.”

Hmm, right. No doubt, the prospect of a federal panel review can be daunting for even the most experienced group of corporate executives. But it's quite obvious that environmental considerations are not why Plutonic and GE have pulled the plug on the Bute until further notice. More fundamentally, the conditions required to realize the stealth enclosure of BC’s rivers behind the back of the public have ceased to be favorable. The tide has turned against the neoliberal camp. Some of those new conditions are:

  • A global energy overproduction crisis which, in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown and the ongoing solar power revolution, has made the return on investment of private hydro projects increasingly doubtful for large players such as General Electric, and ever more dependent on massive public subsidies which the increasingly impoverished BC government is less and less likely to pay.
  • California lawmakers stubbornly refusing to amend the law to “green up” BC’s run-of-river energy, in spite of Campbell and Schwarzenegger’s massive war machine deployed to change their minds, thus depriving BC’s private power industry of a viable export market. A small group of environmentalists both in BC and California have relentlessly lobbied the legislature in Sacramento, urging them to stay their healthy skeptical course. Those people are untold heroes.
  • The successful mobilization of a grassroots movement in BC to save our rivers, making the general public increasingly aware of the private power scam and thus turning projects such as Bute Inlet into PR nightmares for General Electric and other transnational corporations.
In surprising ways, the sentiment of joy is not unlike that of mourning: accepting reality can take time. As I obsessively read again and again the media releases and articles streaming through the web following Plutonic’s announcement, it gradually sinks in. Bute Inlet may actually survive. Orford Bay’s grizzlies may actually be permitted to remain in their habitat and thrive under the expert and caring stewardship of the Homalco people. Our children may actually be able to travel to the inlet, hike its ridges and forests, or just know from a distance that it’s still there in all its magnificence.

There has never been a better time to join the battle to save our rivers. Unlike General Electric, your return on investment could be quite excellent. Indeed, you could actually get to see the results of your involvement in this campaign, which is more than most veteran environmentalists can claim. The Wilderness Committee and other allied groups are organizing events on March 30 in Victoria and April 6 in Vancouver (details below), where you will hear some of the campaign's prime architects and meet with activists energized by a recent string of victories.

If our analysis of the underlying economic trends is accurate, if we are able to keep up the pressure, and if our luck doesn't turn, this campaign could emerge as one of the most stunning victories registered by BC's environmental movement in decades.


The Victoria event is on Tuesday, March 30th from 7-9 pm, at the University of Victoria Social Science and Math Building, Room A120. For more information call Tria at 250 388 9292 or email

The Vancouver event is on Tuesday, April 6th from 7-9 pm, at the Heritage Hall 3102 Main Street. For more information call Andrew at 604 683 8220 or email

If you're not in Vancouver or Victoria, stay tuned: over the next couple of months we'll be doing more of these kinds of events in other parts of the province. If you're interested in helping to organize a meeting in your community please contact Andrew at


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