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British Columbia B.C. energy future not black and white but shades of grey: minister

The area of the Peace River where the proposed Site C hydro development dam would be built near Fort St. John, B.C., on Jan. 17, 2013.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Energy Minister Bill Bennett says the B.C. government remains committed to clean energy but the future of the province's power industry is more shades of grey than black and white.

In a Tuesday speech at the annual general meeting of Clean Energy B.C., the minister assured members repeatedly of their place in the provincial power grid.

But he admittedly had to reach back several years for industry highlights.

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"The point in harkening back to the things our government has done is certainly not to brag about it. It's just to provide a friendly reminder that we have helped create what we have today," Mr. Bennett told about 75 people at the noon-time speech.

"We are in your camp and we will continue to work with you."

There are 82 clean-energy projects in B.C. that account for 20 per cent of the province's current electrical supply.

His speech, however, had more to say about the opportunity ahead for mining and liquefied natural gas.

There could be as many as 10 mining projects under construction in the province by 2017 "if we do things in an expedited kind of way, an efficient kind of way," Bennett said.

LNG is a moving piece of the province's future, he said.

There are 13 proposals on the table. While there is no final investment decision on a major project, both Chevron and Shell have spent about $2-billion each so far on developing plans.

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"You don't spend $2-billion unless you've got something worthwhile," Mr. Bennett said.

"We don't know how big it's going to be. We know it's going to be big."

Bennett said he expects that an LNG facility will be under construction in 16 to 18 months.

The massive Site C hydroelectric project was the "elephant in the room," the minister said.

Government should know the first week of September whether the dam will receive federal and provincial environmental assessment approval and Mr. Bennett said he'll have to make a recommendation to cabinet.

No decision has been made yet, he said.

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He pointed out that the Treaty 8 First Nations – whose territory also happens to cover the epicentre of B.C.'s natural gas bounty – are opposed to the dam that will flood the Peace River Valley.

"It won't be black and white," Mr. Bennett said. "It won't be a really easy decision for cabinet to make. I think there's a lot of shades of grey on this one."

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