The B.C. government's proposed Clean Energy Act - a centrepiece of the legislative agenda this year - is flawed and unrealistic, says a government backbench MLA.
John Rustad, the provincial Liberal MLA for Nechako Lakes, said he intends to vote against some sections of the bill, which is expected to be passed into law this week.
The bill was introduced in April with the promise that it would bring billions of dollars of investment in the "green energy" sector, while protecting low electricity rates for British Columbians.
But the bill is under attack from a wide range of critics. The business community says it discourages low-cost, low-carbon energy alternatives. Native leaders complain the government failed to consult with them. And the New Democratic Party opposition contends that consumers will end up paying more for energy under this plan.
Mr. Rustad said in an interview on Monday he will vote for the Clean Energy Act as a whole, but opposes some sections of the bill because they will tie the hands of future British Columbia governments to expand hydroelectric power.
The bill will enshrine into law a long-standing government policy that prohibits future dam construction on rivers that currently have no major hydroelectric dams.
"Given that we may end up growing faster than BC Hydro envisions, I think that policy is flawed," he said. For the same reason, he said the reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions set out in the legislation will be tough to meet. "I kind of wonder just how realistic it is to be able to actually achieve those kinds of targets."
The Liberal MLA will not be subjected to any explicit reprisal - the Liberal government officially tolerates dissent on most non-budget bills. But it happens rarely, and is the first time Mr. Rustad, a second-term MLA, has opposed his government on legislation.
Jock Finlayson, executive vice-president of the B.C. Business Council, has also raised concerns.
Mr. Finlayson endorsed the bill overall, but in a detailed review of the proposed act, he warned that the government's enthusiasm for renewable energy comes at the expense of the natural gas industry. "The government remains wedded to a policy of penalizing the use of natural gas as a domestic energy source," he wrote in a seven-page analysis. "We continue to find the government's approach both puzzling and contrary to sound economic principles."
The NDP has attacked the bill chiefly because it will largely deregulate BC Hydro, the Crown utility. The law strips the independent regulator, the BC Utilities Commission, of most of its oversight powers.
NDP energy critic John Horgan predicted BC Hydro will end up paying more for private power contracts and that will end up costing consumers of hydroelectric power more. "It's voodoo to claim otherwise," he said.
Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom dismissed his critics on Monday. "I've heard a lot of issues from the opposition that are dead wrong," he said. "I have to believe they haven't read the bill, and they'd be red-faced if they read the bill."
Mr. Lekstrom said he is not aware of Mr. Rustad's objections and has not read Mr. Finlayson's analysis. But as one of the few Liberal MLAs who has voted against a government bill in the past, he said he can't be upset at the prospect of having a fellow Liberal vote against parts of his bill. "There is always open dialogue," he said. "I have no problem with that."