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Minister of Energy and Mines and Minister Responsible for Housing Rich Coleman.Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

B.C. Energy Minister Rich Coleman says the proponents of liquefied natural gas plants will get to decide whether to use renewable energy to power their facilities.

Creating LNG in B.C. could put millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere if the plants are driven by natural gas-powered turbines instead of using renewable energy. And under a recently minted government regulation, that won't affect on the province's targets to reduce carbon emissions.

Mr. Coleman's regulation, passed last July, declares that electricity generated from gas turbines "to serve demand from facilities that liquefy natural gas for export by ship" is considered clean energy.

"It's too big of an opportunity for us not to have options on the table to make it attractive for investors to make their decisions for British Columbia," Mr. Coleman said in an interview. "They will make the decision as to which way they want to go." He expects answers on how the proposed LNG plants would be powered in the next two months.

By law, British Columbia must cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 33 per cent below 2007 levels by the year 2020. A year ago, the B.C. Liberal government launched a job-creation plan that included the promise of a new LNG industry that it says is worth a trillion dollars to the province. The province is currently negotiating with five proponents but it has said it can provide enough electricity only to the first two plants that win approval.

Without Mr. Coleman's changes, the LNG plans could have derailed the climate-change agenda that sets out targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. But there is an added benefit for changing the definition of clean energy: By allowing LNG producers to sidestep greenhouse-gas considerations, Crown-owned B.C. Hydro may be able to avoid costly upgrades to its transmission system that would be required to serve proposed terminals in Kitimat and Prince Rupert.

B.C. NDP energy critic John Horgan said he is not opposed to using natural gas to generate energy for LNG, but he said that the emissions should be accounted for. "You can't use gas to create electricity without creating a higher emissions profile," he said.

Matt Horne of the Pembina Institute, which has been tracking the potential impact of the LNG industry on B.C.'s climate-change targets, noted the clean-energy designation on paper doesn't change the actual carbon footprint.

"You can call doughnuts health food all you want – it doesn't make them healthy," Mr. Horne said.

He estimates that two LNG facilities using natural gas for their energy requirements would produce almost as much CO2 as the output generated from the province's 1.8 million homes.

That's based on data provided by B.C. Hydro, which shows that for every gigawatt hour of energy created using natural gas-fired turbines, between 365 and 477 tons of CO2 is released into the atmosphere. The two plants that are included in B.C. Hydro's draft energy plans – including one that is relatively small – would use 5,000 gigawatt hours of energy per year combined.

Mr. Horne said the LNG plants promised in the government's jobs plan would have a far greater impact, particularly when the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with getting the gas out of the ground and delivered to the terminals are factored in.

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