The Clean Energy Act

Dedicated Rail Ties Be Wise volunteers and our lawyers Bill Andrews and Erin Gray have been working hard behind the scenes to prevent Williams Lake from becoming the rail tie burning capital of Western Canada. Our appeal of the permit allowing Atlantic Power (AP) to burn rail ties is ongoing, and now we can tell you about a hopeful new development.

The Clean Energy Act requires that wood burned to produce energy for purchase by BC Hydro must be “clean wood”.  As we read the Act, rail ties simply cannot be clean wood.  Therefore, BC Hydro should be prohibited from buying energy produced by burning rail ties. We have asked the Utilities Commission to consider whether BC Hydro would be violating this Act if it accepts rail tie burning in a renewed Energy Purchase Agreement with AP.  (The current EPA expires in April 2018.)

We have reason to be cautiously optimistic that the Commission will agree with our plain language reading of the Act. In a recent decision, the Commission permitted a new biomass plant to be built, but prohibited it from burning rail ties to produce energy.

If BC Hydro signs an EPA with AP even though AP will burn rail ties, we can argue to BC Utilities Commission that such an agreement violates the Act and should therefore be invalid. Our lawyer Bill Andrews, who regularly appears before the Commission on behalf of the Sierra Club of Canada, has agreed to argue this case.

If we are successful, this will set a precedent for all of British Columbia. The decision will mean that nowhere in British Columbia can a plant burn huge volumes of rail ties to make energy for sale to BC Hydro. The Act is crafted to ensure this, and RTBW is working to make sure that this intent is followed through. Other jurisdictions, such as Washington, Oregon and Saskatchewan, have already banned the burning of rail ties. It’s time for British Columbia to follow suit; the Clean Energy Act’s intent is there and the Williams Lake public certainly welcome this affirmation so we can all breathe easier.

Note: Here’s why we say Williams Lake could become the rail tie burning capital of Western Canada: the Ministry of Environment permit would allow Atlantic Power to burn rail ties as up to 50% its fuel annually.  AP has stated that they will burn at least 15%, which is equivalent to the number rail ties replaced by CN Rail in Western Canada each year.