Day two at ISSRM got off to a great start with MTU environmental historian Nancy Langston‘s rich tale of mining waste, public health, indigenous culture, wetland ecosystems and politics around Lake Superior. Her stage presence was engaging but also graceful; she almost danced the story. This was followed by two data-rich reflections on the challenges of survey methodologies by Rich Stedman and Doug Jackson Smith (a great follow-up to Josh Fergen’s talk yesterday), after which I hopped over to session D in our Energy Landscapes mini-conference to learn about biomass fuels and ecosystem service perceptions. After lunch, our culminating mini-conference panel was a great success, ably chaired by Tom Beckley after I came down with laryngitis. Great observations were offered up by all panel members to get things started, including some questioning the vocabulary of the session title itself: landscapes, transitions, etc. About thirty in the audience provided great prompts for the panel, covering different energy source trade-offs, useful theory, viable policy settings, important social questions and more, offering optimistic and more apocalyptic scenarios. The final parallel session of the day had Tom recounting the NB Electricity Futures Citizen Jury, and Chris Clarke talking about psychological distance in acceptability of shale gas (complementary with Anne Junod’s description of the ‘Goldilocks zone’ yesterday). A very ‘energetic’ day.
Tag: Energy (Page 2 of 6)
In the months leading up to the Mactaquac decision, the editorial pages of the Telegraph Journal is filling up with opinion pieces. Early in May, Keith Helmuth of the Woodstock Sustainable Energy Research group (who was an expert at our citizen jury) spoke out for dam removal, looking towards more efficient, greener energy options for the same investment and a boon for agricultural production. LarryJewett of Lakeway Houseboat Rental on the headpond (who rented us the houseboats we used for floating focus groups in 2013), and Friends of Mactaquac Lake, responded to support the rebuilding of the dam and generating station, for the local amenity it has become. Since then, Peter Cronin of the Atlantic Salmon Federation has responded to both in a two part commentary (1 and 2), supporting dam removal to foster a healthy river and restore fish stocks, among other things. While TJ has a firewall, as a subscriber the commentaries are just as interesting. A recent blog post on the NiCHE website by once-NB now-Maine environmental historian, Mark McLaughlin, uses our Before the Mactaquac Dam storymap to illustrate the need for academics to avoid focusing on stories of environmental decline: dams dramatically change landscapes and ecosystems, but are the exception among infrastructure in creating new amenity. I’m heading next week to the ISSRM meeting in Michigan, where I am co-convening a five-session stream on energy landscapes and transitions, which will examine just such trade-offs.
The previous post received a constructive reply from George Porter, head of the Mactaquac project for NB Power. He gave responses to some of the explicit questions I asked (excerpted with permission):
Q Who would own the land uncovered if the dam was removed?
A NB Power owns the vast majority of this property and is taking no position at this time as to what it would do with the land after a dam removal. Should the dam be removed, NB Power anticipates that an extensive multi-party planning exercise would be undertaken to establish an appropriate approach to land disposition, development, and use.
Q How might post-dam remediation proceed and how long does it typically take to stabilize and green up?
A This is explored in detail in the draft Comparative Environmental Review report posted online September 21, 2015. Chapter 9 is available for you here.
Q What is left down there, in terms of infrastructure, cultural sites, or sediments (and their associated environmental legacies such as chemical residue or toxins from upriver industry and agriculture)?
A Some of these subjects are being explored by the Canadian Rivers Institute. As their research is completed it is being made public on their website.
Q How do the First Nations communities feel?
A It would not be appropriate for NB Power to unilaterally assess and articulate how the first nations feel about the project. Since 2013, NB Power has been engaging with First Nations in a separate and deliberate process to ensure their rights and interests are considered in advance of the recommended path forward.
He also invited further explanation of my critique, as well as suggestions for how to improve the process. I sat down on the weekend to reply. Here is the full text of my response.
John Chilibeck’s cover piece in the Monday (May 23) Telegraph-Journal, ‘Critic Calls for Closer Look at Plans for Mactaquac Dam’, was worth reading, and I hope the folks at NB Power did. (T-J has a paywall, so I can’t link to it.) The critic in question is Saint John lawyer Rod Gillis, who:
… grilled NB Power before regulators on past refurbishment projects [and] believes the Crown’s utility has a poor track record of going hundreds of millions over-budget on big projects. He says the only way the public could be assured Mactaquac won’t become a huge financial liability to rate-payers and taxpayers would be for the government to set up a royal commission or judicial inquiry on the utility’s final proposal, expected this November.
In support, he detailed poor decisions, delays and cost overruns in Belledune, Coleson Cove and Point Lepreau, which are all well-documented failures, leading to a $5 billion debt for the utility. He is sceptical that the current process will do anything but further NB Power agendas. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Gillis.
In response, Energy Minister Donald Arsenault argued that a new process was unnecessary because:
… NB Power is following an open, transparent and independent process, free from political meddling.
I can say little about the independence of the process, but I have to question on what basis the Minister sees it as open or transparent. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a stingy approach to information-sharing in a public context, particularly the kind of information the people in the area are crying out for, based on our SSHRC-funded research:
- who would own the land uncovered if the dam was removed?
- how might post-dam remediation proceed and how long does it typically take to stabilize and green up?
- what is left down there, in terms of infrastructure, cultural sites, or sediments (and their associated environmental legacies such as chemical residue or toxins from upriver industry and agriculture)?
- how do the First Nations communities feel?
Moreover, this is not simply a local issue: the decision will affect citizens in the entire province. How are they being engaged? In a fall 2014 survey we did with 500 New Brunswickers, 27% said they knew nothing about the Mactaquac situation, and 41% said “not much”. Only five people said “a lot” and 29 said “quite a bit” I wonder if things have improved since then for the other 93%.
When former colleagues and I made a submission to an Australian House of Reps inquiry about adapting agriculture to climate change, the submission was scanned and posted online immediately, the evidence we gave when invited to appear in front of the committee during public hearings was transcribed into Hansard, and the final report from the process cited both sources (and more) as evidence for recommendations. The NB Commission on Fracking did the same thing. Compare this to what is happening under Mactaquaction, which is being run by a PR company – that fact itself indicative of a desire to control information and manage message. NB Power CEO and President Gaetan Thomas is quoted in Chilibeck’s article as saying:
“…at the end of the day, people will feel they were part of the process because they contributed to this discussion.”
Maybe, but they could also feel that the consultation has been disingenuous and wasted their time because they cannot see the inner workings. What is happening to the information being solicited from the website survey and the public meetings? NB Power should make all input (citizen and expert) public – anonymized where appropriate – to open up their process and avoid later accusations of tokenism or cherry-picking. Mr Gillis’ suggestion would also subject the preferred decision to the interrogation needed to support its ‘independence’ from political influence: as we know from the last NB election, some decisions are more popular than others. Chilibeck’s article includes the news that NB Power will “continue to accept written feedback until May 31”: I think better to put it here, for transparency.
It has been wonderful to see the investment NB Power has made in biophysical science, with the Canada Rivers Institute, but their engagement with and investment in social science has been laughable. Unfortunately, as a result of their lack of trust in people they risk looking untrustworthy themselves. It’s not open and it’s not transparent, and it matters.
A Saturday Globe review for Miller’s Valley caught my eye, and when I discovered I was 46th in line to borrow the book at the Central Library, I headed to the marvellous independent bookstore Westminster Books during a weekend trip to Fredericton to buy my own copy. The book tracks the coming of age of a girl in Pennsylvania as she watches government pressure inexorably lead to the inundation of her family’s farm for the ‘public good’. The flooding plays the same role in this book as in many others I’ve discussed here and in recent papers – shorthand for obliteration, loss, injustice, and forgetting – but what distinguishes it is in demonstrating the capacity to adapt over time, nonetheless. A few excerpts from the last page resonate particularly:
I don’t really miss the Miller’s Valley I used to know, the one in which I grew up, my very own drowned town. It’s been gone a long time now… They’re talking about having a big celebration for the fiftieth anniversary… and that’ll clinch it. If something’s been around fifty years, it’s been around forever. Most people think it’s always been there. They run fishing boats and go ice skating and sit in folding chairs and look out over the place where we all lived and it’s just water to them, as far as the eye can see. I guess it’s just water to me, too. … When I talked to Cissy about Andover, when I was a kid, I thought her life, her past, her childhood, all of it was buried down there under the water. I didn’t understand that it was above the surface, in her, the way mine is in me. … Lots of people leave here, that’s for sure, but people stay, too. And some are like me. They circle back. (p. 256-7)
In this same weekend I visited Joe George at COJO Exploration, who had spent the day scuba diving in his quest for the old townsite of Kingsclear, now under the Mactaquac headpond. His hand-drawn map from the dive shows the foundations, wells and other infrastructure he swam over, trying to avoid stirring up sediment in the low-visibility (2 ft) conditions. Looking at old maps, he reckons the well (“still water in it!”, he joked) belonged to the Long family. Joe is hoping to set up a recreational scuba track – as he showed me, basically a high-viz yellow cable – to allow visitors to explore the drowned town. He also hopes, however, to find some relics of life there, to share with either prior residents or local museums.
Dams are in the news, either in terms of removal (see a discussion here about opening the gates of the Glen Canyon Dam), or protests about construction. For instance, a public letter signed by Canadian scholars protests about Site C’s approval as a violation of process and treaty rights. An early-stage proposal for a dam on the Eldred River near Powell River BC is being protested by rock climbers (on the basis of a long-standing base camp) and foresters (the transmission infrastructure associated with independent power installations affects forestry and thus jobs), possibly the first time that those two bodies were on the same side of any issue.