British Columbia’s energy system—including its oil and natural gas pipelines, and power-transmission lines—is highly insecure, reports Cascadia Scorecard 2005, an annual report released today by Seattle-based Sightline Institute (fomerly Northwest Environment Watch) that tracks seven key trends critical to the Cascadia region. The report finds that the region is reliant on a few gas and oil pipelines that are almost impossible to secure against determined attackers; that energy efficiency stagnated in 2004; and that with added efficiency, the province could earn billions of dollars more from fuel exports.

“British Columbia’s energy system is highly vulnerable on several fronts,” said Alan Durning, Sightline’s executive director and lead author of the report. “But the good news is that there is a solution that pays for itself. A clean-energy revolution that is gathering force in the region promises to make BC’s energy system resilient, secure, and more profitable.”

The region covered includes British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Key findings include:

  • Vulnerable oil and gas pipelines: British Columbia gets the majority of its oil from Alberta via a single, insecure pipeline—the Trans-Mountain Pipeline—which crosses hundreds of miles of rural land before reaching the Lower Fraser Valley. And the province has just two refineries, in Prince George and Burnaby. The region’s five natural gas pipelines are more explosive than oil pipelines, and—unlike oil—gas has no alternative mode of transport.
  • Unstable power: The regional power network’s two dozen main transmission lines are vulnerable to attacks with weapons or even common tools. Losing even two key lines could lead to cascading blackouts.
  • Triple threat: Many of the region’s pipelines share routes with each other and with power lines. In at least one place, a night’s work with a backhoe could sever vital arteries for oil, natural gas, and electricity.
  • Energy use high: The region’s energy insecurity is compounded by high energy use. Although British Columbians consume less energy per person than residents of the Northwest states, their energy use increased in 2004. On average, each BC resident consumes the weekly equivalent of 42 litres of gasoline in highway fuels and nonindustrial electricity fuels—about 50 percent more than do Germans (28 litres).
  • Harms environment and economy: The environmental impacts of the energy system include damage to wild salmon runs by hydropower dams; and fossil fuel consumption that is responsible for most of the region’s emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases. And energy price spikes are leading triggers of inflation and recession.

The Scorecard recommends investing in technologies, business models, and policy approaches that promise to dramatically increase energy security and efficiency. It highlights three top strategies:

First, BC citizens should push the federal government to keep its commitment to implement ambitious auto emissions standards that would ensure a 25-percent drop in emissions per mile by 2010. Such “clean-car” standards would speed Canada’s transition to a fuel-efficient vehicle fleet that would pollute less, buffer the region against pipeline disruption and oil price hikes, and help accelerate the auto industry’s design of ultra-fuel-efficient cars and trucks.

Second, the province could introduce point-of-purchase incentives called feebates—fees charged to the buyers of less-efficient products that fund rebates given to the buyers of more-efficient ones. Feebates, which could be used for new vehicles and energy-using appliances, would have a “snowball” effect on efficiency by encouraging manufacturers to make it a priority in product design. The Canadian federal government is considering feebates as part of its climate action plan.

Third, BC could adopt reforms to turbocharge efficiency and clean-energy investments in the region. BC Hydro already sees enough energy-efficiency opportunities to allow it 40 percent greater energy savings in the next 10 years than it achieved in the past 10. The BC Utility Commission could “decouple” BC Hydro’s profits from its electricity sales by lifting current regulations that threaten to penalize the utility financially for helping residential customers save energy.

“Saving oil and gas would allow BC to sell more energy outside the province, dramatically expanding its export earnings,” said Northwest Environment Watch’s Durning. BC extracted about Can$21 million worth of oil and natural gas each day in 2004, consuming about Can$13 million worth itself and selling the remainder outside its borders.

BC is already benefiting economically from an emerging base of businesses that specializes in energy efficiency and renewables, green buildings, and alternative fuels. Ballard Power Systems of Burnaby, for example, leads the world in hydrogen fuel cells—which has great potential for both transportation and distributed power generation. Another quick-maturing technology, which Canadian firm Iogen is pioneering, is cellulose ethanol, a fuel made from crop and forest residues and urban wastes that could be locally produced in rural Cascadia. Royalties from wind farming are another possible bonanza for rural regions.

Cascadia Scorecard 2005 also reported the region’s progress on six other trends that are critical to the region’s future: health, economy, population, forests, sprawl, and pollution. Good news included gains in life expectancy and a rapid increase in certification of forestlands by the Forest Stewardship Council. But overall, the Scorecard suggests that the Pacific Northwest has stalled since 2000, after making major gains in the 1990s. The region received the worst “scores” in energy and sprawl. (See “BC: Keeping Score” fact sheet for details on how the province ranked.)

The Scorecard also marks how far the region is from reaching a real-world goal for each indicator, including Japan for health and Germany for energy efficiency. It estimates that it would take Cascadia an average of 32 years of slow-and-steady progress to catch up with what the world’s leaders on each trend have achieved.

Sightline Institute (formerly Northwest Environment Watch) is a Seattle-based nonprofit research and communication center that monitors progress toward a sustainable economy and way of life in the Pacific Northwest. The Cascadia Scorecard is available at

February 25, 2005