Coal Trains still coming back to Vancouver Island?

Certainly looks like it.

A few months ago there were some articles online about a company looking to get the rights to and then mine coal near Courtney here on Vancouver Island. It caused quite a stir, particularly in the rail community as the company directly mentioned the close proximity to the E&N and the deep sea port at Port Alberni in its literature.

Well, even though the economy has gone in the tank, it seems as though things are still proceeding.

In February and March, Compliance Energy Corporation went through and signed a partnership in the project with I-Comox Coal Inc a subsidiary of ITOCHU Corporation and LG International Investments (Canada) Ltd. a subsidiary of LG International Corp. They also signed a deal with West Fraser Mills, the original holders of the land to purchase around 29,000 hectares near Buckley Bay and Courtney.

Below is an overview map of the area… with the “Bear” area just south of Cumberland and Comox Lake and the “Raven” area nearer Buckley Bay.

View Larger Map

The Main find that includes Metallurgic (iron/steel) grade coal is in the bottom middle of the image, near where it says “Comox Strathcona A”. This terrain view is easiest to see where the claim is as it relates to surrounding communities. The entire flat area between the water and where the mountain hills start from Fanny Bay in the South to Comox Lake in the North is the general area of the plot.

Here is a slide from a recent presentation given by CEC.

Presentation Screen Cap of VI Coal interests
You can see the various interests CEC has, with Raven being the one considered most profitable.

Their latest filings show that they are still actively pursuing the Raven project.

CEC has provided $7 Million to its Asian backers to “fund all of the activities necessary to reach a production decision on the Raven Coal Project.”

Notice that they said “production decision”, which is quite different from production itself. That said, they seem very optimistic on both the quality and marketability of the project. Other documents say they are hoping to have their first shipments in 2011 or 2012… but this little paragraph in their latest filing indicates there are financial pressures coming to bear that are not unrelated to the wider economy.

The Company will continue to require funds and as a result, will have to continue to rely on equity and debt financing. There can be no assurance that financing, whether debt or equity, will always be available to the Company in the amount required at any particular time. Management is of the opinion that sufficient working capital will be obtained from external financing sources to meet the Company’s liabilities as they come due.

So we’ll see what happens here. The partners in the project, ITOCHU and LG, are multi-billion dollar players in the asian coal and steel industry, so their financial well being is not in doubt. What is in doubt with whether this small company, lead by CEO John Tapics (out of Alberta electricity/coal sector, click for more on the Board), can make this happen, and more importantly, sell it to Island residents.

Transition Town Port Alberni first gathering!

7:57:30 PM: We’re talking about what Transition Towns is…

8:01:23 PM: Went through the Transition Primer and the Principles in the Transition Handbook (

8:07:27 PM: the global problem is just too much to consider…

8:07:42 PM: have to act locally because that’s the only change we can make anyway

8:07:59 PM: you can be a role model in your own community

8:08:45 PM: it’s just a matter of being a role model to Transition to a low-Energy pathway.

8:18:24 PM: Talking about creating a local currency for Port Alberni area businesses to encourage the business community

8:24:56 PM: Modelled after the Saltspring Island Dollar.

9:21:34 PM: The meeting just ended. Had a great discussion about what the next steps will be

9:21:46 PM: There will be another meeting on or around the 6th

9:22:04 PM: Dan is going to create a Port Alberni Transition mailing list

9:23:05 PM: We all agreed to try to bring 2 more people that might be interested to learn about what starting a Transition Town involves

9:25:17 PM: Throughout the meeting Guy kept bringing us back to the principles of Transition Town list in the book and on the primer (linked before)

9:26:12 PM: It naturally matched up with what we were chatted about during the meeting

9:26:55 PM: So… that’s it I guess. Next meeting, May 6, Dans place, you can email me to get on the mailing list if you’re not already.

9:30:45 PM: The short term goal is to get enough interested people in order to get a Transition Town Steering Group together.

Trudeau era Minister helps bring Alternative Energy to Ucluelet BC

Very cool Alternative Energy news out of Ucluelet and the Alberni Valley Times today. With an interesting link to a long past era.

The Pacific Coastal Wave plan is to build a demonstration project which will generate up to four megawatts (mw) of electricity, using the movement of the ocean swell to pump water to a shore-based turbine station

Pacific Coastal Wave is a company co-owned by Global Energy Horizons, of Victoria B.C., Canada . Anthony Abbott, a former Minister in the Pierre Trudeau Cabinet from 1976-79 serves as a Director of the company amongst other high-powered executives.

The other partner in the venture is Renewable Energy Holdings… a seemingly behemoth alternative energy holding company. In their latest report, they do seem quite enthused with the prospect of wave energy in Ucluelet, and that’s what is important here. From their report:

sites include Bermuda, West Coast Vancouver Island, Canada and others under review, all of which offer excellent wave regimes and exposure to high economic returns.

As is noted here by REH, Wave Energy has the potential to produce over 2 TeraWatts of power. Equivalent to 400,000 single 5MW wind turbines.

Ucluelet and Vancouver Island are ideally placed because of the near constant rolling swell of the NE Pacific along the West Coast of North America, and the close proximity of the BC Hydro electrical grid to that water.

A little more about the project itself:

The CECO system uses a multitude of buoys anchored to the ocean floor, between 15 and 50 metres deep. De Clare said the submerged buoys are set in constant motion by the ocean swell (not the waves). Those constantly moving buoys in turn provide the motive power for a patented “sloppy pump” system on the ocean floor.

“They push sea water onto land at a pressure of 1,000 pounds per square inch (psi),” de Clare explained.

In Ucluelet, that water pressure will drive a turbine generator, but it can also be used to turn sea water into fresh water.

“You need 800 psi to desalinize water,” de Clare said. “The government in Australia particularly likes that part.”

The sloppy pump system is self-lubricating with sea water, and the generation takes place on land – that removes two major environmental objections to the CECO system, de Clare said. The materials used in the CECO system – Hypalon plastic, stainless steel and concrete – are familiar and benign, he added.

Simple, and effective.

This is excellent news for Ucluelet, a former fishing and forestry village, which like so many other BC Communities, has had to turn to Tourism to create jobs. It has done this reasonably successfully, but something a little more concrete like Alternative Energy would be more than welcome for the local economy. And the benefit potentially won’t stop in Ucluelet. A little further inland and up the Alberni Inlet from Ucluelet lies my hometown of Port Alberni. In much the same way as Ucluelet, its’ primary, traditional, industries have been decimated over the past few years, but with a Deep Sea port and lots of industrial space, this might be a door to a whole new industry building these systems and exporting them all around the world.

One can only hope. It’s nice to have some good news for once.

In response to David Schreck on BC-STV

A letter opposing BC-STV appeared yesterday in the Parksville Qualicum News. It was written by David Schreck, secretary-treasurer of the No BC-STV Campaign Society.

Full Disclosure: I have joined the Pro STV campaign as a volunteer in the Alberni-Qualicum riding. Here is my response to Mr. Schreck

He says:

[BC-STV] replaces local representation with regional representation on a huge scale…. North Island-South Coast, with four MLAs, would be as large as Ireland. It would include Bamfield, Port Alberni, Sechelt, Powell River and Port Hardy. That’s right — the Sunshine Coast gets merged with the northwest coast of Vancouver Island.

#1: The number of MLAs will not change in the BC Legislature.

#2: The MLAs per population actually ends up being *more* equally spread out with the multiple MLAs in larger ridings.

#3: Ridings “as large as Ireland” is a red herring. BC is larger than France, should we elect 200 representatives to the Legislature? Ridings are based on population per MLA and socio-economic compatibility. BC-STV improves things on both those fronts.

#4: Powell River truly is a brother-from-another-mother when it comes to sharing issues with other Vancouver Island communities. In fact, as an example of the commonality, this new riding would have 3 of the 4 remaining Catalyst mills all in the same riding. Major employers all facing extreme hardship and causing extreme concern in each of Powell River, Campbell River, and Port Alberni. Another point: In other countries with STV, elected representatives have often set up shop in different communities in the large riding, effectively acting as representives for those communities so that constituents in the riding feel that they have a local person to go to.

At the bottom of this post you can see 3 images showing the current Provincial map (FPTP), Federal Map, and proposed BC-STV.

moving on….

It would merge the 85 local constituencies used in the May 12 election into 20 giant constituencies which would each elect from two to seven MLAs, but voters would just get a single vote.

(Emphasis added)
This is a misleading statement, bordering on false. The assumption that BC-STV does make is that your “#1” choice is the most important, and so it always gets full weight while subsequent choices are weighted. It is up to the voter to choose whether to only mark their ‘#1’ choice.

They can also choose to enter their 2nd, 3rd, 4th… etc.. choices down if they want. If they do so, then their ballot may be considered multiple times…. up to as many times as there are MLAs to be elected.

In effect, BC-STV will give constituents who now only have the possibility of affecting 1 seat in the Legislature, control over 4 seats in the Legislature, in my case. So you could be voting for both who you think would be the best local candidate for your town or district, and also the best regional candidate as a whole. Or, if you had a more partisan view… you vote for every Liberal or NDP candidate so as to give your party the best chance at winning the largest number of seats in the Legislature.

Personally, I see this as a huge plus in terms of making sure quality candidates are chosen, and voters political preferences are always respected.

STV elects candidates who get a minimum percentage (12.5 per cent to 33.3 per cent, increasing as the number to be elected decreases).

Again, another misleading statement… because BC-STV employs multi-MLA ridings, it must set a “minimum” in order to be able to fairly, and proportionally, elect the other candidates. This is the entire point of having a system based on Proportional Representation.

Just as it is now with FPTP, it can not be known what percentage will be required for a candidate to win in BC-STV as it depends completely on voter turnout. One could say that in Alberni-Qualicum, Scott Fraser only needed 36.8% of the vote in order to beat Gillian Trumper in the 2005 election. Of course, he actually received 52% of the vote, and in BC-STV you would still know who received the most #1 votes in the riding, as well as all the other preferences people had. Knowing peoples preferences would actually be a very valuable tool to gauge how BC voters really felt about their candidates, their parties and their ridings.

BC-STV MLAs can get just as large a mandate as FPTP elected MLAs. If 75% of voters put Scott Fraser as their #1 choice, then that’s what he gets, and no doubt that would be what the Media would highlight. The likelihood of one candidate getting that much support is obviously mighty slim, but it is no less likely than it is with FPTP, and if it did happen, the other candidates would still be easily elected from peoples 2nd and 3rd choices, and that’s what makes BC-STV great. Choice.

The counting system is so complex that it takes weeks to count the votes. It might be possible to computerize the complex count, but it is not so easy to design a computer system that is subject to verification and that allows recounts while protecting voter secrecy.

First, let me say that I am a computer technician and web programmer by trade, and I loathe the thought of computer based voting systems for both technical and ethical reasons.

That said, his statement about complexity is simply false. Unless our elections volunteers have a problem with long division, then I think they will do just fine.

The ballots still only need to be counted and tallied once. The added time will come from tallying each of the voters preferences, but again, as long as the elections officials know how to use a pen on a whiteboard to write down how many 2nd, 3rd, or 4th choice votes an MLA receives, then I’m sure they will be fine.

Knowing the “first choice” elected MLA in a BC-STV riding should be just as fast as the present system. The rest is just division, and will be known for sure once officials know the final number of votes cast.

No computers needed. (or wanted, in my opinion)

Changing the voting system doesn’t change politics. Don’t be taken in by BC-STV. It requires enormous electoral areas that make politicians even less accountable than they are now and makes political parties even more powerful.

On one point, David and I agree. Changing the voting system doesn’t change politics, not one bit, it will be as nasty as ever. However, the notion that BC-STV would stifle the opportunities for smaller candidates to run is silly. Again, we already live in a system where the chances of a non-major party candidate winning a seat are so remote as to be nearly impossible.

That is a voter, party, and candidate problem, not an electoral system problem. So unfortunately, that will not change in BC-STV in my opinion. Smaller candidates will still have the ability to run in their riding of choice, and could run as a sub-regional candidate if they thought it would better their chances of getting one of the seats. The money spent by riding associations is already minimal even at the Federal level. The best chance a small party/independant candidate has to win has always been, and will always be, their ability to communicate, make a good showing at the ACMs and network.

However, what BC-STV *does* address is the problem of a minority of voters electing a super-majority of MLAs. In 2001, BC elected 77 Liberals and 2 New Democrats to the Legislature. 97% vs. 3% of the seats. Yet, the actual popular vote was 58% Liberal, 22% NDP, 12% Green and 8% went to smaller parties and independants. BC-STV will ensure that that level of misrepresentation, regardless of political party, never happens again in BC Politics, and that is a huge step forward in our democracy.

Provincial FPTP
Current Provincial Ridings
Current Federal Ridings
Proposed BC-STV
Proposed BC-STV Ridings

Our little town, Port Alberni, is at the forefront of this Transition

After todays Public Forum on Climate Change and Sustainability, I really do think that Port Alberni is at the leading edge of what *really* needs to happen on the way forward.

The simple fact that 3 out of our current 6 councillors plus the Mayor and all of the senior management of the City were there to listen to Bruce Sampson and Nola Kate Seymour talk about Energy depletion, Natural Capital, Climate Change and how we move forward and address the incredible change we are facing is proof enough for me. The conversations I had with councillors and managers were incredibly encouraging.

You can see a short interview with Nola Seymour here where she talks about much the same things she said tonight.

Tonights talk was a turning point. Yes, the audience was largely tuned into Climate Change, but Bruce Sampsons main points were around Energy and Peak Oil, not Climate Change, and I think that turned a lot of heads. I think our Councillors that weren’t already Peak Oil aware and active, or just on the sidelines, now really have something to chew on. It’s been put into terms that are more familiar.

I am energized by tonights presentation. I think the debate is officially over in Port Alberni on Climate Change. There is going to be some real action come out of this, and it’s going to happen with at least a big chunk of our leaders behind it.

There is a recognition that the divisions between loggers and treehuggers of the past are over. We must all move together in order to create not only a livable planet, but also renewable jobs and a sustainable lifestyle.

I handed out really inadequate little brochures. I hope people email me about it.

I’m going to start up a Transition Town committee in town and get this ball rolling. SEPERATE from Council, we need a grassroots effort to engage people in the community and merge all of the wonderful things we have going on in this town. If we could just harness a portion of the energy that I know is out there, I am sure that we could make a huge amount of change happen very quickly.

After tonight, I have more Hope about the future than I have had for months. And Hope is what we need to get through this above all.