“The big question is how are we going to increase power production and who is going to pay for it,” - Barry Penner, Chair of the Energy Futures Initiative.

Energy risks grow for land-based salmon farming in British Columbia

“The big question is how are we going to increase power production and who is going to pay for it,” – Barry Penner, Chair of the Energy Futures Initiative.

By Fabian Dawson

A new report showing British Columbia emerging as an ‘at-risk area’ for energy as soon as 2026 does not bode well for anti-marine aquaculture activists, who have been campaigning to transition salmon sea farms to land-based operations.

The latest annual forecast published by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) states that for British Columbia “energy risks increase in 2026 as forecasted demand increases and natural-gas-fired generation retires.”

The report comes after a year in which BC Hydro imported record amounts of electricity to help keep the lights on.

“This report is highly concerning,” said Barry Penner, Chair for the newly minted Energy Futures Initiative, which aims to create awareness by exploring some of the greatest challenges facing British Columbia’s energy security, affordability and independence.

“If our energy system ceases to be reliable, we could find ourselves facing an energy crisis — one that would have a significant impact on BC residents and businesses alike,” said Penner, who was BC’s Minister of Environment, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Attorney General during his four terms as an MLA.

Speaking on the sidelines of the 21st annual BC Natural Resources Forum in Prince George, Penner told SeaWestNews that he is aware of the high energy requirements to power land-based fish farms.

“The big question is how are we going to increase power production and who is going to pay for it,” said Penner.

“We currently don’t have enough domestic power generation to meet the needs of today, even before additional electrification in the future,” he said.

“Reliance on imported energy from jurisdictions dealing with their own challenges could put British Columbians at risk of electricity shortages and higher user costs.”

Global fisheries, aquaculture and climate scientists have labelled the activism around moving all BC salmon farms to land based operations as unrealistic, reckless, and destructive because growing the global supply of salmon on land would require the same amount of energy per year needed to power a city of 1.2 million people and contribute to higher greenhouse gas emissions.

Raising land based Atlantic salmon also costs 12 times more than ocean farming, they said.

Should British Columbia succumb to the demands of anti-fish farm activists to move all ocean-based salmon farms to land based operations, the province will see a whopping increase of 22,881,000 kilograms of Greenhouse Gas (GhG) emissions, according to an independent study by RIAS Inc. That is equivalent to the energy needed per year to power a population of 52,200 or a city the size of North Vancouver.

In Canada, the transfer of the current aquaculture production from sea to land would require 33,719 acres, or 159 sq. km of land – equivalent to 28,000 Canadian football fields – to grow fish in appropriate densities in land-based systems.

Last February, a BC government-commissioned report projected that replacing BC’s current salmon farm production with recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), also known as land-based or closed containment operations, would require a direct investment of between $1.8 billion to $2.2 billion.

The report authors from Counterpoint Consulting Inc. also estimated that it will be at least 10 years before a significant land-based salmon production sector is operating at a steady rate in BC.

The economic analysis also states that the profitable production of market-sized salmon on a commercial scale remains “elusive”. Currently, salmon raised in ocean-based pens are grown to between five and six kilograms, while those raised in RAS facilities are harvested at less than four kilograms in most cases, further making the technology economically unviable.

It mirrors an earlier government report –  The State of Salmon Aquaculture Technologies study released in February 2020 which warned RAS technology requires the use of large amounts of land, water, and power, and thus has a significant environmental footprint, in particular greenhouse gas emissions.

The BC coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) has said that moving to land-based salmon farming is not an option for its members.

“Some Nations in this coalition have completed feasibility studies on land-based salmon farming in their territories for many years, and they came to the same result: it is not possible, and if it was, they would have moved to land-based salmon farming years ago,” FNFFS said.

The BC Ministry of Agriculture is currently assessing the commercial readiness of alternative technologies for marine-based salmon production that minimizes interaction between farmed and wild fish.

“Moving all our salmon production from the marine environment to land-based operations is not going to happen here by 2025 as some people think it can,” said Dr. Myron Roth, the former Team Lead, Aquaculture & Marine Fisheries at BC‘s Ministry of Agriculture.

“What we are trying to do with this project is ascertain a variety of issues from suitable sites, available technology, power supply, infrastructure, labor availability, and water and after that it will probably need about seven to 10 years to build something that works and first harvest,” Dr. Roth, a global expert on various sectors involving fisheries and aquaculture, told SeaWestNews in an earlier interview.

In B.C. alone, there are many failed attempts to grow either Pacific or Atlantic salmon in land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) to market size over the past 20 years.

Meanwhile, BC Premier David Eby said BC Hydro will embark on an unprecedented level of construction over the next 10 years, to build out the electricity system to power a growing clean economy and communities, and create new jobs. 

“We must expand our electrical system like never before, to power industrial development, to power our homes and businesses, to power our future,” Eby said at the B.C. Natural Resources Forum in Prince George.

BC Hydro’s updated 10-year capital plan, Power Pathway: Building BC’s energy future, includes almost $36 billion in community and regional infrastructure investments throughout the province between 2024-25 and 2033-34. This represents an increase of 50% over BC Hydro’s previous capital plan ($24 billion) and includes a significant increase in electrification and emissions-reduction infrastructure projects (nearly $10 billion, up from $1 billion).

These new construction projects are projected to support 10,500 to 12,500 jobs on average annually.

The plan reflects growing demand for electricity across sectors due to population growth and housing construction, increased industrial development, and people and businesses switching from fossil fuels to clean electricity, among other factors, Eby said.

Image of Barry Penner courtesy of energyfuturesinitiative.ca