It is probably a good thing that when politicians are thrown out of office they go quietly into the sunset and enjoy their retirement. To a large extent, the three living former MLAs Jim Doyle, Wendy McMahon and myself do a fairly good job of that. But it doesnt mean that we dont still have many thoughts about current issues.
I am prompted to write today because of subjects raised in the last three issues of The Pioneer. The most recent was a Letter to the Editor in which Monroe Hunsicker raised the issue of the lack of natural gas in the valley.
Natural gas would indeed be nice to have in our area but, strangely enough, it would not bring the advantage now that it would have in past decades because in recent years the price of it has risen to a point where it is not much less expensive than other fuels.
And it has been looked at in previous years. At least, I did when I was MLA. Here is what I found: The cost of bringing natural gas up the valley from Cranbrook is very high. The main line alone, in the late 1980s, was about $25 million. It would obviously be much higher today.
When digging into these costs, I was often reminded by Valley residents that the main line would not have to come all the way from Cranbrook since there is already natural gas up the valley as far as Skookumchuk because of the pulp mill. While that is the case, that line is only large enough to service the pulp mill. It is not big enough to service the whole valley to the north so a new line would have to be built from the Cranbrook area.
Another huge funding requirement would be needed to build the local distribution systems. Its one thing to get the gas to one point in each community from a trunk line, perhaps along Highway 95, but it then has to be piped to individual homes and businesses. I dont recall a cost number for that, but its another big number, and it is big because in the whole Columbia Valley from Canal Flats to Golden, a large percentage of our population live in rural areas, making the cost of local distribution much more expensive than if we all lived in one community.
There is then another factor that comes into play, which is rather interesting. Thinking about natural gas can make a person assume that as soon as it became available that everyone would rush to sign up as customers. That doesnt happen, even for natural gas. And its understandable.
When a family has already spent a lot of money to install their electric or oil or wood heating system, or has bought a house with one of those systems already installed, it is not likely that they are going to throw it out and put in natural gas for an incremental saving. A propane heating system is the only one that can be changed to natural gas at a low cost.
The real issue behind this entire picture, of course, is one of the things that many of us appreciate about our valley the most, that being our low population. The Columbia Valley is not the Lower Mainland. Its not Toronto. And that means that some of the things that are cost-effective in those high population areas are simply not affordable here.
Things can, of course, change over time and it is always good to take another look at something. Possibly some of the things that I have mentioned above have now been changed, but when I looked into natural gas, it did not seem viable then and, I suspect, is not now.
(MLA Columbia River 1986 1991)