Carbon credits a major expense for Vancouver Island Health Authority

Taxpayer watchdog argues B.C.’s Pacific Carbon Trust actions amount to ‘corporate welfare’

The new Royal Jubilee Hospital patient care centre

The Vancouver Island Health Authority spent more than $880,000 last year to pay for carbon offsets, something the organization attributes to colder weather in 2011 and the expansion of its hospitals.

The 35,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide produced by the authority is still six per cent lower than 2007 levels, when the province began requiring public bodies to purchase offsets through crown corporation Pacific Carbon Trust. VIHA hopes to reduce its carbon footprint by 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020.

“Heat recovery from chilled water systems has huge potential and is being implemented at Victoria General and Nanaimo Regional General hospitals,” said spokesperson Shannon Marshall, adding that VIHA is also exploring neighbourhood energy systems with the City of Victoria and Capital Regional District.

Pacific Carbon Trust buys carbon credits from energy-efficient companies in the private sector, and then sells them to school districts, health authorities and other government bodies to offset carbon output. Last year, the Trust sold $14 million in credits to public institutions. The system is meant to create an across-the-board neutral carbon footprint throughout the province.

“It’s basically corporate welfare,” said Jordan Bateman, B.C. Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “The bottom line for me is $14 million in tax money. If it was being handed out in any other kind of grant, people would be up in arms about it.”

The carbon-trading program has led to B.C. becoming the third-largest carbon offset economy in North America. It is intended to fund green innovations and encourage reductions in energy consumption.

The program has, however, failed to blossom into an international exchange and has not attracted private industry.

Only $54,080, or 0.3 per cent, of carbon offset purchases last year came from the private sector.

“It’s a free-market failure,” Bateman said. “If it were any other business, we’d shut it down and move on.”

The City of Victoria has pledged to be carbon-neutral by the start of 2013. It plans to implement a kitchen scraps program next February that would remove an estimated 1,200 tonnes of carbon from its footprint annually, a reduction of 30 per cent from current levels.

But the city is also considering the purchase of offsets through Pacific Carbon Trust to meet their goal.

Council will consider its options this fall before finalizing the Carbon Neutral Plan by the end of 2012.

dpalmer@vicnews.com