While a damning audit of B.C.'s Pacific Carbon Trust focused on carbon offset spending in far-flung corners of the province, public money from school and hospital budgets also fed projects across the Lower Mainland.
And a leading critic of the made-in-B.C. carbon offset strategy says the legitimacy of the local projects is just as questionable as the Darkwoods and Encana offsets B.C.'s Auditor General decided were not credible.
Bob Simpson, the independent MLA for Cariboo North, says in most cases the recipients either had already decided to spend on upgrades to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before carbon offsets were offered, or likely would have done so in any event.
Greenhouses in the Fraser Valley were among the recipients – Quiks Farm in Chilliwack, Randhawa Farms in Abbotsford, Sun Select Farms in Delta and Langley's Katatheon Farms and Glenwood Valley Farms all got money to subsidize energy efficiency upgrades or to convert from natural gas to wood waste fuel.
"The greenhouses were responding to spikes in natural gas pricing," Simpson said.
The entire sector should have been excluded, he argues, because farmers in other jurisdictions were doing the same thing without carbon offset subsidies.
Wood fuel was cheaper than natural gas.
Wood is offset-eligible because it's counted as a lower-carbon fuel source – it's assumed forests regrow and reabsorb carbon, unlike fossil fuels that add incremental new carbon to the atmosphere when burned.
But Simpson contends landfilling wood waste instead of burning it would sequester the carbon in the ground – a more effective choice if greenhouse gases are the overriding concern.
"There are a whole bunch of logic traps," he said.
Kruger Products tissue mill in New Westminster also got carbon offset money to retrofit to burn wood waste fuel instead of natural gas, even though it also received a federal green transformation grant for the same purpose and therefore double-dipped, according to Simpson.
Lafarge's Richmond cement plant, one of the region's biggest carbon emitters, pledged to burn less coal and more wood waste-derived fuel with the help of an offset-funded retrofit.
"Fuel-switching in the cement sector is a business-as-usual practice," Simpson said. "They're all scrambling to try to get their energy costs down. It calls into question whether it's a legitimate offset project."
He said nobody appears to be monitoring Lafarge to ensure the cement plant actually burns the agreed amount of wood.
The Pacific Carbon Trust viewed its stable of projects in terms of verifiable greenhouse gas emission reductions that could be sold to government agencies or other buyers that needed to buy offsets.
But while the trust paid businesses to burn wood waste instead of natural gas in the name of fighting climate change, its calculations didn't consider whether local air pollution might worsen as a result, which concerned air quality advocates.
"Off of wood waste you get ash," Simpson noted. "You don't get high particulate content off of natural gas. You're trying to substitute one questionable practice for another."
In both cases, the Pacific Carbon Trust embraced them as offsets long after the transit agencies decided to spend the money.
Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman said he doesn't really care whether the offsets are credible or not, the entire logic of the push to carbon-neutral government is flawed.
"You're trying to buy absolution with tax dollars," Bateman said. "How do you blame a hospital for polluting? All they're doing is heating a facility and sterilizing tools to save lives."