B.C. VIEWS: Bills come due at BC Hydro

Decades of political interference and deferred maintenance, not private power contracts, are behind the push for big rate increases

Reconstruction of Ruskin Dam is underway

VICTORIA – When Christy Clark became premier in 2011, one of her first priorities was to delay steep increases in BC Hydro rates.

BC Hydro was heading to the B.C. Utilities Commission to apply for rate increases totalling 32 per cent over three years. This, obviously, was a problem for an unelected premier whose single message was that she was good for families, and who faced an election in two years.

The government’s Mr. Fix-It, Rich Coleman, first tried to delay a couple of expensive seismic upgrades, adding to the long history of political fiddles that pushed off expensive problems. BC Hydro’s engineers soon convinced him that if the creaky old Ruskin and Campbell River dams were to bust in a quake, it wouldn’t be good for families downstream.

Coleman scraped up some internal savings in the vast utility and met Clark’s pre-determined target of keeping rate increases below four per cent in the pre-election period. Mission accomplished, as George W. Bush might have said.

Then last week, an August working paper on the need for BC Hydro rate hikes was leaked. It showed BC Hydro making a case for new increases totaling 26 per cent over two years. The leak came via the Canadian Office and Professional Employees local 378, the BC Hydro inside staff union that has a history of mostly juvenile attacks on the B.C. Liberal government.

Bill Bennett, the current energy minister, spent the next couple of days repeating to anyone who would listen that this initial proposal had already been rejected, and that work was well along to make the rate increase more palatable. Perhaps it’s back to where it was in 2011.

COPE 378 and the NDP played their rehearsed roles. Both tried to blame the situation on private power contracts. The union and its political front are less concerned about rising power bills than they are about holding onto the state monopoly on electricity generation.

Energy industry lawyer David Austin calculates that of the proposed 26.4-per-cent increase, about 3.5 per cent can be attributed to BC Hydro buying power from private sources, at prices competitive with new public power sources such as the Site C dam. Most of it comes from the overdue repairs to those old dams, other costly projects including the addition of turbines to two Columbia River dams, and deferred debt from previous political meddling.

In August I reported that as many as 20 of BC Hydro’s existing private power purchase contracts will be cancelled or deferred. This was also seized upon to portray private power as the root of all evil, both financially and environmentally.

In fact the attrition rate on these projects has always been about one out of three. This is what happens when the risks of expanding the provincial electrical grid are shared with private investors.

These run-of-river and wind projects were promoted to maximize clean energy sources, as well as to spread the grid to remote areas. This was Gordon Campbell’s climate change strategy.

Then came the gas boom. Clark seized upon liquefied natural gas exports as the key to future prosperity, and the government soon declared burning gas “clean” as long as it facilitates LNG production.

Bennett now acknowledges that gas-fired power plants are an option for the future. They are cheaper than hydro, small or large.

Bennett’s two tasks are to supply industry with cheap power and get consumer rates under control. It looks as if the gas is being turned up, and Site C is moving to the back burner.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalNews.com

 

Just Posted

Chilliwack Chiefs erase three goal deficit in overtime win

Down 3-0 to the Cowichan Capitals, the Chiefs came back to win 4-3 in the BCHL Showcase match.

Chilliwack man feeling helpless about puppy stolen while at church

Evidence of neighbour trespassing and accusing him of dog neglect not enough for RCMP

UPDATE: Missing Chilliwack man has been found

Chilliwack RCMP is thanking the public for keeping an eye out

UPDATED: Chilliwack councillor’s expenses being sent to the RCMP

Decision to have expenses audited and shared with RCMP taken at special meeting of council

Risk of thunderstorm this afternoon for Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland

A special weather statement calls for heavy rain and wind over the next 48 hours

VIDEO: Neighbours fear impact of B.C. tent city residents

Greater Victoria residents opposed to campers voice concerns at provincial campground

B.C. premier apologizes for removal of 1950s totem pole at Canada-U.S. border

First Nations say pole was raised at Peace Arch but removed to make way for tourism centre

Tornado touches down in Ottawa and Gatineau, Que.

Environment Canada says cars and homes have been damaged by severe thunderstorms and high wind gusts

An unexpected sight: Bear spotted eating another bear in central B.C.

Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief finds bear eating another bear’s carcass

Free vet clinic caters to pets of homeless, low income people

The first such clinic in Langley will take place later this month.

RCMP confirm death of missing BC teen Jessica Patrick

No details on cause were given. Case is under criminal investigation and police are asking for tips.

Extradition hearing set for Lower Mainland developer accused of fraud

Mark Chandler will go before the B.C. Court of Appeals early next year.

CUTENESS OVERLOAD: 2 sea otters hold hands at the Vancouver Aquarium

Holding hands is a common – and adorable – way for otters to stay safe in the water

B.C. teen with autism a talented guitarist

Farley Mifsud is gaining fans with every performance

Most Read