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

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

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A police vehicle turns on to Landing Drive on the Skwah Reserve on Thursday, March 11, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
One man charged after allegedly pointing firearm at Chilliwack RCMP officer

Richard Joseph Williams faces 6 charges after March incident near McCammon elementary and Skwah

Linnea Labbee outside the Chilliwack Law Courts on April 1, 2021 on day 16 of her trial in BC Supreme Court where she is charged in connection with the fatal hit-and-run of a 78-year-old woman on Mary Street on Dec. 1, 2016. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Crown seeking jail time for 72-year-old Chilliwack woman found guilty in fatal hit-and-run

Trial of Linnea Labbee who struck and killed 78-year-old woman in 2016 ended Monday

RCMP patch. (File)
Young prolific offender from Hope faces another raft of charges

Jacob Paul Sihata charged in 3rd set of serious incidents since he was 19

Former Merritt Centennial and current Chilliwack Chief Jackson Munro (left) evades Merritt’s Chase Cook during a weekend BCHL game at the Chilliwack Coliseum. (Darren Francis photo)
Goalies lead Chilliwack Chiefs to pair of wins in weekend BCHL action

Mathieu Caron picked up a shutout Friday and Jakob Gullmes earned his first BCHL victory Sunday

Environment Canada says the Eastern Fraser Valley will enjoy plenty of sunshine this week. (Black Press News File)
Sunny weather to stay around all week in Eastern Fraser Valley

Chilliwack, Abbotsford and Hope all forecasted for a week free of rainfall

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

Surrey RCMP are seeking the public's help to locate three puppies stolen from a South Surrey home on April 10. (Surrey RCMP photos)
Puppies stolen during weekend break-and-enter in South Surrey

Surrey RCMP seeking public’s assistance in locating three American Bulldog puppies

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

Mounties say they “corralled” four Ford Mustangs April 4 after an officer saw the muscle cars racing down 184 Street near 53 Avenue at about 10 p.m. (File Photo)
Mounties impound four Mustangs

Surrey RCMP say they seized four cars for street racing

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

Most Read