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

 

Just Posted

A Saanich man received almost 10 years in Supreme Court in Courtenay for a shooting incident from 2018. Record file photo
Shooting incident north of Courtenay nets almost 10-year sentence

Richard Daniel Vigneault was arrested without incident and faced 16 counts

Danielle Egilson has been awarded a $40,000 post-secondary scholarship with The Cmolik Foundation. Photo supplied
Student from Courtenay’s Vanier Secondary lands prestigious scholarship

Cmolik Foundation provides opportunities for youth who’ve experienced adversity

Poverty is a sad reality for some people in the Comox Valley. Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Project takes a hard look at poverty in the Comox Valley

Objective is to reduce poverty in the Comox Valley by 25 per cent over four years

Dr. Aref Tabarsi, a general pathologist at the North Island Hospital Campbell River Hospital Medical Laboratory, spoke about the issue of service in the region at a meeting in February 2020. Black Press file photo
Comox Strathcona hospital board wants pathology service back

Board supports move for chair, vice-chair to engage with Island Health on issue

Comox town hall. Black Press file photo
Comox approves 2021 tax rates

Homeowners can expect a 4.95 per cent in their residential tax rates this year

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

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

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

The only access to 5th Street bridge heading east (toward Lewis Park) is via Anderton Avenue. Photo by Terry Farrell.
Single lane alternating traffic controls on Courtenay bridge now in effect

Single lane alternating traffic on the 5th Street Bridge is now in… Continue reading

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
MISSING: Salt Spring RCMP find woman’s car, still seek Island resident

Sinikka Gay Elliott is 5’3” with a slim build and dark brown short hair

Bradley Priestap in an undated photo provided to the media some time in 2012 by the London Police Service.
Serial sex-offender acquitted of duct tape possession in B.C. provincial court

Ontario sex offender on long-term supervision order was found with one of many ‘rape kit’ items

Rich Coleman, who was responsible for the gaming file off and on from 2001 to 2013, was recalled after his initial testimony to the Cullen Commission last month. (Screenshot)
Coleman questioned over $460K transaction at River Rock during B.C. casinos inquiry

The longtime former Langley MLA was asked about 2011 interview on BC Almanac program

Steven Shearer, <em>Untitled. </em>(Dennis Ha/Courtesy of Steven Shearer)
Vancouver photographer’s billboards taken down after complaints about being ‘disturbing’

‘Context is everything’ when it comes to understanding these images, says visual art professor Catherine Heard

Most Read