Today, the British Columbia government released its report on its review of BC Hydro. The comprehensive Report is written by a government appointed review panel which was devised in response to BC Hydro’s proposed 32% electricity rate increase over three years.
The Report provides 56 recommendations to BC Hydro and mostly addresses the internal operations of BC Hydro, but also touches on current and past BC energy policy and the impact on BC Hydro operations.
The Report does not directly address the future of the BC clean energy industry, but if you read between the lines, the Report does offer some nuggets of information that could impact independent power producers and clean energy enthusiasts. For instance, there is a recommendation that government and BC Hydro review the Clean Energy Act’s self-sufficiency requirement considering the current market price of electricity (see pages 92-93). This would certainly be a worthwhile exercise, but there are no easy answers as to how to best address this issue.
There is also some discussion about the Report which states (on page 107) that "IPPs in F2010 provided 16% of the total domestic electricity requirements, while representing 49% of the domestic energy cost." This may or may not be true, but it is a misleading statement if taken out of context. The majority of British Columbia’s generating facilities (large-scale dams) were built in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, so naturally, the cost of power from these facilities is substantially lower than from facilities built more recently. As the BC economy has grown, new generation facilities (some by IPPs, some by BC Hydro) were built at market rates. The cost of old power and new power are blended together to form today’s rates. Therefore, it categorically misleading (though perhaps self-serving) to characterize IPPs built today as expensive compared to inexpensive power coming from the dams built decades ago. I am not always certain people are aware of this basic difference. Power from facilities built more recently is of course more expensive than power from dams built years ago. BC Hydro, or anyone for that matter, can build power facilities today, at 1960s rates. But in growing economies, new electricity generation is needed to support the demand, and in BC, we are blessed with the legacy of cheap power from dams, so when it is mixed with new generation, BC is able to enjoy some of the lowest electricity rates in the world. But for how long? That still remains to be seen.
If we have learned anything over the past few years, is that a fluid energy policy is crucial for British Columbia – an energy policy which can adapt to market forces, provide optimal balance between private, public and first nations enterprise, and protect the environment for future generations of British Columbians.
As the Province moves forward in the 21st century, partnerships among power purchasers, producers, first nations and other key stakeholders are critical. The government Report on BC Hydro adds valuable insight to the ongoing discussion and debate on how British Columbia can best meet the economic, environmental and community goals in building a clean energy future in the Province of British Columbia.
Here are media reports from the Globe and Mail; Vancouver Sun; and Vancouver Sun editorial board.