Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s plan for run-of-river generators was a mistake. It left BC Hydro in debt and with power it can’t use. The NDP government plans to let some of those independent contracts expire.
B.C.’s auditor general, Carol Bellringer, found that BC Hydro has accumulated $5.5 billion in deferred expense accounts. The government plans to write down $1.1 billion of those accounts on BC Hydro’s books.
While BC Hydro rates will increase, the increase won’t be as much as expected says Minister of Energy Michelle Mungall:
“We were committed to finding the best possible reduction, as much reduction as we possibly could from the existing plan under the B.C. Liberals, and we have looked in every corner to find every penny that we can pinch,” Mungall said at a news conference. “We have found that and were able to reduce the rate increases by 40 per cent (Globe and Mail, February 14, 2019).”
The NDP government has also pledged more oversight over BC Hydro by the utilities commission. That will include less interference by government, I hope.
Lack of oversight is what got BC Hydro in trouble when Campbell decided in 2002 to push his ideology of privatization on BC Hydro. It was a clever move in some respects because he could carve out some of BC Hydro’s public generating facilities to privately run generators while claiming to promote “green power.”
BC Hydro was forced to pay a higher rate for electricity generated which included run-of-river hydro, wind and biomass power. According to a report commissioned by the government entitled “Zapped,” those contracts are expected to cost the utility $16 billion over the next 20 years.
One problem with run-of-river hydro is that it generates power in the spring when rivers are full and not much in the winter when electricity is needed for heating.
We don’t need all the 131 independent power projects that BC Hydro has signed on to. In the past 12 months, BC Hydro has let three energy purchase agreements expire without renewal and more are targeted.
One of those targeted is with the Hupačasath First Nation on Vancouver Island. They are still in debt from the $14 million investment made in their run-of-river facility in 2005. It was supposed to be a model for Indigenous clean-energy opportunities. Now, BC Hydro says it may not renew the contract in 2025 – just as the project is expected to finally deliver profits to the community.
The NDP will face a lot of flack by changing the course of BC Hydro, including protests from some Indigenous communities, from conservatives like the BC Liberals who believe that private companies can do a better job, and from environmentalists who think small is beautiful and that BC Hydro is a corporate monstrosity.
It makes sense to me that a public utility can deliver electricity at a cheaper rate than a private one because no profits go to external shareholders. We are the shareholders of BC Hydro and barring government interference, we should be the beneficiaries. It’s our dam power.