I’ve been trying to wrap my head around just how big a part BC Hydro plays in the lives of British Columbians. Here at the Goat, we are a small community newspaper, and we try to cover issues that are of particular relevance and importance to the Robson and Canoe Valley area. There are issues we would love to cover, but we just don’t have the time or resources to dig into many of them, and many are being covered by other news outlets, better than we could with our limited resources. But there are a few related to BC Hydro that I have been following recently, and it is difficult to pick one aspect that is more important, because they are all potentially really big issues in our lives.
There is the Columbia River Treaty potentially being renegotiated, and many groups (on both sides of the border) bringing up issues with the existing Treaty and a really big issue is including environmental concerns in the Treaty, not just flood control and power generation. While there are groups pushing for the revitalization of the Columbia River, with a goal being the eventual removal of dams, BC Hydro is planning to build Site C on the Peace River, flooding another valley, to generate “clean” power for industry – the industry of Liquid Natural Gas, which is another energy industry. Flood a valley to produce one form of energy to produce another form of energy to be shipped out of BC. How is that logical? Apparently it doesn’t have to be, it just has to be profitable for someone. Not us. Flooding Canoe Valley was certainly not profitable for us.
There is the fact that a single cross arm can take out power to an entire circuit from Kamloops to McBride for 6 hours, as we saw last week. Where is the redundancy? BC Hydro was happy to tell us that they got power restored more quickly than they had estimated, but if it had come back on at 11 am instead of 9:30, that still would have looked good for them. It’s them that gave us the estimate.
There is the increase to rates. In 2010-11, BC Hydro wanted a rate increase of 9.73 per cent for each of three consecutive years (totaling an increase of well over 30 percent), but the provincial government directed the BC Utilities Commission to reduce BC Hydro’s increases by 50 per cent. That supposedly saved BC families lots of money in legal fees and costs for an oral hearing, but BC Hydro had already spent $1.3 million on their request. BC Hydro is apparently now looking for another 26 per cent increase from 2014-16, and the government says it won’t ok that amount, but won’t hazard to suggest a number. I recall being surprised that some people in BC were moving toward electric heating for their homes, and away from fossil fuels and wood, but with rates increasing at this speed – not to mention the difficulty in understanding a power bill – I think many of them might be regretting that choice. According to the government, we do still have the lowest rates in the country. But how can you rely on that when the government won’t speculate on how much rates can increase?
There is the issue with “smart meters,” and the stories of forcible installations for people who want to avoid the safety risk of radiofrequency waves that you can’t turn off. The government announces what they call a compromise for the few who haven’t already had a smart meter installed, and then BC Hydro uses scare tactics – informing people by letter about how much more they will have to pay to keep their old device, even though that fee has not been approved by BC Utilities Commission. Of course, the BC Utilities Commission is just another arm of government, and government will again look good when they tell BC Hydro to lower that fee (but not cancel it).
There is BC Hydro’s 20 year plan for how to meet rising energy demand, which they are currently taking written comments on, in which they estimate a 40 per cent increase in demand. Their numbers show that over the last 20 years, population has increased 31 per cent, residential usage of electricity has increased 50 per cent, and the total usage has increased only 23 per cent. Their estimated forecast for the next 20 years is that population will increase less and residential usage will increase less, but that total usage will increase by 40 percent, representing huge estimated growth in industry usage. They are planning to flood another valley to generate “clean” energy (electricity) to manufacture energy (liquid natural gas) to ship by pipelines out of the province. But there is also $445 million in their 20 year plan that BC Hydro intents to spend on conservations measures.
They are going to increase spending to achieve 7,800 gigawatt-hours per year energy savings, and 1,400 MW in capacity savings by 2021. If they increase spending to save electricity, will that make the electricity more expensive?
How about we not flood Site C, and make the LNG industry use its own energy to power itself? Or maybe LNG won’t even need Site C flooded if that $445 million is spent wisely and the conservation measures work.
There is the city of Langford who is looking for help to stop BC Hydro from downloading infrastructure costs to the developers in their city. BC Hydro has already refused to pay for the upgraded power line between Valemount and McBride that was on one of the projects the government felt they could help with in the McBride to Barriere corridor pilot project.
There is the fact that an electricity-intensive manufacturer like Catalyst Paper is asking for an exemption from PST on electricity and a freezing of rates to protect their 7,000 employees and $2 billion economic impact on the province. They boast in a letter to the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George that they are BC Hydro’s biggest industrial customer, and they claim that the competitiveness of industrial electricity rates needs to be restored to protect jobs and the economic health of our region and BC. Aren’t we paying the lowest electricity rates in the country? Is there something Catalyst knows about that we don’t?
There is the fact that a massive crown corporation like BC Hydro hires contractors that take months to pay their local subcontractors, amounts that are drops to the big guys, but can make a big difference to small companies.
These small companies are not allowed to add more than two per cent in late charges per month, while the big companies’ balances are likely gaining interest at a much higher rate. Yet if you are late paying your residential bill, you’ll be put on their “disconnect” list pretty quickly – over as little as $75.
All of these issues, and more, I think are important, but when dealing with them all put together, it is mind-boggling. Where does one start?
By: Korie Marshall