In 2008 BC Hydro began using a two tier rate for electricity, it was supposed to be a conservation measure, but has it worked? What if two tier hydro didn’t promote conservation at all but actually caused greater emissions, broke the government’s own rules about price discrimination and caused customers without access to natural gas to subsidize the cost of electricity for people who did? A grassroots effort has been causing BC Hydro and Fortis BC to re-examine the two tier system, and recently Fortis has announced they would abandon it.
This is a three part series examining how that happened, the impact of the two tier electricity rate locally and provincially and what should be done.
by Andru McCracken
Two tier hydro was introduced by BC Hydro in 2008 as a energy conservation measure. It lined up with the Liberal government’s BC Energy Plan:
“The BC Energy Plan sets out a strategy for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and commits to unprecedented investments in alternative technology…” said a message from Premier Gordon Campbell in 2008.
While BC Hydro has had a two tier rate since 2008, FortisBC, an electricity provider in some areas of the province, introduced its version of two tier electrical rates in 2012.
Nick Marty noticed something was wrong right away.
“I heat my home with electricity, so when the two tier system was put in place, my rates went way up, and I knew that other customers’ rates were going down,” said Marty.
Marty had retired to Anarchist Mountain, a small community just east of Osoyoos in the Okanagan and he knew a thing or two about energy conservation.
He was the director of policy development and analysis with the Office Of Energy Efficiency at Natural Resources Canada. He had been in charge of designing the federal government’s measures to promote energy efficiency and reduce emissions.
“I looked into it and came to the conclusion that they had designed the two tier program all wrong. They simply have misunderstood the economic concept behind it and have implemented incorrectly,” he said.
“It wasn’t promoting efficiency; it was actually encouraging greater emissions and it was price discrimination against customers that use electricity for space and water heating,” he said.
Marty organized a petition and met with Minister Bill Bennett who was the provincial energy minister at that time.
Marty brought his complaints to British Columbia Utilities Commission and after years of fighting he has made headway.
“We’ve made some progress. It hasn’t been won yet,” he said. “We’re on the 10 yard line.”
In January, Fortis BC announced they would phase out their two tier system. Marty isn’t quite satisfied yet though, they have said they’ll take their time about it.
“It wouldn’t be until 2023 that we’ve actually returned to the flat rate,” he said.
Now he’s part of another push to make sure the changes are made in a timely matter.
“We’re going to be arguing that we need to move to the flat rate on January, 1 2019,” he said.
“We have a pretty strong case as to why we need to move immediately back to the flat rate,” he said.
Marty said BC Hydro could be affected by this decision, but it will take some time for it to have that effect.
Marty said BC Hydro’s two tier scheme, although slightly different, is just as bad.
He said now is the time for citizens to lobby the NDP and Green party to change the rates.
In the Goat’s coming segments, we’ll cover what BC Hydro’s 10-year two tier experiment has meant locally, BC Hydro’s position, what our local MLA believes should happen and what political parties are promising to do about it.