Editorial: The fallacy of hydro conservation – and what to do about it

by Laura Keil, Publisher


Last year the Goat did a series on 2-tier hydro, BC Hydro’s rate structure which charges a higher rate for electricity if you exceed a very low threshold. Residents in the Robson Valley – and many other places in B.C. – don’t have access to natural gas, therefore conservation on cold days typically means either freezing our butts off or burning wood.

Now let me say something controversial: I believe in 2-tier hydro. But here’s how I think it should work.

In order to encourage less household woodburning in the Interior (which contributes to air pollution and health impacts similar to secondhand smoke), BC Hydro should provide a 2nd lower rate for additional electricity used when it’s cold.

It already has this data. Customers can go online and see how their consumption compares to outdoor temperature. And yet, at the moment, BC Hydro is charging us a higher rate for this “cold period” electricity as soon as we use up our ridiculously low quota of tier 1. It’s no surprise people are installing new wood stoves into homes that never used to have one, despite Valemount’s abysmal air quality. I wouldn’t want to stare at a $1,000 electrical bill either.

Charging less on colder days and at night makes sense in locations that only have polluting alternatives. Otherwise we are simply displacing the cost – onto the environment, onto our health and onto the healthcare system.

Heck, seeing as we live in the age of computers we could probably loop in the ventilation index as well.

I can already hear the criticisms, but, but, but… well BC Hydro’s current rate structure is already opaque and basically nonsense. A new algorithm that charges the people who heat with hydro less money will not offend any more than their current algorithm. There may be a cap on the lower rate to avoid wasteful use, and there would have to be geographic restrictions (restricted to places that don’t have natural gas for heating, for example, organized by postal code perhaps), but don’t you think this idea sounds plausible if there’s political will? If Victoria cares about the well-being of people living deep in the Interior and not just abstract ideas laid out by BC Hydro conservation experts?

Will the threshold be 5 degrees? 10 degrees? I believe the warmer the temperature threshold the better. B.C. can’t boast about its climate targets when Interior residents are rinsing the smoke smell out of their hair each morning.

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