Nov 3, 2009

You Don’t Have to Sell BC Hydro to Give it Away


I recently told a right wing friend of mine that this is the worst government British Columbia has had in a very long time. I said that not because of its political orientation and values that time and again favour the interests of the wealthy over the less fortunate in a rather shameless way. I said it because of the gross incompetence it is exhibiting in so many areas, but particularly when it comes to BC Hydro.

The government’s policy here is a simple one. First, force BC Hydro to buy more power than it needs by ignoring its ability to import power when extreme drought conditions reduce the generating capability of its major hydro stations. And ignoring the downstream power benefits that are returned to (and owned by) the province under the Columbia River Treaty — an amount of power equal to the potential output from Site C. And most recently by pretending the Burrard Thermal plant doesn’t exist — that it can’t provide any back up in emergency drought conditions even though we have to maintain the plant to be able to meet peak winter capacity requirements.

Next, artificially increase the demand for electricity with what I like to call a buy high-sell low policy of charging new electric intensive mines less than half the cost of the new electricity supply BC Hydro must acquire to meet their requirements — an effective subsidy of tens of millions of dollars per year per mine.

And finally, force BC Hydro to look only to the private sector to develop new sources of energy, no matter how costly and low in value many of these sources are or what cumulative environmental impacts they have.

You do, in this process, create an artificial private power producer (IPP) industry. And politically you reap the rewards of mindless consulting reports, uncritically regurgitated in the mainstream press, touting all the investment and jobs that will be created. And there is the green veneer — the suggestion that building more power plants and transmission lines than you need, and encouraging more electric (and GHG)  intensive mines with effectively subsidized power rates is somehow good for the environment.

But of course the investment and jobs in the IPP industry and electric intensive mining industry don’t come for free. They are being paid for by BC Hydro, which in turn passes on the extraordinary costs it is being forced to incur to you and me.  The bill for all this, by which I mean not the total cost, but the extra costs due to the unnecessary, inefficient and, I would argue, environmentally unfriendly government policy is well over a billion dollars — easily heading for two. A billion or two we don’t have to spend, that you could spend in other ways, generating jobs and investment just like the IPPs. A billion or two that essentially strips BC Hydro of the net benefits we all could have shared in.

Not once through all the announcements and media spin (sadly spun by the mainstream media reporters themselves) has there been any analysis of the benefits and costs of what the government is forcing BC Hydro to do. Simple measures, for example the amount and cost per tonne of any net reduction in GHGs, or the effective subsidy per job, would be not too much to ask. But there is no justification, only slogans and press releases.

It is, as I said to my right wing friend, either corruption or stupidity. Except for the obvious influence of election support, I’m not a conspiracy theorist myself — I think it’s stupidity. But either way it still is a disgrace — much worse than anything I saw in the Clark or Harcourt governments or the Socred governments that preceded them.

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