In 2003, the B.C. Liberals hatched their Green Energy Plan, the cornerstone of which would be the purchase of electricity from Independent Power Producers who were granted the right to use public rivers for private power generation. Most of these projects were the run-of-the-river systems that take water, as it is available, from the rivers to generate power. By 2012, many of these projects had come on line and their impact can now be examined.
Interruptible Export figures obtained from the National Energy Board, give us an idea of what’s happening with BC Hydro and its energy accounts. For four months; May through August 2012, BCH exported the equivalent of 2,000 Mw of capacity (twice the capacity of the proposed Site C) to the US. Overall, for 2012, this energy was sold at 2.33 cents per kilowatt-hour while Hydro’s contracts paid the IPPs approximately 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, to produce it. The differential of about nine cents is being covered mainly by ratepayers and increases in Hydro’s debt.
The huge amount of energy exported during the summer months results from the run-of-the-river projects peaking in output while electricity demand is low and B.C.’s reservoirs are full. B.C. has no use for this temporary power surplus other than to dump it onto the export market, at cut-rate prices.
Yet, there’s another side to the Liberal’s energy plan. In March 2012, Hydro’s exports were the equivalent of only 400 Mw. This hasn’t changed much, when compared with the same month in the years before the Liberals got their tentacles into BC Hydro. At this time of the year, with most of winter’s precipitation locked up in snow the IPPs contribute little. Also, following a winter of high energy demand Hydro’s reservoirs have been drawn down and their effective capacity is diminished.
For a government hooked on mega projects, all of which consume huge amounts of uninterrupted base power, delivered on a 24/7 basis year round, the IPP projects are grossly ineffective. Keep in mind that open pit mines need 100 Mw each, the two pipelines will consume nearly 400 Mw, and LNG plants require 250Mw each. If Christy Clark’s grandiose plans are to come to fruition, other energy sources will be required because diverting existing surpluses won’t do the job.
On May 23, 2012 the Globe & Mail reported that Premier Christy Clark had canceled the BC Utilities’ Commission hearings into the operation of BC Hydro. Do we need to ask why ?