B.C. VIEWS: Get ready for Hydro rate hikes

Construction and maintenance costs rising, and so is government demand for BC Hydro revenue to balance budget

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett

VICTORIA – There’s a new sheriff in town for BC Hydro, and it didn’t take long for the political range war to resume.

The new sheriff, Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett, found himself on the barricades as soon as he got the hugely complex responsibility for energy and mines. His saddlebags bulge with reports on BC Hydro’s seemingly runaway costs, along with Premier Christy Clark’s “core review” to cut $50 million a year from government operations.

NDP energy critic John Horgan highlighted the latest BC Hydro troubles in his assault on the B.C. Liberal budget. First there was a $140 million cost overrun on the Northwest Transmission Line, under construction north from Terrace to the tiny Tahltan village of Iskut and adjacent mine properties.

Then BC Hydro revealed results of an audit of its earthquake preparedness. “Condition red” was the key message. Basically, the sprawling utility has disaster plans for each of its dams or other power facilities, but no overall way to get the provincial power grid back up after a major earthquake.

Horgan recited his list of BC Hydro sins after a decade of meddling by the BC Liberals: huge deferred debt revealed by the Auditor General, enormous liabilities for private power contracts, and more rate increases that Bennett has already admitted are on the way. And now they can’t even keep us safe from the big one.

Bennett fired back. About $2 billion of that debt is for seismic upgrades for the 80-year-old Ruskin Dam in Maple Ridge, and the equally frail John Hart Dam on the Campbell River, built with wooden water pipes. Major BC Hydro works slowed down after completion of Revelstoke and Mica dams in the 1980s, and now the work is more expensive.

The Northwest Transmission Line is a partnership with Imperial Metals, which wants to power its Red Chris copper-gold-silver mine. Bennett said the company is not only paying for the last section to Iskut and the mine site, but pitching in for the main line as well. Ottawa paid $130 million to get remote communities off decades of dependence on diesel generators.

AltaGas, owner of one of those private power projects in the region, puts in $180 million to get connected to the grid. The line will open up more mining and hydro possibilities.

The cost overrun traces back mainly to the shortage of high-skill labour such as geotechnical engineering that the remote region already faces. And this is before natural gas pipelines and LNG plants gear up.

Bennett takes over from the last sheriff, Rich Coleman, who put BC Hydro through the wringer in 2011. Coleman soon abandoned his idea of putting off the Ruskin and John Hart upgrades (again) to keep rates low through the election, and saw the B.C. Utilities Commission jack up the rate increase to seven per cent to help slow the ballooning debt.

What’s ahead for rates? The utility is looking for 32 per cent in the next three years, says energy lawyer David Austin. He calculates that only 2.5 per cent is attributable to increased private power costs. Among other things, BC Hydro needs regional emergency centres capable of functioning after a Japan-sized quake, plus expansion.

Bennett came clean on another reason for rate increases – the government’s increasing dependence on taking a “dividend” as BC Hydro’s lone “shareholder.”

The newly updated budget tells us this annual “dividend” is past $500 million and rising fast: $545 million this year, $611 million next year and $684 million the year after.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

 

Just Posted

B.C. BUDGET: Surplus $374 million after bailouts of BC Hydro, ICBC

Growth projected stronger in 2020, Finance Minister Carole James says

Opinion: The Second Street development might be a problem – but it’s not council’s problem

Reporter Kate Saylors writes about the common misconception surrounding a BC Housing development.

What’s happening for Family Day in the Boundary

Activities in and around Grand Forks offer something for everyone.

Call a foul on cancer with the Pink Whistle Campaign

Local basketball referees are raising money for cancer research

Petition on Second Street project presented to council

Over 1,000 signatures were gathered, but staff say council can’t do much about the project.

VIDEO: 8 things you need to know about the 2019 B.C. budget

Surplus of $247 million with spending on children, affordability and infrastructure

‘Bullet missed me by an inch’: Man recounts friend’s killing at Kamloops hotel

Penticton man witnessed Summerland resident Rex Gill’s murder in Kamloops

B.C. BUDGET: Income assistance raise still leaves many below poverty line

$50 per month increase included in funding for poverty and homelessness reduction

B.C. BUDGET: Indigenous communities promised billions from gambling

Extended family caregiver pay up 75 per cent to keep kids with relatives

B.C. BUDGET: New benefit increases family tax credits up to 96 per cent

BC Child Opportunity Benefit part of province’s efforts to reduce child poverty

B.C. BUDGET: Carbon tax boosts low-income credits, electric vehicle subsidies

Homeowners can get up to $14,000 for heating, insulation upgrades

B.C. man survives heart attack thanks to Facebook

A Princeton man suffered a heart attack while at an isolated property with no cell service

B.C. man sues Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party over trademark

Satinder Dhillon filed application for trademark same day Maxime Bernier announced the new party

New trial ordered over banning whales, dolphins at Vancouver aquarium

Park board’s appeal reverses previous decision that found it had no right to implement a ban

Most Read