Powering up power debate
Just because your views lie between two extremes doesn’t necessarily mean yours are middle-of-the-road.
That’s how I feel about my opinions on the current foofaraw over B.C. Hydro’s surplus of power, the NDP’s claim that it’s going to cost us billions, and the Liberals’ placation that it’s just a market blip.
NDP energy critic John Horgan said Monday that BC Hydro stands to lose $1 billion over the next four years by selling surplus power at a loss.
Horgan renewed the NDP’s long-standing criticism of the B.C. Liberal government’s push for electricity self-sufficiency, and its requirement that all new clean energy sources be privately developed.
Long-term purchase contracts signed under that policy mean BC Hydro can expect to lose more than $1 billion by 2015, he said. He based his calculations on documents BC Hydro released when it filed its application last week for an environmental assessment for the proposed Site C dam on the Peace River.
The environmental impact statement for the dam shows an expected surplus of 5,200 gigawatt-hours for 2013 and similar surpluses out to 2015. Horgan said the current information suggests BC Hydro will have a surplus for the next 10 years.
Energy Minister Rich Coleman said Horgan is using a “snapshot” of today’s low spot market and extending the same demand and prices far into the future. The province has numerous mine projects underway or seeking approval, and liquefied natural gas export proposals are proliferating in northern B.C. that are also likely to increase demand for electricity, he said.
Coleman said the North American electricity market has likely reached bottom, with the U.S. using its own cheap natural gas to generate electricity and still suffering a slow economy with low power demand.
My first reaction, I suppose like many, is why the heck is anyone paying attention to the all the crap about conserving power … turn your thermostat down, wear a sweater, etc. Hydro’s been telling us for years we need to conserve energy. Turns out we have lots. Just kidding, sort of.
The whole thing, however, is more of a philosophical debate.
One of the benefits we have in this province is that we have lots of cheap, environmentally friendly hydroelectric power. It’s also one of our curses.
The problem lies in the fact that we have yet to find a way to produce power that’s more economical than hydro, yet we’ve pushed forward with wind, run-of-the-river, etc. Hydro is forced to buy the power that it could produce more cheaply in one of its dams, and then try to sell it at a profit. And that’s not always a bad thing. Twenty years ago the same issue raged in Williams Lake with the creation of a power generation plant using wood waste from the sawmills. It took a special Order in Council to force Hydro to take the power produced. The real benefit, though, was that it eradicated the flyash problem in the community from beehive burners.
Philosophically, I don’t agree with forcing Hydro to buy overpriced power from private producers just to line someone’s pockets. However, I also believe that we should be exploring more options for producing power than just hydroelectric and that Hydro and the private sector need to be a part of that discussion.