Private Hydro Power Projects

by Joe Foy

I am thinking that the so-called run of river private hydro power gold rush is just about over in British Columbia. That’s because the gold rush has turned out to be a fool’s gold rush.

In a recent report, University of BC professor George Hoberg found that BC is not short of hydro electricity (as BC’s government has been telling us) because, should we need more, we are entitled to a lot of Columbia River hydro electricity.

I figure all that’s left to do now is to turn off the remaining proposed private hydro power projects still working their way through BC’s approval processes – like the Kokish River on northern Vancouver Island,McLymont Creek located north of Stewart, and Ventigo Creek near Golden.

Then we’ll need to figure out how we can stop being financially bled to death by the private power guys – the companies that have, since 2003, staked hundreds of BC’s wild creeks, rivers and lakes, with the assistance and encouragement of BC’s government in Victoria.

A recent article by Jesse Ferreras in Whistler’s Pique news magazine says that by 2014 BC Hydro will be paying almost a billion dollars a year to the private power guys for electrical power BC Hydro has been forced to buy because of the policies of the government in Victoria. And in each subsequent year, for decades, our bill will continue to go up.

In the Vancouver Sun, Harvey Enchin makes the point that BC Hydro has recently signed long-term power purchase agreements with the private power guys that range from $76.20 to $133.80 per megawatt-hour. Compare that to market rates for hydro electricity from the US Columbia River which runs from $8.73 US to $30.92.

Our provincial government has forced BC Hydro to sign long-term contracts, now estimated to be worth about $30 billion in total for power we don’t need, and must sell at a tremendous loss to the Americans for many decades.

Feeling sick yet?

It gets worse. The people of BC have been told by Victoria to expect electricity rate increases of 50 per cent or more. The BC government says it is looking at alternatives to the rate increases – but none of them look very good. Either BC’s debt will grow even faster as we pay the private power guys’ exorbitant bills – or we’ll have to cut back on repairs to BC Hydro facilities, and our hospitals and schools.

And wasn’t it BC’s government that got us into this mess in the first place by ordering Hydro to buy high off the private power guys and sell low to the Americans? Why should we trust them to find a solution for a problem they created? We’ve been had – real bad. But it gets worse. Let’s say we had a government in Victoria that was actually looking after our interests and passed a law that in effect tore up the $30 billion worth of contracts BC Hydro has with the private power guys.

We’d be out of the woods – right? Well, no we wouldn’t.

Fish, like BC’s trout, salmon and char need cool clean water to survive. And the private power guys have been messing with that water big time. Take the Tyson Creek private power project on the Sunshine Coast, just one of many projects now operating across BC. A hole was blasted in the bottom of a lake, to run the water into a giant pipe to make electrical power. But the side of the lake collapsed in an underwater mudslide, spewing glacial till and sediment all over the downstream fish habitat.

What happens when the private power guys abandon their projects because neither BC Hydro nor anyone else wants to pay their crazy high rates? Who will pay to decommission the rusting tangle of pipes and wires left behind? Well, you and I will, because the private power guys will have taken our money and run, leaving the rest of us to clean up their mess. That’s because in this fool’s gold rush the only thing that’s being mined are pockets – yours and mine.

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Joe Foy is Campaign Director for the Wilderness Committee, Canada’s largest citizen-funded membership-based wilderness preservation organization.

[From WS Summer 2011]

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