In 2016, the Toronto National Post published a column that could have been written about British Columbia except Postmedia’s west coast papers are little engaged in journalism:
…The province [of Ontario] signed long-term contracts with a handful of lucky firms, guaranteeing them 13.5 cents per kWh … Obviously, if the wholesale price is around 2.5 cents, …someone has to kick in 11 cents to make up the difference…
Just to make the story more exquisitely painful, if the HOEP [Hourly Ontario Electricity Price] goes down further, for instance through technological innovation, power rates …go up to cover the losses.
Ontario’s policy disaster goes many layers further. If people conserve power and demand drops, …if everyone tries to save money by cutting usage, the price will just increase… Nor do Ontarians benefit through exports. …Ontario often ends up exporting surplus power at a loss.
…Electricity is cheaper to make than it’s been for a generation, yet Ontarians are paying more than ever…
I’ve been writing similar information about British Columbia for a few years but it is not a subject the local corporate press is willing to cover. Here, interests of the business coalition party rank higher than the public interest.
Strategies at play in both provinces are similar. Politically connected individuals took advantage of citizens’ desire for clean, renewable energy and the Liberals wrote contracts with “lucky firms” that bore no relationship to market prices and guaranteed massive private profits and ensured all financial risks were carried by the public. The contracts in British Columbia last as long as sixty years and involve prices that are now as much as 5x market value. In addition, the contracts have annual inflation escalators.
Across the continent, demand for power has not grown over the last decade, largely through technological efficiencies. Actual reductions could be realized by applying improved technologies more broadly but that route is not desired by utilities with surplus electricity to sell.
In British Columbia, we are compounding difficulties. Steadily rising purchases of private power add to surpluses and government is rushing to move the Site C dam past “the point of no return” and downplaying programs of conservation.
John Horgan, the man who should now be Premier, has a plan much different – and more affordable – than the one BC Liberals now pursue. It has four major elements, two of which aim at conservation, two of which aim at new supply:
- Retrofit public buildings,
- Retrofit homes and businesses,
- Maximize existing hydroelectric dams,
- Invest in clean energy.
Instead of delivering billions of dollars to a handful of political insiders and friends, PowerBC will ensure financial benefits to citizens and employers.
This is just one of the programs delayed by Premier Clark’s refusal to resign.