BC Hydro

Leadership failures

Molly Walsh,  a climate justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, wrote that lofty rhetoric of politicians is far ahead of their planned actions to address climate change. She believes leadership failures leave the world on a catastrophic path:

Any chance of staying within 1.5C requires a huge amount of new renewable energy — a new IEA pathway pointed out that wind and solar power need to quadruple by 2030…

The energy transition will require huge amounts more renewable energy to be built. For this, we need public support. We need an energy transition that communities feel they can be a part of and that benefits everyone. This is why it is now more important than ever for our governments to allow the potential of community renewable ownership to be unleashed.

There is evidence that, when citizens and communities are engaged and benefit in meaningful ways in the energy transition, renewable policies are popular and supported. Studies show that involvement in local energy projects increases overall support for renewable technologies. With the right policies, renewable projects won’t just be endured, but will be supported and participated in.

Some people see citizen opposition to British Columbia’s Site C hydropower dam as hostility to the goal of electrifying our world.

Not so.

Even before its budget doubled to $16 billion, the project was a mistake. By diverting focus and finance, Site C and BC Hydro are blocking community and distributed energy initiatives that could provide long-term, carbon-free electricity, at lower cost, without offending Indigenous rights, or adding to environmental injustices.

There would be reduced need for high-voltage transmission lines, which in BC can exceed 1,200 kilometres in length. Long lines suffer major power losses and are vulnerable to weather and wildfires. In addition, rights-of-way are expensive to maintain and restrict use of vast tracts of BC land.

Just one example of community power is Ecopower of Belgium. Electricity supplied by the cooperative to its members consists almost entirely of wind energy, which is supplemented with electricity from its own solar panels and small-scale hydropower facilities.

Another is Windpark Ellhöft. A description:

Since 2007, a citizens’ wind park has brought together around three hundred members of the local communities around Schleswig Holstein, in northern Germany. United by their desire to use their natural resources to their advantage, they have succeeded in creating jobs and supplying their community with clean, renewable energy.

The shareholders – local villagers and farmers – are collectively responsible for the running and management of the wind park. With 7 turbines and a capacity of 27.5 MW, the park can produce enough energy for 18,750 households in the region.


Energy democracy is a social movement aiming to create a new paradigm for electric power supply. The objective is to link social justice with technical innovations by involving local communities in creation and ownership of renewable energy sources.

A paper written in Norway by Kacper Szulecki and Indra Overland includes:

The need to secure social acceptance of energy transitions is pushing policymakers and energy sector companies to engage with the previously unnoticed ‘social’ aspects of energy policy, which are in fact deeply political. Furthermore, increased public participation in resource governance and energy policy – as comparative research has shown – results in better, not just fairer, governance.

…The choices involved in designing energy transition pathways can no longer be bracketed as non-political. As Welton aptly notes:

Much of the present call for ‘energy democracy’ stems from recognition of the scale of the changes and choices at hand for the sector. Technocratic expertise provides limited grounds for making these choices.

The question of how to transform energy is one of values: although we have many technologies at hand to help in this transition… none of them is without expense, risks, or complications.

The demand for energy democracy has three exogenous drivers: climate change, market changes, and technological progress. Taken together, they explain much of the call for more democratic control of the electricity grid as the old, technocratic, closed-door regulatory model is ill-suited for present conditions and no longer proves satisfactory to anyone involved, including regulators, regulated utilities, and the class formerly known as “consumers”’.

Thombs underlines that depending on the criteria applied, technologies chosen etc., energy transitions will result in very different socio-technical regimes. This has important implications for democracy. Furthermore, the expansion of renewables and community energy initiatives has already broadened the pool of energy policy stakeholders.

Since the 1960s, BC Hydro has destroyed land and dispossessed or marginalized residents to complete megaprojects. While publicly owned, it is a monopolistic business empire stuck in a 20th century mindset. The company has routinely misinformed citizens, using lies to justify continuous expansion despite zero demand growth for the better part of two decades.

Liberal governments used BC Hydro to extract billions of dollars from ratepayers through water rentals and dividends, while they lowered tax rates on the province’s wealthiest citizens. Industries were subsidized and generous corporate friends like SNC-Lavalin were rewarded with lucrative contracts. Unscrupulous government insiders moved to BC Hydro for brief terms to double their enhanced benefit pensions. The province’s key utility has been a convenient golconda for important people.

Under the BC NDP, some of the beneficiaries changed but the game remains the same. Even worse, the need to modernize fundamentals of energy distribution in British Columbia is ignored and major change is left for the next generation.

Categories: BC Hydro

1 reply »

  1. STUCK in the 20th century? Lets try the 19th century. Once upon a time B.C. Hydro was B.C. Electric and then old WAC “confiscated” it the day after Del Grauer’s funeral. (he had been the President of the company. Old WAC then started his empire building with dams. Yes, they provided jobs and the dams still stand today, but back then the cost was high for people. There is an old black and white documentary about how they confiscated farm land, paying little, and then turning the ranchers out. Nothing has changed since those days.

    B.C. Hydro today continues with its ideology but this time with an NDP government in office. Granted the NDP most likely didn’t want to upset the workers by laying them all off, but give the amount of money being spent on the dam, dam, the government could have re allocated those workers to their home towns and built hospitals, schools seniors centers, day cares, roads, etc. People could have been retrained in areas where they would be needed in the future.

    What happens to the thousands of workers at Site C once the dam is finished? Will their skills be needed or will they become like the oil workers of Alberta?

    Having such a huge corporation dealing with our electricity all in a few spots, what a wonderful prize for hackers, as we have just seen in the U.S.A. Close to home electricity is safer, more economical, and just more convenient. Want to reek havoc on B.C., just cut those lines or hack into the system. things do not work well any more when we loose electricity. A few years ago, a couple of weeks before Christmas we had a major power outage due to a winter storm. Our area around Nanaimo was hit hard. Stores closed, couldn’t pump gas, people couldn’t get money from the bank. We were lucky, the indpendent local hardware store kept their doors open with their generators. I was able to charge my cell phone there. Their customers could purchase items they needed, with a promise to pay once they could get cash and/or the machines which take credit cards, were up and running. Some people were out of power for 2 weeks. We were lucky it was only 3 days and we had gas fireplaces.

    Solar and wind energy makes sense. Its out there free. Some argue we will need Site C for all the future electric cars. We might require electricity, but it can be obtained by using solar and wind. No need to flood thousands of acres. We’re going to need that land to feed people in the future. These dams have caused serious damage to Indigenous lands and people. It needs to stop.


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