While BC Liberals and ardent supporters such as the Fraser Institute claim to favour free markets, private power contracts show how false the commitment is. We can’t know the price paid for AltaGas power in BC because contracts are secret but the amount is certainly more than three times the $33 per MWh market price paid in Alberta. This demonstrates why big businesses in this province are putting up big dollars to ensure Liberals continue controlling government. British Columbia is rich in natural resources but Christy Clark and friends are determined that profits should accrue to very wealthy friends and are not to be wasted on ordinary citizens.
Despite the flat demand for power, BC Hydro is not only buying more private power, its capital spending program is out of control. As a result, despite a reduction in sales to BC customers since 2005, the utility’s assets in 2016 are 256% of the total eleven years ago. With Site C and other major capital projects, we can expect assets to grow by another 15-20 billion dollars in the near future. BC Hydro’s politicized management, under directions from Victoria, are hiding bad news with accounting trickery and, while they’ve increased the average price to residential and business consumers by 74% since 2005, the rates must rise significantly or the province must reverse the flow of cash from the public treasury to the accounts of BC Hydro.
Demand for electricity is in decline. Technology has changed. Dams are not benign and other sources of power are less expensive. Meaningful conservation is cheaper still.
A message to BC Hydro: “Figure out what you are supposed to be doing, then do it.
W.A.C. Bennett established this vital crown corporation to provide reliable, affordable power to British Columbians. That’s what it should be doing.
Instead, it is forcing citizens to pay much higher prices to provide financial benefits to foreign owned companies and a band of me-first IPP slicksters and a group of political contributors gaining returns on their liberal investments by sitting in the boardroom of BC Hydro.
Looming disasters in BC, ON and LN have one thing in common. They are the work of Liberal government controlled and politically manipulated Crown corporations.
Increasing IPP purchases and flat demand for power obviously means that BC Hydro creates less power to meet demand by its users in BC. However, massive spending means the utility employs more than triple the assets to produce one gigawatt hour of electricity than it did a dozen years ago. This is bad policy not explained by mere incompetence of management. We must conclude that the Liberal Government is directing the public utility, either to cripple it or to deliver billions of dollars to friends and supporters.
Swag is what British Columbia’s Liberal Party is about. Whether it’s cash-for-access, pay-to-play, quango patronage or tried and true scratch-my-back contracting, Liberals are practiced at converting public wealth to private. BC Hydro is an example. The utility paid private power producers over $9 billion between 2003 and 2016. But, that’s only the start.
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, guaranteed massive private profits and ensured all financial risks stayed with the public. The contracts in British Columbia last as long as sixty years and allow prices that are as much as 5x market value. In addition, the contracts have annual inflation escalators, a privilege allowed no other commercial segment. All taxpayers get is more power to sell at a loss.
BC Hydro has been managed to deliver billions of dollars in benefits to independent power producers. Had IPPs been left to sell their product to the same free market that BC Hydro trades into, they would have gained 4.9 billion fewer revenue dollars since 2003.
In a comment at an earlier article, Alison Creekside – a fine blogger you should read regularly – linked to this 2009 video of MLA Corky Evans. He talked about BC Liberals turning loose a private power gold rush but it was one that sluiced only half a billion a year. This year it will be closer to one and a half billion and the contracts BC Hydro has already signed total almost $60 billion. The number continues growing.
The mainstream media, as is to be expected, is largely parroting the government’s cover story and ignoring the real problem: BC Hydro and its ratepayers are in a world of hurt because of 12 years of very deliberate and disastrous BC Liberal Government policies, pushed on the public utility.
In 2001, for each dollar of assets, BC Hydro had 63¢ in electricity sales. In 2016, the number fell to 17¢. BC Hydro sold more electricity to residential, commercial and industrial customers in 2005 than the utility did in 2016. BC Hydro did that with assets worth 40% of today’s value. Shockingly, the company is embarked on a program of capital expenditure that will add about $15 billion to its list of assets. By any measure, the management of BC Hydro has been a colossal failure, incompetence made worse by chicanery and flawed policy objectives.
In the last five years, the delivery of cash to IPPs totaled $4.6 billion. If the established trend continues, the amount will be $8.3 billion in the next five years. Amounts flowing to IPPs and the necessary write-off of more than $6 billion in deferred costs means in the next five years, consumers will pay rates 60% higher than they’ve paid in the last five years. In addition, more than $10 billion dollars is committed to Site C and BC Hydro has been spending over $2 billion a year on capital expenditures. Without profitable new markets – none are anticipated – the 60% price rise for electricity could be 100% in the foreseeable future.
Devastation of many private power installations in BC wilderness involves:
blasting and tunnelling, clearcuts for the penstocks, clearcuts for the power lines to join clusters of powerhouses together, service roads larger than for logging, clusters of permanent powerhouses, diversion of waterfalls, drying of rivers…
Politicians assumed that power demand would grow and prices rise so they readily agreed to BC Hydro purchase contracts that were decades long with annual price escalation tied to inflation. They carelessly assumed the arrangements would be beneficial to all. However, what private industry achieved was guaranteed sales with guaranteed profits. All of the financial risks were carried by the public.