BC Hydro’s business is our business now

There is hardly a soul in B.C. who can afford to ignore the well-being of BC Hydro.

There is hardly a soul in B.C. who can afford to ignore the well-being of BC Hydro. From the moment we turn on the coffee maker in the morning until we turn off the bedside lamp we are literally plugged into and dependent on this province’s most powerful Crown corporation.

So, a lot of us paid attention last week when a trio of senior bureaucrats released a report that painted Hydro as fiscally compromised under the weight of costly political expectations.

The media focused primarily on the headline-grabbing findings: executive compensation, more PR flaks per cubicle than the government’s Public Affairs Bureau and the need to axe 1,000 workers.

What got less attention was a political and corporate agenda to save mega bucks by stripping clean, green, renewable energy out of the corporation’s portfolio of legislated obligations.

And what received studied indifference was the simultaneous release of Hydro’s 2011 annual report showing without question that our light utility continues to be a shining star in B.C.’s galaxy of tarnished Crown jewels.

For the record, the annual report states: “Net income after regulatory account transfers for the year ended March 31, 2011 was $589 million, compared to $447 million in the prior year.”

Yet, in a scramble to address Hydro’s bottom-line, the panel of mandarins gave Hydro and government the green light to put the brakes on green power.

It is important to recall that former premier Gordon Campbell was uncharacteristically insightful when he called for energy self-sufficiency secured by a new generation of environmentally benign, private sector-financed, clean power projects.

Campbell’s Clean Energy Act and the B.C. Energy Plan required Hydro be energy self-sufficient by 2016. However, the panel said: “Changing the definition of self-sufficiency … would substantially reduce the need for new clean energy.”

That was easy. With a stroke of a political pen, Hydro would not need to source new clean energy until 2016 or beyond and B.C.’s independent power producers (IPPs) would be in limbo with many leaving B.C. for more enlightened pastures.

The panel also pushed for the rehabilitation of natural gas, including “the continued use of Burrard Thermal as a source of back-up energy.” This was a clear invitation to reverse government policy.

Hydro never really wanted to partner with green power producers and CEO Dave Cobb immediately jumped on the mandarin bandwagon. In an eavesdropped conference call with staff, he predicted Victoria will soon abandon its current energy self-sufficiency policy and free Hydro from buying hundreds of millions of dollars worth of IPP electricity that it doesn’t need.

The IPPs knew this was coming, but their association, Clean Energy BC, has utterly failed to energize Hydro ratepayers with a compelling message of the broader benefits of green power — diverse, clean alternatives to mega-projects like the Site C Dam, jobs in struggling communities, careers for a bright new generation of talented young people dedicated to the environment, spin-off technological opportunities — the list is long.

Instead, the field of play has been surrendered to the green power naysayers. Sadly, that includes the New Democrats, the Wilderness Committee, Save Our Rivers and narcissistic curmudgeons like Rafe Mair — all in bed with the labour movement, which has conducted a relentless campaign to discredit private power to save union jobs. M

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