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B.C.’s road to electricity self-sufficiency

May 12, 2010

The Vancouver Sun’s energy specialist, Scott Simpson, had an interesting article in yesterday’s paper in which he noted that wind energy projects account for about half of the renewable electricity supply contracts recently awarded by BC Hydro under the soon-to-be concluded 2008 Clean Power Call.

It’s no secret that B.C. has lagged behind every other Canadian province in harnessing renewable wind energy, even  though we have some of the best wind energy resources in the country.  So the recent progress we’ve seen on the wind energy front is definitely good news.

The Bear Mountain wind park near Dawson Creek, for example, has been supplying clean, wind-generated electricity to B.C. since last November, and early next year the Dokie Ridge wind project near Chetwynd will likewise be adding to B.C.’s supply of renewable clean wind energy.

Renewable wind energy is the perfect complement to B.C.’s immense hydroelectric resources because the wind tends to be at its strongest and most consistent during the winter months, a time when BC Hydro’s reservoirs are starting to run low on water. 

Having an available supply of renewable wind energy will allow BC Hydro to conserve its water resources at a critical time (storing water for later use) without having to resort to burning carbon emitting fossil fuels to keep B.C.’s lights on.

However, wind energy’s growing role in B.C. also touches on another important issue; namely, B.C.’s goal to become energy self-sufficient by 2016. 

As noted in BC Hydro’s 2009/10–2011/12 Service Plan, BC Hydro serves 95 per cent of B.C.’s population, and for the past decade or so BC Hydro has been a net importer of electricity (with much of that imported electricity coming from coal-fired generators in Alberta and Washington state).

Although some green energy opponents have tried to dispute the fact that we’ve become a net importer of electricity, page 67 of BC Hydro’s 2008 Annual Report provides definitive proof that we are in fact net importers.  Here’s what BC Hydro’s 2008 Annual Report states:

“Prior to fiscal 2008, BC Hydro was a net importer of electricity for seven consecutive years due to average or below average system water conditions every year. Fiscal 2008 was an exceptional inflow year, with inflows well above normal, resulting in BC Hydro being a net seller of electricity. The outlook for fiscal 2009 is for a return to average inflow conditions and, as a result, it is expected that BC Hydro will once again be a net importer of electricity.”

The new BC Clean Energy Act enshrines B.C.’s electricity self-sufficiency target in legislation along with B.C.’s greenhouse gas reduction targets.  Previously, the electricity self-sufficiency target for 2016 was embodied in Special Direction 10 — the subject of much discussion and debate during last year’s BC Utilities Commission hearings related to BC Hydro’s failed Long Term Acquisition Plan (LTAP).

As Scott Simpson states in his article:

“The provincial government has ordered Hydro to shed its status as a net importer of electricity by 2016, and the Crown corporation is using a mix of independent power, conservation programs, and hydro-generation system upgrades to hit that target – barring any unanticipated demand surge such as a substantial consumer shift to electric vehicles.”

Simpson raises an important point here, namely, the strong likelihood of a consumer shift to electric vehicles.

As the discussions at last year’s LTAP hearings made clear, BC Hydro’s current projections for meeting B.C.’s growing electricity needs do not account for any substantial shift to electric vehicles.  BC Hydro’s electricity demand projections also don’t account for shifts to clean electricity in other B.C. sectors looking to reduce their carbon footprint.

As BC Hydro’s acting vice-president of customer care and conservation said in Scott Simpson’s article:

“One of the big things on the demand side we need to watch is the development of the carbon economy in B.C. By that I mean [developments] where the electricity system will be used to take up industry or transportation sectors that are reducing their carbon footprint, and will certainly have to have a fair amount of their economic development taken up by the electricity system.”

This is definitely something to watch out for and something to prepare for, because if we don’t have the clean energy supplies we need for future needs like electric vehicles (which should never be the case considering the abundance of clean energy resources we can draw from here in B.C.) the electrification of the transportation sector could see us simply replacing one fossil fuel for another, i.e., non-renewable coal-fired electricity in place of non-renewable oil and gas.


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