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B.C.’s declining electricity trade balance

August 4, 2010

Last Thursday’s BCCGE media release which outlined B.C.’s declining trade balance in electricity struck a chord with a number of people and garnered several positive responses.  As always, we’re happy to do our part and help shake the B.C. public out of its energy-complacent state.

As we pointed out in our media release, Statscan and BCStats data clearly show that the province as a whole has now become a net importer of electricity in addition to BC Hydro’s well-documented status as a net importer.

The analysis of Statscan and BCStats data currently shining a spotlight on B.C.’s “declining trade balance” in electricity is that of Professor George Hoberg of UBC’s Department of Forest Resources Management.  As we noted in our release, Professor Hoberg presented his analysis at a panel discussion in June hosted by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions at Vancouver’s Sheraton Wall Centre.

Several of us from BCCGE were present in the audience of over 250 at the Sheraton Wall Centre, and as Professor Hoberg indicated in his presentation, B.C. can only be seen as a net exporter of electricity if B.C.’s entitlement to electricity generated in the United States under the Columbia River Treaty is added to the export total.

But as our co-spokesperson David Field said in our release, “lumping the American generated electricity B.C. is entitled to under the Columbia River Treaty, and calling it an export, is misleading and even somewhat disingenuous.”

Lumping the treaty power in with B.C.’s electricity export figures gives a highly distorted picture of our province’s ability to generate electricity and it leads to the false impression that everything is fine and dandy. 

And as David pointed out, we can’t conveniently bring that treaty power into B.C. for our own use because there is no direct transmission line from the Columbia River generating facilities.  That’s why Powerex has always sold it directly to the American market and generated considerable revenue for the people of B.C.

When you take the Columbia Treaty power that Powerex sells on the American market out of the import-export equation, the true picture of B.C.’s status as net electricity importer pops right out. 

As Professor Hoberg’s analysis shows, on an average basis over the past five years, B.C. exported 8,664 gigawatt-hours of electricity per year and imported 10,095 gigawatt-hours.  

Comparing that to a domestic electricity supply of 66,022 gigawatt-hours and domestic demand of 67,453 gigawatt-hours, you end up with a net import figure of 1,430 gigawatt-hours of electricity or a 2 percent net import figure.

But that’s just the averaged figure, and as the Statscan data showing on page 13 of Professor Hoberg’s presentation shows, last year B.C. was the net importer of close to 4,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity or more than 2.5 times the five year average.   In fact, as Professor Hoberg points out, B.C. has been an net importer in 4 of the past 6 years.

Of course, there are always going to be a few people who prefer to be led around by ideological nose rings who simply won’t accept the bare facts.  We’ve certainly received a few nasty emails from some of these ideologically-blinkered people.  And based upon their invective laced text and angry name calling it’s clear that they don’t like it when someone dares to point out that their emperor-of-choice isn’t wearing any clothes.

The bottom line is that B.C.’s status as a net importer of electricity should not come as a shock to anyone.  B.C.’s population has grown considerably in recent years without any significant increase in electricity generating capacity. 

The warning signs have certainly been readily apparent.  Just look at BC Hydro which has been a net importer of electricity for years. Last year was the ninth year out of the past ten in which the crown utility has been a net importer and this year will make it ten years out of eleven. 

So, people can pretend that things are fine and dandy, and they can pretend that B.C.’s electricity entitlement under the Columbia River Treaty is an electricity “export” if they want. 

Unfortunately the hard data shows that we’re heading in the wrong direction and that we’re importing more and more of our electricity supply every year as our population grows and our generating capacity lags behind and that’s something we need to change.

One Comment leave one →
  1. CarbonFree permalink
    August 4, 2010 3:39 pm

    It is interesting that the NDP and COPE 378 who wish to socialize energy production in this province (so their people can take huge salaries) have nothing to say in response to Prof. Hoberg.

    Right before the elections, the NDP was saying BC doesn’t need more power and should not export power.

    Now it turns out that the facts were very different.

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