Don’t play politics with BC Hydro

The Ruskin dam came online in 1930

VICTORIA – Rich Coleman is B.C.’s fourth energy minister in the past year, which is as good a measure as any of the political storm that has rocked the government.

On only his second day on the job, Coleman was already showing why Premier Christy Clark calls him a “tough guy” who can stare down the big-spending BC Hydro. Clark is, of course, concerned that it may not be “good for families” if Hydro rates go up 50 per cent in the next five years.

The city media made a big story out of how Coleman is considering pulling the plug on the smart meter program or some other expensive project like the Ruskin dam overhaul. Interim NDP leader Dawn Black is demanding that the new premier “tackle skyrocketing Hydro rates” now that she’s eliminated poverty by raising the minimum wage.

Don’t hold your breath. What Coleman actually mused about in his first scrum as energy minister was “amortization” and such. It’s not a question of whether or not B.C.’s 20-year lapse in grid and dam upgrades needs fixing, only how fast it’s done.

Take the Ruskin dam. Many B.C. residents are unaware of the string of hydro dams along the north shore of the Fraser River, namely the Coquitlam, Alouette, Stave and Ruskin dams. They are mainly known for the campsites and recreational beaches on their reservoirs.

These are among B.C.’s oldest hydro assets, privately developed. The Coquitlam River was dammed in 1914 and has recently had a second earth-fill dam added downstream to mitigate the inevitable earthquake catastrophe.

The Stave Falls dam was completed in 1911 and the Ruskin dam followed in 1929. Their modest power output kept up with growing demand – at huge cost to salmon runs – and connecting tunnels between reservoirs also provide flood control.

Ruskin dam is a mossy old concrete monolith wedged in a granite gorge. Until it’s completely rebuilt, even a moderate earthquake would not be good for families downstream in the village of Ruskin.

The Ruskin upgrade alone is estimated at a staggering $800 million, if it starts next year and is done by 2018. It could be delayed to give Coleman and Clark a short-term political boost, if they want to gamble on a deadly dam failure. The resulting inland tsunami would have B.C. featured on CNN for a couple of weeks. Delaying this long-overdue work further will also certainly push the cost over $1 billion.

Coleman could rein in BC Hydro without directly risking lives by delaying smart meter installation. But as described last week, this project is also unavoidable, and delay can only lead to bigger costs and rate hikes.

Coleman could possibly reduce the rate impact via privatization. According to BC Hydro’s most radical union, COPE local 378, this is imminent, as the utility’s contract with Accenture expires in 2013.

COPE produced the infamous “Gordon Campbell wants to kill your grandma!” ad campaign for the 2009 election, and its penchant for overstatement continues. It issued a news release last week warning of the “possible breakup” of BC Hydro in outsourcing agreements as much as three times the size of the Accenture deal.

(In 2003 BC Hydro contracted with Accenture to provide customer service, finance, information technology and other back-office functions.)

A BC Hydro spokesman advises me that no, the utility is not considering breaking itself up into three entities, or greatly expanding its outsourcing.

The next time you hear about a quick solution for rising electricity rates, take it with a grain of salt.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com.

Just Posted

Puff, puff, pass: Cannabis is officially legal across Canada

B.C. has only one bricks-and-mortar marijuana store

Elkford councillor Joe Zarowny remembered

The District of Elkford today announced the passing of long time councillor,… Continue reading

‘Police are ready’ for legal pot, say Canadian chiefs

But Canadians won’t see major policing changes as pot becomes legal

10 things still illegal in the new age of recreational cannabis

Pot is legal – but there are still a lot of rules, and breaking some could leave you in jail

Fernie arena tragedy “wake up call” for global refrigeration industry

Technical Safety BC’s incident report shared across 60 countries, reaching as far as Poland

VIDEO: How to roll a joint

The cannabis connoisseur shares his secrets to rolling the perfect joint

Meet the City of Fernie candidates

Voters in Fernie will vote for one Mayor, six Councillors and one School Board Trustee on October 20

Meet the District of Sparwood candidates

Voters in Sparwood will vote for one Mayor and six Councillors on October 20

Meet the District of Elkford candidates

The Elkford Chamber of Commerce will host an All Candidates Forum on October 4

Harry and Meghan bring rain to drought-stricken Outback town

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan are on day two of their 16-day tour of Australia and the South Pacific.

Demand for legalized cannabis in early hours draws lineups, heavy web traffic

Government-run and privately operated sales portals went live at 12:01 a.m. local time across Canada, eliciting a wave of demand.

Killer-rapist Paul Bernardo set to make parole pitch today

Paul Bernardo, whose very name became synonymous with sadistic sexual perversion, is expected to plead for release on Wednesday.

Hero campaign raises $1.1 million for Canada non-profits

Lowe’s Canada Heroes campaign was held throughout September

Scope of Hurricane Michael’s fury becomes clearer in Florida Panhandle

Nearly 137,000 Florida customers remain without power from the Gulf of Mexico to the Georgia border

Most Read