Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column
Tuesday January 8, 2008
I hope that I am not the only member in the house alarmed by this road now taken towards the privatization of B.C. Hydro.
Did you know that the B.C. Liberal government has undertaken the most massive privatization in Canadian history, worth up to $60 billion?
Did you know that B.C. Hydro is already paying more for the 10 per cent of electricity produced by private energy corporations than the 90 per cent supplied through public power facilities?
And did you know that provincial electricity rates will likely double and even triple because of the government's decision to privatize future energy production?
Probably not, but those facts are convincingly laid out in a new book about what author John Calvert argues is B.C.'s impending electricity disaster.
Liquid Gold: Energy Privatization in British Columbia [Fernwood Publishing, $24.95] explains how the government has quietly privatized electricity production, taking that role away from publicly owned B.C. Hydro and giving it to multinational corporations and friends of the B.C. Liberal Party.
It's an ironic tale, given that right-wing former Social Credit premier W.A.C. Bennett nationalized private electricity production in B.C. in 1962 to create publicly-owned B.C. Hydro and now Premier Gordon Campbell is reversing a move which gave the province the second-lowest power rates in North America.
Calvert outlines an almost-secret policy: He shows that B.C. Hydro's residential consumers are subsidizing the construction of private power facilities by paying higher electrical rates - and that once these high-cost contracts end, the companies can export their power to U.S. markets.
Liquid Gold shows that long-term contracts signed by B.C. Hydro with so-called "independent power producers" are already worth $15.6 billion for just one-third of future energy needs.
If the other two-thirds also come from IPPs as planned, the total cost could exceed $60 billion.
And that will mean skyrocketing B.C. Hydro rates as our power supply eventually becomes part of the continental energy market, where consumers in San Francisco already pay triple B.C.'s electricity rates.
Calvert, a Simon Fraser University professor, says the story hasn't gotten the attention it deserves because the B.C. government has deliberately obscured it by talking about buying "green" power rather than privatization.
But Calvert says that wind power and run-of-the-river projects are often environmentally problematic and are not being adequately regulated.
And the book also shows that between 1994 and 2006 alone, B.C. Hydro provided the government with $8.8 billion in revenue.
Sadly, Calvert fears the energy privatization may soon be irreversible due to long-term contracts and international trade agreement restrictions.
[Disclosure: I provided Calvert with my master's thesis on B.C. Hydro and he is a board member of B.C. Citizens for Public Power, one of my clients.]