Province halts major transmission system inquiry
By Scott Simpson
A review of documents on the website of the B.C. Utilities Commission shows that the inquiry is attracting unprecedented interest from stakeholders including first nations, municipal governments, BC Hydro ratepayer groups and independent power producers.
The inquiry was ordered last year as a means of addressing B.C.'s transmission needs for the next 30 years. Jurisdictions across North America are facing the same challenge -- aging networks of towers and wires that are close to capacity and need repair, upgrade and expansion.
BC Transmission Corp. says B.C. needs an estimated $4.5 billion worth of upgrades -- and that's not counting a new transmission service for northwest B.C., nor the cost of expanding transmission to allow independent power producers to hook into the system, nor the cost of expanding opportunities to export electricity to the United States.
Last Friday, the utilities commission ordered an indefinite postponement of the inquiry as well as related regional consultations with numerous first nations around the province.
The postponement came after BC Hydro and BC Transmission Corp. said they were making changes to their initial submissions for the inquiry due to a "policy-level review" by the provincial government.
It's expected that the reviews are related to the government's interest in expanding the development of independent power production in B.C. for the U.S. export market.
B.C. has an ambitious plan for so-called green power exports, notably to a receptive market in California, but is stymied from moving ahead until it deals with a ruling earlier this year by the B.C. Utilities Commission that put a damper on expansion of the independent power sector.
According to Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom, the government is reviewing Hydro and BCTC submissions
"to make sure that the information they are filing is consistent with our policy. . . . That's taking longer than anticipated."
Lekstrom expects the inquiry will resume in November.
Ludo Bertsch, an intervenor representing Energy Solutions for Vancouver Island, said he is surprised by the delay, given the enormous public interest in the hearing.
"It's probably the largest hearing that BCUC has put together. There are over 100 intervenors and dozens of interested parties registered," Bertsch said in an interview.