Death of project won't bring chaos
B.C. Hydro's dramatic cancellation of the Duke Point Power electricity purchase agreement has triggered outrage and heated rhetoric, including demands for inquiries, visions of never-ending regulatory reviews and the by-now-standard myth about looming blackouts.
Perhaps people are so used to reliable electricity that their attention can only be caught by much sound and fury. If so, the facts will put all but true enthusiasts to sleep.
The B.C. Transmission Corporation confidently expects to maintain service to the Island with existing means until the new sub-sea electrical cables can be brought on line by October 2008. The Island's residential and commercial customers do not face more blackouts.
Industrial customers may be asked to curtail their electricity use at times, but they prefer that to paying higher rates for the new power plant. Public concerns with the transmission reinforcement have focused on technical aspects of the project, not its basic purpose.
Phase One of the new cable system will bring the Island 600 MW of electricity from the mainland, and Phase Two will bring another 600 MW -- plenty to power us for quite a few years.
Granted, this does not address the ultimate source of the electricity, but another colourful myth -- that there aren't enough resources on the mainland -- is also groundless. Power producers are lining up to bid for contracts with B.C. Hydro, and Hydro itself can make some very cost-effective capacity upgrades at the Revelstoke and Mica dams.
Calls for an inquiry are understandable, given the $120 million of write-offs and the frustrated regulatory outcome. But an inquiry would be unlikely to do much good. Until the Energy Plan of November 2002, Hydro was under government orders to build on-Island generation.
Then overnight, Hydro was forced to justify the plan before the Utilities Commission. While it was right to take the issue off cabinet's desk, the timing of the decision was highly disruptive to the process -- and Hydro can't be blamed for that.
Meanwhile, less dramatic but far more important is the present series of reviews of B.C. Hydro's electricity plans. Major decisions will be taken on whether and how to incorporate wind power into the grid. The right plan could bring about a whole new industry in B.C. The competition includes coal-fired generation, and cabinet has reserved the right to decide on the controversial Site C, the last major dam development in B.C.
A new tariff will be tabled toward year-end, which may re-jig the relative rates paid by residential, commercial and industrial customers.
These things may not make good headline material, but they will shape our future far more than the Duke Point fiasco will.
Thomas Hackney is president of the GSX Concerned Citizens Coalition.