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

Elderly woman struck and killed by train in Vanderhoof

At approximately 4:30 pm June 21, 2018, an elderly woman was struck… Continue reading

District of Vanderhoof contracts YMCA for aquatic centre

Announcement brings mixed reaction from community

Community and collaboration drive Binche Fishing Derby

Family time, forward thinking and positive initiatives to be highlighted

Nechako Valley Exhibition holding regional talent competition

Solo vocalists and instrumentalists wanted

Audit finds Canfor did not comply with bridge maintenance legislation

Per a news release issued by the Forest Practices board, an independent… Continue reading

VIDEO: Canadian toddler caught practising hockey skills in crib

Eli Graveline is getting praise from far and wide as the internet freaks out of cute throwback video

B.C. teacher ends Jeopardy! winning streak, taking home US$69,000

Ali Hasan, from New Westminster, has been gaining fans as a “one-man invasion,” says Alex Trebek

Jett Woo highlights 5 Canucks choices on Day 2 of NHL entry draft

WHL star out of Moose Jaw tabbed in Round 2

In a matter of hours, women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to drive

Change was announced as a royal decree in 2017 by Crown Prince Mohammen bin Salman

Feds announce measures to protect endangered whale species

Canada’s Whale Initiative is part of the federal government’s $1.5 billion Ocean Protection Plan

COC session vote approves Calgary as potential host for 2026 Olympics

Scott Hutcheson, chair of Calgary’s Olympic bid corporation — called vote a positive step forward

B.C. man wins job he was denied after saying he had depression

Transport Canada has been order to give Chris Hughes a high-level job and nearly $500,000

B.C. soldier shot down a century ago to be honoured

Norman Stuart Harper, of Kamloops, was killed on a bombing mission over Lahr, Germany, in 1918

Trump sends letter to Trudeau calling for increase in NATO defence spending

The letter comes as tensions between Canada and the United States have risen to a dramatic high

Most Read