Editorial: Weighing BC Hydro’s balance of power

The province’s Crown energy corporation is juggling a difficult balance of power: promoting energy conservation while defending its case for sinking billions into the Site C dam project and the capacity it will add to B.C.’s power grid.

Its recent appeal to British Columbians to observe Earth Hour falls on one side of that challenge. This year’s annual global power conservation event reportedly saved B.C.’s grid 24 megawatt hours of electricity. It also confirmed that BC Hydro energy conservation initiatives, which have totalled approximately $1.4 billion since 2002, are alive and well.

The other side of Hydro’s balance-of-power challenge, however, is more concerning. Core domestic electricity demand in the province, according to Hydro’s recently released 2016-17 third-quarter financials, continues to flatline. The Q3 report shows residential, light industrial and large industrial customer demand totalling 35,892 gigawatt hours (GWh) for the nine-month period ending December 31 compared with 36,062 GWh for the same period a year earlier. That 2016-17 core domestic demand is also down 3.1% from the same period 10 years ago, when it was 37,046 GWh.

BC Hydro’s service plan filed with the province’s Budget 2017 shows stagnant domestic sales through to 2019-20.

The numbers, while reflecting the collateral economic damage from the Great Recession, run counter to the Crown corporation’s forecasts of significant growth in B.C. power demand that help justify investing

$8.8 billion in a third dam on the province’s Peace River.

They also raise questions over the wisdom of that investment considering how costly Site C’s power will be relative to alternatives in this province and south of the border.

Energy conservation is likely the least expensive way to meet growing power demand; Site C might be the most expensive. But megaproject momentum and the need to find markets for Site C power will kick conservation further down the priority list.

In the long run, that could prove costly for B.C. residents and businesses.