BC Hydro rates rise as demand slows

Four per cent rate hike already in effect, more to come as BC Hydro looks for savings to offset slow industrial demand

BC Hydro is going ahead with its planned four per cent rate increase this year and deferring more debt to future years as it revises its electricity demand forecast downward.

The provincially-owned utility has not asked for an increase in its government-imposed rate plan despite a revised demand forecast with $3.5 billion less revenue over the next 10 years. BC Hydro has filed a three-year plan with the B.C. Utilities Commission that would increase rates four, 3.5 and three per cent in the next three years. The four per cent increase is already showing up on customer bills as an interim increase.

With the Site C dam on the Peace River and other upgrades amounting to $2 billion a year, the plan includes additional deferred debt until 2023, when Site C is due to be completed. BC Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald said the long-term nature of capital projects means its capital cost savings don’t start until the next decade.

BC Hydro has also cut some of its familiar Power Smart activities, such as the fridge buy-back plan and incentives for energy efficient light bulbs.

McDonald said BC Hydro is seeing lower revenues due to two warm winters and downturns in mining and forest products. It still projects growing overall demand as population and economic growth continue.

NDP energy critic Adrian Dix said the new deferred debt represents roughly $500 for each of BC Hydro’s two million customers, and it is a political move to get the B.C. Liberal government past next year’s election.

The 10-year rates plan imposed by Energy Minister Bill Bennett in 2013 overstated demand to justify the construction of Site C, and translates to a 28 per cent rate increase. It allows the utilities commission to regain control over approving customer rates by 2020, after five years of political direction.

Dix said with the new demand forecast and commodity prices expected to remain low, BC Hydro should have added a sixth turbine to its Revelstoke dam for $450 million before embarking on the $9 billion Site C project.