Don’t play politics with BC Hydro

The Ruskin dam came online in 1930

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

North Island MLA Michele Babchuk. Photo contributed
COMMENTARY: MLA Michele Babchuk talks the future of forestry

‘These forests are important to every single one of us, myself included’

Dr. Prean Armogam hands over a cheque for $10,000 to Hardy Bay Senior Citizens Society president Rosaline Glynn. The money will be going towards a new roof for the Port Hardy seniors centre. This is the second donation Dr. Armogam has made to the society, giving them $5,000 a little over a year ago. (Tyson Whitney - North Island Gazette)
Doctor donates $10k to Hardy Bay Senior Citizens Society for new roof

This was the second donation Armogam has given to the society

New COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island by local health area for the week of May 30-June 5. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control image)
COVID-19 cases drop again almost everywhere on Vancouver Island

Nanaimo had four new cases last week, down from 22 the week before

Blueprints for the seniors housing project in Port Hardy. (North Island Seniors Housing Foundation photo)
BC Housing declines North Island Seniors Housing Foundation’s proposal to build units

BC Housing will be explaining why exactly the project was declined at a June 18 meeting

An aerial view of the marine oil-spill near Bligh Island in Nootka sound that the Canadian Coast Guard posted in a live social media feed in December. ( Canadian Coast Guard/Facebook)
Oil from vessel that sank in 1968 off Vancouver Island to be removed

DFO hires Florida firm to carefully remove oil from MV Schiedyk in Nootka Sound starting in mid-June

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Saturday, January 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police officer charged with assault during an arrest in 2019

The service has released no other details about the allegations

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Denmark soccer player Christian Eriksen collapses during game against Finland

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Nathan Watts, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation near Port Alberni, shares his story of substance use, a perspective he said isn’t seen enough. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Watts)
Public shaming, hate perpetuates further substance use: UVic researcher

Longtime addict Nathan Watts offers a user’s perspective on substance use

Most Read