A partially completed section of the Site C approach channel lining, with riprap cover and granular fill. The approach channel will funnel water from the main reservoir to the powerhouse.

VICTORIA — Premier David Eby admits that B.C. Hydro’s slow-motion approval process is a major obstacle to the province developing the power it needs in the short to medium term.

But the premier faulted the government-owned utility because “they have not kept up with their processes to be able to respond to this (challenge.)”

“It takes eight to 10 years to build a new transmission line. So, if you’re opening a mine or a major manufacturing facility or something where B.C. Hydro — they’ll tell you absolutely, we can provide the electricity. It’ll take almost a decade, but we will do it.

“Obviously, that’s not an acceptable situation,” said Eby.

B.C. Hydro has lately projected increased demand for electric vehicles, heat pumps, population growth, industrial development, and the post-pandemic economic recovery.

The anticipated demand is in addition to the coming output of Site C. Presuming construction remains on schedule, the project is projected to begin delivering about 5,000 GWh of electricity annually starting in late 2025.

Before the New Democrats took office, they maintained — with the forecasting certainty that comes easy to Opposition parties — that Site C was not needed.

But if the B.C. Liberals hadn’t started the project — and had the New Democrats not reversed themselves and decided to continue it — Hydro’s anticipated shortfall would be 8,000 GWh, almost three times the current estimate.

Even with the boost from the $16 billion (and counting) hydroelectric behemoth on the Peace River, the New Democrats are having to scramble to meet the projected power needs over the next five years.

They are setting up a panel to identify ways to speed up permitting and delivery, and enable economic opportunities, while protecting the interests of ratepayers. The panel has a year to “focus on identifying and implementing short- and medium-term actions that can advance these priorities.”

Yet it is hard to see how a year’s worth of committee work will deliver even one GWh of electricity in the short to medium term.

In the interim, Eby suggests that Hydro might reactivate Burrard Thermal, the natural gas fired generating station near Port Moody that has been mostly idled for the past decade.

Two years ago, the New Democrats passed legislation clearing the way for B.C. Hydro to sell off Burrard Thermal along with its 0.80-square-kilometre waterfront site.

Now Eby says “it has the capacity to provide a significant amount of electricity at that site. There are several proponents who would be interested in partnering with the province and First Nations on that site, given the electricity that is there.”

Hydro, for its part, is hoping to expedite project approvals by partnering ahead of time with First Nations. It has already started discussions with First Nations about co-ownership of a proposed new transmission line from Prince George to Terrace.

The utility is also preparing to add a sixth turbine to the Revelstoke generating station on the Columbia River.

In another departure from their stance in Opposition, the New Democrats will also be relying on the private sector to develop independent power projects.

Starting next spring, B.C. Hydro will be launching its first call in 15 years for “new sources of clean and renewable energy.”

Eby hastened to say that these solicitations would be nothing like the ones approved by the previous B.C. Liberal government and denounced by the then NDP Opposition.

“That program did not work, and we’re not repeating it,” said Eby. “We’re going to do things differently with better planning and fair pricing that are going to keep costs down while meeting the demand that’s out there in our province.”

A definitive cost comparison awaits approval of the contracts, presumably sometime next year.

Plus, as B.C. Hydro CEO Chris O’Riley acknowledged recently, “we currently have about 25 per cent of our supply coming from (independent plants), so this is extending that.”

Without those Liberal-approved projects, Hydro’s looming shortfall would be even greater.

On Thursday, Eby reiterated his belief that with time Hydro can deliver the power the province needs, telling reporters “I have huge confidence in the processes we’ve set up … Hydro is such an amazing resource for the province of B.C.

An hour after the premier spoke those words, O’Riley was out with a report that couldn’t help but shake confidence in Hydro.

“I have never been as disappointed as I am to share this news today,” the CEO said in outlining how Hydro ignored the serious risk of fire in underground vaults like the one that exploded into flame in downtown Vancouver earlier this year.

Maybe Hydro will get it right this time. But the utility is still a long way from reaching its own electricity target for the next five years.


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