Dogwood BC has launched a petition campaign against what it calls the “Californication” of British Columbia’s power grid, decrying a provincial plan to buy surplus electricity from private utilities in the Golden State while preventing B.C. First Nations and residents from producing their own power at home.
“The B.C. government is gambling on surplus solar power from California to meet the future electrical needs of a growing economy, while closing the door on solar farms and other renewable energy projects here at home,” explains Dogwood Organizing Programs Manager Dave Mills. He says Bill 17, tabled at the end of June, would repeal energy self-sufficiency regulations originally enacted by former Liberal premier Gordon Campbell.
The amendments contained in Bill 17 “will allow BC Hydro, through its trading arm, Powerex, to buy clean power from U.S. states that have greened their grids. It will exclude Alberta from the power trade, however, because Alberta still gets much of its power from coal or natural gas,” Business In Vancouver reported June 30, after the legislation was announced.
“This means BC Hydro will import power from U.S. states like Washington and California and will no longer buy power from B.C.-based independent power producers (IPP),” Clean Energy BC wrote in a release.
“There are some long-term contracts in place, but some of them are coming up for renewal,” said the agency’s incoming executive director, Laureen Whyte. “And there are others that were in the queue when they suspended the standing offer program.”
Mills says B.C. is giving up more than it gains.
“True, those regulations resulted in higher purchase costs for power generated by independent power producers,” he concedes. “Unlike dam-builders in decades past, IPPs had to internalize all the costs associated with energy development.” But “Bill 17 as written puts us at the mercy of private utilities in a different country—while killing Indigenous and community-owned projects in B.C.”
The government may also be running counter to its own initiative to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“It seems every time the government takes a step with energy policy it’s away from B.C. First Nations. We have the skills, capacity, desire, and the right to be partners now in creating a new energy future in B.C.” said Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council President Dr. Judith Sayers. “It was a surprise that this amendment was done. In not consulting us the government is violating the spirit of the B.C. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act—if not the act itself.”
Mills points to the bankruptcy of California mega-utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E)—and its 84 guilty pleas in connection with the deadly Camp Fire in 2018—as a measure of the risks B.C. runs by tying itself to the private power market in California.
“If clean energy is available, we can’t just look at the generation price,” he writes. “Transmission and distribution cost as much, sometimes more. Can the minister be confident that solar power generated 1,342 kilometres away in Sacramento will be more cost-effective to a customer in Victoria than a neighbourhood solar installation?”
Mills writes that Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Minister Bruce Ralston has said the decision is driven by dollars and cents. But Dogwood’s petition says B.C. is closing the door on local projects that could help jump-start the provincial economy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic—partly because of past decisions that have given it less financial manoeuvring room.
“BC Hydro’s mandate is to make money, but it’s set to lose billions on inflated IPP contracts and the Site C dam,” the petition states. “To stay profitable, they want to buy cheap power in the U.S. and sell it back to us. This will kill solar, wind, small-scale hydro, tidal, and geothermal projects all over the province.”
Already, the petition adds, “Indigenous communities and B.C. residents who invested in solar panels or other clean technology are being told they can’t sell energy back to the grid. They’re out of pocket—while California companies rake in our cash.”
Read the rest of Dogwood’s concerns about “Californication” here.