Energy Minister Rich Coleman has a new challenge, and that’s something he loves to take on.
This time it’s BC Hydro, which has seemingly grown in size and cost with barely a glance from the BC Liberal government, which is charged with overseeing the Crown corporation.
Hydro is owned by taxpayers. It is the result of the takeover of the private B.C. Electric Company in 1961, and was likely the greatest achievement of Premier W.A.C. Bennett’s 20 years in power.
Hydro is the engine of growth for the B.C. economy. In its early days, it powered numerous sawmills, pulp mills and other industrial establishments, and also served a growing export market. However, in the last 25 years, Hydro has done little in the way of building. Most of its work has been in the nature of retrofits and upgrades to existing dams and generating facilities.
The B.C. economy has changed dramatically in that time. Large industrial users are no longer the dominant force they once were. Hydro serves a wide range of customers, from large and small businesses to an ever-increasing number of residential customers.
Under former premier Gordon Campbell, the government initially tried to break up Hydro, by separating the distribution and generating arms. While they have been rejoined, another aspect of government policy was to keep Hydro away from small run-of-river hydro projects, but commit it to buy their output at rates much higher than the electricity it produced itself.
Hydro has proposed a 32 per cent rate increase, something that appalled new Premier Christy Clark. On appointing Coleman (the Mr. Fix-it of government) to the energy post, she asked him to review that plan. He appointed a committee of three deputy ministers, and last week they came out with a report that recommends cutting the rate increase in half and reducing Hydro’s work force.
Coleman will be looking over the report. He needs to recommend to cabinet a sound energy policy which will keep rates under control and keep low-cost and clean power key to B.C.’s economic development.