British Columbia introduced an energy plan Tuesday that focuses heavily on increased conservation and new technology, with an aim of being self-sufficient in electricity by 2016.

The plan, which also includes thepossibility of a new hydroelectric dam, aspires to make the province about to meet all its energy needs by 2020.

Currently, B.C. imports between 12 and 15 per cent of its electricity every year.

Energy Minister Richard Neufeld, who introduced the plan in Victoria Tuesday morning, said an important part of it will require BC Hydro customers to live in more energy-efficient homes and turn down their thermostats.

Neufeld said the government has told the utility to meet half of its new electricity needs through conservation by 2020. In its last energy plan it only asked the utility to meet a third of its needs with conservation.

"We should remember that every megawatt of energy saved through conservation is one less megawatt that has to be built in the province of B.C.," Neufeld said.

The government will introduce a new building code by 2010 that will require homes to be built with higher efficiency standards.

BC Hydro may go to two-tier rate

Consumers may also end up paying more for power at peak hours.

'We have had a two-tier rate for industrial customers in the last few years. It's worked really well.' —Bob Elton, president of BC Hydro

The president of BC Hydro, Bob Elton, said the corporation may introduce a two-tier rate structure for domestic customers.

"We have had a two-tier rate for industrial customers in the last few years. It's worked really well," Elton said.

"We have a pilot where residential customers have the same thing.So you would know exactly what it's costing to deliver electricity at peak times, because that is what's really driving generation."

Elton said the corporation hopes to install so-called smart meters in homes. They chart power usage hour by hour and encourage consumers to conserve electricity.

As the government promised in the throne speech Feb. 13, all new power plants built in the province must have zero net greenhouse gas emissions.

There will be no nuclear power. It's never been considered by the government, and the province will continue to get involved in carbon trading.

Traditional critics ecstatic

The plan, which promises to make the province a national leader in green energy, received praise even from traditional critics.

'It is really a very big breakthrough. This is the stuff we've been asking for over the last four or five years.' —Guy Dauncey ofthe B.C. Sustainable Energy Association

Guy Dauncey, the head of the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association, was ecstatic about the plan.

"It is really a very big breakthrough," he said. "This is the stuff we've been asking for over the last four or five years.

"When they say it's one of the best energy plans in the world, I'm willing to say, 'Yes, that's about where it is.'"

Dauncey said the plan will mean a small increase in the price of energy in B.C., but that will act as a further incentive for people to conserve.

Even NDP energy critic John Horgan gave the plan a better than passing grade.

"I'd certainly give it a B, particularly because of the conservation initiatives," Horgan said.

"That's an enormous challenge. It's an enormous challenge for the public to come to terms with."

But Horgan said he would also have liked to see subsidies and tax incentives to encourage consumers to change their habits and save energy.

Revives talk of dam on Peace River

The minister made it clear generating hydroelectric power is considered a clean source, as are solar, tidal, wind power, and the burning wood waste.

So Neufeld said B.C. will resume discussions aimed at building the controversial Site C Dam, which would see thousands of hectares flooded along the Peace River.

Environmentalists living in the Peace River Valley plan to fight efforts to revitalize that plan.

"The remainder of the Peace River Valley in British Columbia would be just destroyed, that's all, said Tony Atkins of the Peace Valley Environment Association.

"I would be living in the damned Peace country rather than the Peace River country. The area of the proposed reservoir is 9,400 hectares," he said.

Atkins said he wishes the government would focus more on conservation than building a new dam. He said there is vital farmland in the area, and many people's homes will be at risk if the Site C Dam is built.

With files from the Canadian Press