British Columbia

Blaming Liberals for hydro rate increases 'not honest,' say former energy minister

British Columbians are facing an eight per cent spike in their BC Hydro bills over the next five years and the political finger-pointing has begun.

NDP report says utility overpaid independent power producers under pressure from past government

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver says the NDP government is trying to divert blame for hydro rate increases rather than address larger environmental and energy concerns. (Chris Seto/CBC)

British Columbians are facing an eight per cent spike in their BC Hydro bills over the next five years and political finger-pointing about its cause is in full swing.

A new provincial report, released this week by the NDP government, lays the blame squarely on the previous government for signing deals with independent power producers. That decision is expected to cost consumers $16 billion dollars over the next 20 year, according to the report.

But not everyone agrees.

"I would challenge the narrative that the NDP has set up here," said former B.C. Liberal energy minister Bill Bennett. "It's not honest and it's not true."

'Other factors'

Energy prices increase for all sorts of reasons, Bennett argued, particularly when the costs of developing renewable sources are factored in.

"That type of power — run-of-the-river, solar, wind, bioenergy — it's all more expensive electricity than what you get from the heritage assets like the big dams," he said.

"There are a whole bunch of other factors that are driving rates up at BC Hydro."

Bill Bennett was the B.C. Liberal Energy Minister from 2013 until he retired from politics in 2017. (B.C. Government/Flickr)

'Half truth'

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver criticised the NDP for turning to a blame game rather than addressing larger environmental and energy management concerns.

"I'm a little tired, and I think most British Columbians are, of this government standing up and blaming the previous government for this, that and everything else," Weaver said.

"[The report] is very much a political announcement, one that's actually grounded in kind of half truth and not actually dealing with some of the broader issues that we need to deal with."

Part of the problem, said former energy minister Bennett, is the intersection of politics and economics when it comes managing B.C.'s energy needs through the Crown corporation. 

"Politicians don't like to raise rates … they don't represent to ratepayers what the true cost of operating and maintaining this huge enterprise is," he said.

"It's easy for me to say now I'm retired, but really and truly, I think politicians need to stay further away from BC Hydro and let the corporation be managed more like a commercial enterprise."

The government says the first increase of 1.8 per cent will be implemented April 1, if the B.C. Utilities Commission approves the added expense. (CBC)

Context of contracts

The report argues the B.C. Liberals manufactured an urgent need for electricity, but restricted BC Hydro from producing it, and that the rate increases come from contracts the Crown utility was pressured into signing with independent power producers.

"The B.C. Liberals IPP [independent power producers] scheme was a sweetheart deal for some, but it was not a good deal for British Columbians," Minister of Energy Michelle Mungall told reporters on Thursday.

Solar and wind energy are among the cheapest to produce now, says Jae Mather, but the price of renewable energy is 'radically different today than it was even six years ago.' (CBC)

But Jae Mather, executive director of Clean Energy B.C. which represents independent power producers, said the historical context around the signing of those contracts is being overlooked.

"The price of renewable energy is radically different today than it was even six years ago," he said.

"Looking back, [those deals] were the best price that was available that time … If BC Hydro had built those same projects, they would've been the same price or higher."

With files from The Early Edition and On The Coast