British Columbia

BC Hydro 2-tier rates up for review, premier says

Premier John Horgan says the NDP government will sit down with BC Hydro officials in January to review issues including the impact of rising rates and two-tier billing.

Citizens encouraged to switch to electric heat, now 'seeing their rates go through the roof'

British Columbia experienced a colder than average winter last year. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

B.C. Premier John Horgan says the government will address the much-criticized two-tier billing system for residential electricity customers with top BC Hydro officials in January.

Horgan said he's been critical of the way the previous Liberal government introduced the graduated rates in 2008 as a way to reduce energy consumption.

"For many people, a conversion to electricity was encouraged by previous governments: Get rid of your wood stove, convert to electric and you'll get a better deal," he told the weekly reporters' scrum at the B.C. Legislature. "Now of course those very same citizens are seeing their rates go through the roof." 

The premier's remarks acknowledge the two-tier billing debate was not settled by a B.C. Utilities Commission report earlier this year that concluded it doesn't leave most low-income hydro customers worse off.

On Oct. 27, B.C. Energy Minister Michelle Mungall told On the Island host Gregor Craigie that two new reviews by the B.C. Utilities Commission launch in November to review the rate plans for Crown Corporation BC Hydro and natural gas distributor FortisBC.

Mungall said citizens are encouraged to share their views on the electrical and gas rate structure in those reviews. 

FortisBC's website estimates costs of heating with electricity at more than three times the cost of natural gas on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. (

Mungall acknowledged that electricity users sometimes pay more than those who heat their homes with gas or oil.

But Mungall said there is "no evidence" that people switch to fossil fuel heating systems in an effort to save money.

"A lot of these issues are tied to how a home is insulated," Mungall said.

Meanwhile, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver is calling for elimination of the two-tier plan, which, he said, leads to families getting "hammered" with high bills, while someone living solo in a high-end home pays the lower rate.

"Unfortunately, in my view, it's doing exactly what it's not supposed to be doing," Weaver said. "It's disincentivizing the use of electricity over the use of fossil fuels." 

Weaver noted FortisBC uses cost comparisons of gas and electric home heating costs to sell homeowners on switching to natural gas, which it says is one-third the cost on Vancouver Island.

B.C. Energy Minister Michelle Mungall said the B.C. Utilities Commission starts another review of electricity and natural gas rates in November 2017. (B.C. NDP)

Horgan said he doesn't oppose the idea of structuring electricity rates to reduce consumption.

"But if the consequence is that every month everyone's paying more, everyone's going through that first tier, I think we need to take a look at it."

With files from CBC Radio One's On the Island