Electricity rates are going up in British Columbia, but Premier Gordon Campbell said on Thursday that the provincial government wants to ensure that higher rates don’t rob B.C. industries of the competitive advantage that low-cost power has traditionally provided.
Nor does the government want higher rates to create a hardship for people on low or fixed incomes, he said.
In a meeting with The Vancouver Sun editorial board, Campbell reiterated his call earlier this week to British Columbians to abandon the notion that B.C. has an unlimited supply of cheap, low-cost electricity.
Recent BC Hydro documents show that the crown corporation anticipates hiking rates by 25 per cent over the next three years – an increase of $15 a month or $180 a year by 2011 – in order to raise capital to pay for upgrades to the province’s aging electricity grid.
Hydro is also adding new, higher priced power from independent producers in response to an order from the B.C. government to make the province self-sufficient for electricity by 2015.
Campbell said Hydro customers will have the opportunity to avoid head off higher electricity payments simply by being more energy-conscious.
“Everyone seems to think we have this huge excess of energy,” Campbell said. “We don’t produce [all of] the energy we consume right now. We have to try to secure more energy through not wasting energy.
“We can’t continue to think of ourselves as a small population that can waste water or waste energy, or frankly waste anything.”
Campbell believes B.C.’s electricity rates will, on a North American scale, remain a bargain.
But he said the province is not willing to keep them so low that they act as a disincentive to energy conservation.
“Certainly for the last generation energy has been a competitive advantage for British Columbia’s businesses.
“We want it to remain a competitive advantage but we don’t want to be a competitive advantage where businesses say ‘We can’t change, we don’t want to invest.'”
Groups such as the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre have warned that for some people, such as people on fixed incomes, renters, and those living in suites heated by electricity, higher electricity rates will mean less money for other essentials such as food or clothing.
Campbell noted that the government in its Throne Speech earlier this week indicated that it will be introducing legislation enabling the B.C. Utilities Commission, which regulates BC Hydro, to take into account the social and environmental impacts of proposed rate increases.
As well, he said his government has a track record of taking into account the cost of essential services and commodities for those at the low end of the income scale.
“We have been a government that has always looked at people’s ability to pay. So whether it’s Fair PharmaCare, or whether it’s MSP or expanding SAFER (Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters) for seniors, we have tried to be sensitive to that as we move through what I recognize will be a transformation.”