BC Energy Minister strikes review of hydro rate increases 

Minister Rich Coleman aims to 'reduce impact' of rates on B.C. families

B.C.'s Energy Minister has appointed a three-person panel to review of hydro rate increases.

The move came just under a week after Minister Rich Coleman said he'd have the terms of reference ready.

"Our government's priorities are to create jobs, build our economy, and support families," Coleman said in a news release.

"Our goal is to find the right balance between investing in our hydro system, while keeping rates as low as possible for B.C. families - and this review will help us do just that."

Three bureaucrats have been appointed to lead the review: John Dyble, deputy minister to Premier Christy Clark, Peter Milburn, deputy minister of finance, and Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland, former comptroller general and now associate deputy minister of the environmental assessment office.

The review's terms of reference direct the panelists to review, evaluate and make recommendations about three matters.

The first is BC Hydro's financial performance, including operating costs, reliability of forecasting and internal systems, as well as the effectiveness of procurement approaches in achieving maximum value for money.

The second is the effectiveness of BC Hydro's governance, and whether any benefits have been realized from merging the Crown corporation with the B.C. Transmission Corporation.

The third is "other matters that may arise over the course of the review that the panel deems appropriate."

BC Hydro CEO Dave Cobb welcomed the review in a statement.

"We are absolutely committed to finding the right balance between regenerating our aging electricity system, which is the backbone of B.C.'s economy, and keeping rates as low as possible for families and business," he said.

"The Province's review will provide a fresh and independent look at all of our expenditures and how we conduct our business. The last time this was done was 10 years ago."

John Horgan, former energy critic for the BC NDP and now a candidate for the party leadership, is concerned that the three people overseeing the review don't have a background in electricity, according to him.

"I know John and Peter, both of them worked in the Ministry of Highways for a number of years," he said. "They don't have any expertise in electricity or BC Hydro, so I'm concerned this is an exercise in delay by the Premier. They're going to impose an arbitrary solution for BC Hydro."

Nowhere in the terms of reference are there any mentions of initiatives taken by the provincial government that could result in rate increases.

Last June, the provincial government passed the Clean Energy Act, legislation that commits BC Hydro to achieve "electricity self-sufficiency" by holding enough electricity to meet supply obligations by 2016. The Act also commits BC Hydro to acquiring the rights to 3,000 GWh of energy by 2020, in addition to the requirements expected by 2016.

That too was a concern for Horgan, who said the legislature never had a chance to "fully debate" the Clean Energy Act.

"The government instead used closure and stifled that debate," he said. "We could have addressed some of these issues in the legislature in the fall, we could have put the material to the Crown corporation committee for a comprehensive review of the challenges.

"The legislature has sat for four days in the past 10 months and now, at the 11th hour, just when BC Hydro was supposed to be requesting a rate increase of 10 per cent, the government pulls the cord, appoints three people that don't understand the file and say we're going to get the resolution we want."

Minister Coleman was not available for an interview, but he told Black Press on Thursday that the province might consider decommissioning the Ruskin and John Hart Dams, which are slated for upgrades costing $867.4 million and $1 billion, respectively.



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