Hydro rates going up, ‘but not 26%’

Energy Minister Bill Bennett has denied reports that BC Hydro rates are poised to go up more than 26 per cent in the next two years.

VICTORIA – Energy Minister Bill Bennett has denied reports that BC Hydro rates are poised to go up more than 26 per cent in the next two years.

Bennett was peppered with questions Wednesday after one of BC Hydro’s unions released an internal BC Hydro document suggesting a 19 per cent rate increase next year and another six per cent the following year. The compounding effect would produce an increase of 26.4 per cent over two years.

Bennett said the document was prepared for a ministry committee working with BC Hydro on electricity rates, and has been revised three times since the leaked version was created in August. He said the committee has found ways to reduce the rate increases needed to cover extensive construction and other costs for the utility, but he wouldn’t put a number on the prospective rate increases.

The work includes identifying 19 independent power projects whose power purchase agreements are to either be cancelled or deferred.

NDP energy critic John Horgan said BC Liberal interference has led to the current situation.

“Expensive private power contracts, billions in Hydro debt hidden in deferral accounts, a sidelining of the independent B.C. Utilities Commission, an 84 per cent cost overrun on the Northwest Transmission Line,” Horgan said. “There is no question that the Liberal government has mismanaged BC Hydro.”

Bennett acknowledged that the government’s 2011 intervention to cap rate increases below four per cent for two years has increased the pressure on today’s rates. BC Hydro had been proposing rate hikes of more than nine per cent for 2012 and 2013.

“I think we are feeling the impact of decades of difficult decisions by successive governments, Socreds, NDP, BC Liberal,” Bennett said. “All of us have difficulty looking the ratepayer directly in the eye and saying, by the way, we’re going to increase your rates by X.”