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Over the next few weeks I’m going to break down our message into its component parts. I do this because on every possible ground the government and the private power people are dead wrong and, to save a lawsuit, are telling, in Churchill’s words, bushels of terminological inexactitudes.

Today let’s talk about BC’s need for power and, if we need it, how it can be obtained.

It seems to me that the old maxim I learned in Law School prevails: “He who alleges has the onus of proof.” That would be the Campbell government. It seems to me that they rest their case on two arguments. Rather than putting forth a white paper with their research and holding public meetings where we, the ignorant rabble can have our say, the reasons given by the Campbell government are these:

1. The public wants more computers and plasma TVs so we must have more power. (You might note the absence of any science in that assertion!)

2. BC Hydro, our public power utility, is a net importer of energy and have been for 7 of the last 10 years. It appears this is nothing more than legalistic trickery: they are very careful to say “BC Hydro,” as opposed to the province of British Columbia (and then strip away what they consider as power trading directly under Hydro until they are left with numbers that suit their purposes). Which explains why the most reliable figures we have – on BC, our public power province – tell a very different story. I ask you this question: which would you prefer, the figures of a government that is deeply committed to private power (BC Hydro, as a crown corporation, is under the thumb of the Campbell Government – and therefore under tremendous duress to back up the government’s private power policy), or the National Energy Board, which monitors all sales of energy abroad and which says that BC has been a net exporter of energy for 8 of the last 11 years? (Stats BC’s numbers also suggest we are typically net exporters of power.)

So let’s consider the creative arithmetic the government is using to hoodwink us into believing we’re net importer of power and are therefore in a panic to hand over our rivers to private companies to develop new sources of energy. Here is one way it can be accomplished: You can charge as imports the power we get from Alberta and immediately sell it, “flip” it if you will, to the American Market. A moments thought tells you that the only imports that count are those you use yourself. I use this example. Suppose you make widgets and export 1000 of them each year to the States. Suppose you find that you can buy widgets from Alberta cheaper that you can make them yourself so you buy 2000 widgets from them and export them to the US. Does that mean that we are net “importers” of 1000 widgets? Of course not … the 2000 we imported from Alberta were never for our use domestically. There are several other arithmetical twisters used by the Campbell crowd such as messing with the Columbia River Treaty provisions but the plain fact remains – We British Columbians are net exporters of energy.

Now to the second matter. If we were in need of energy, how would we get it? At this point it must be stated that wind, tidal, and solar power, and these private river schemes provide intermittent power – they can’t produce it when there is no wind, it’s slack tide, the sun’s not out or there isn’t enough water in the river. Moreover, electricity cannot be stored – the amount of hydroelectric power “stored” is in the amount of water in the reservoir available to be converted into power (unlike our historic large public dams, “run of river” power cannot be stored this way). None of the above can produce reliable power all the time and you and I want power at the flip of a switch when ever we want the lights to go on…

Let’s deal with the case at hand – private power plants. And here is the nub of the matter – the only time they can make meaningful contributions of power is during the Spring run-off which is the very time BC Hydro’s reservoirs are full to brimming.

What then if private plants make energy when Hydro doesn’t need it, which is to say all the time; what do they do with their power?

Excellent question, since BC Hydro has been forced by the Campbell government to buy this power at nearly 20x the cost of their own power and forced to sell if at less than they pay for it. Because they can’t use the power itself, BC Hydro must sell it into the grid at a considerable loss. This is the latest market philosophy of the Campbell government, learned at the knee of the Fraser Institute: Buy high and sell low!

Therefore one can see that not only does BC not need power it’s public power company, BC Hydro must buy power it doesn’t and sell it at a loss!

One final note – for the foreseeable future all needs in excess of what Hydro can now produce can be achieved through a modest conservation program, expanding the generators on present dams and install new ones at appropriate dams.

6 Responses to “Manufacturing Need: How Campbell’s Funny Arithmetic Makes a False Case for Private River Power”

  1. Mike Donovan says:

    I agree with Rafe’s position. But just so we don’t tarnish wind/tidal/solar with the same blot under some misunderstanding that “electricity cannot be stored”:
    Sure it can! It’s called a battery. Batteries take all kinds of form. The water behind a dam is a battery. A canister of hydrogen is a battery. It is conceivable that excess electricity could be used to form H2 from water, and then when we need it, the H2 could be recombined with oxygen to produce the water again – and electricity! (i.e. a fuel cell).

  2. Lucy says:

    Yes… well this is the same Gordon Campbell who appeared on TV after the conclusion of federal-government-fun early this year…. face glowing with pure adoration for Stephen Harper… excitedly chattering about how Stephen Harper will end the evils of financial regulation. You’d have thought we, the people of BC, would have looked at the ground, clearing there throats and blushing and tried to point out to the premier, quickly, that he was the only one who didn’t get the call that the theme of the party was no longer pimps and hos.
    God bless the wilful ways of a committed ideologue.

  3. DIck Goold says:

    I think Rafes numbers are deserving of scrutiny. We may have been a net exporter of electricity in eight of the last eleven years. In the last three years?

  4. Murray says:

    I think there is a better source for the case that we are a net exporter than NEB (which doesn’t include AB trade). The BC Transmission Corp’s data shows that BC has been a net exporter of electricity 6 of the last 10 years. This data accounts for all electricity except for a little that goes from Fort Nelson to Alberta.

    Secondly, Minister Lekstrom has stated on three occasions that BC is a net importer 7 of the last 10 years. When I emailed his office they said that ‘BC Hydro’ was a net exporter and did not acknowledge the mistake. They refuse to correct the public record or admit that Lekstrom made erroneous statements.

  5. Murray says:

    Dick Good:
    I think you are missing the point Dick. The case for need is being exaggerated. Why, for instance, was TEck Cominco allowed to renew their license for export in 2004 (at about $60 MWh) when the BC Gov’t was saying that we suffering from a severe shortage of power? Instead BC Hydro is forced to buy, not develop its own power, from corporate sources for about $90 MWhour in the 2006 call and $120MWh (expected) in the 2008 call. Cheack out the political donations to the BC Liberals from Plutonic power and others and you will see that there is over $600,000 in the last three years.

  6. Marian Folinsbee says:

    Dear Mr Rafe
    We so enjoyed your visiting us at Malaspina VIU this Mar 21 (Spring Eqinox) Film Festival, and the Shockingly Informative Presentation you
    gave about Water….It should have been recorded and Must Be! ! !
    We need to get it Aired on Van Is ‘s Radio station CHLY Radio as you
    had been interviewed previously. And for those of that may have have missed either of these ‘Important talks …We sure would like to invite
    You to make them available to the Radio Broadcast serving the southern BC Coast with these terrifyingly Important Issues Thankyou!
    Lets Keep BC Hydro for BC Profit and support and Protect our Rivers!

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