Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
MLAs started debating this week a brief amendment to the Clean Energy Act that either turns electricity policy in B.C. on its head, or just reflects changing circumstance, depending on your outlook.
The act was related to the great, green "war on climate change" the B.C. Liberals embarked on in their second term. It required B.C. to become self-sufficient in power production in a few years; specifically, to have enough generating capacity to meet demand even at critical (low) water levels. The exact measure was based on the worst drought ever recorded, in the 1940s, plus a sizable extra amount of power for insurance.
It changed from policy to law in 2010, but it barely lasted a year before an intensive review of B.C. Hydro raised questions about how expensive meeting that goal could be.
It turned out it would be very expensive. Faced with double-digit electricity rate hikes and a number of changes in the North American energy picture, the government decided to back down.
The definition is being adjusted so that energy self-sufficiency will be required in average water years. In years of reduced water flow, B.C. will buy on the market, as it does routinely now. Which means self-sufficiency will be a goal, only up to a point.
It will dampen part of the need for rate hikes, but stall out the prospects for growth in the independent power production field.
The change came up for debate this week. Here are the Liberal and New Democrat versions of how the story played out:
The NDP energy critic John Horgan fought the urge to gloat almost to a draw, but the thrust of the Opposition line was: "We told you so, we told you so, we told you so."
They're calling it the "Oops" bill.
Since B.C. is paying a new higher price for power from the 38 independent power producers, the NDP calculates there's a $1.3 billion extra price that will be incurred over a period of years by committing to IPPs, something they argued against from the start.
Horgan also noted that the Clean Energy Act was passed via closure. It came up during a parliamentary power play over a deadline, so debate was curtailed.
And the world changed dramatically in a brief time. A glut of natural gas developed and various places turned to natural gas-fired generation, driving the price down. That was the opposite of what was expected.
Bad idea. Based on projections that didn't pan out. "Incompetence on steroids."
The Liberal version of the story, as told by Energy Minister Rich Coleman, is that they acted on 180 submissions to cabinet from all the eminent experts, who were looking at California brown-outs and sky-high prices at the time.
The government still believes in self-sufficiency, just a different definition of it.
Coleman said the IPPs have created thousands of jobs and created dozens of key partnerships with First Nations. proponents of those plants are keen to use clean electricity.
Coleman also noted the NDP managed 16.5 hours of debate on the bill in 2010 before time was called.
He said relaxing the definition is "because things have changed since the brownouts in California — It's all due to natural gas and the quickness that the U.S. built natural-gas-powered plants and that they produce that power today that they weren't producing five or six years ago.
"We still believe in energy self-sufficiency. We're just changing the definition."
NDP MLA Michael Sather had a different Biblical twist on that, saying the change is a repentance on the road to Damascus.
"It's kind of 'Lord, give me self-sufficiency, but not just yet.'"
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