Thursday April 24, 2014

Energy, politics a costly mix

Hefty electrical rate increases announced by Energy Minister Bill Bennett on Tuesday were no surprise but are still hard to swallow, bitter medicine for the Liberal government’s legacy of mismanaging B.C. Hydro.

Bennett says the increases — 25.5 per cent over five years with the heaviest hit to come over the next two— are required to pay for new and upgraded energy infrastructure.

Ratepayers should feel good about this extra dose of financial hardship because it’s part of a 10-year plan that brings predictability, he said. You can almost hear the choruses of hallelujah as people scrape for change to pay their bills, now that they know for certain that they will be hurting.

It’s as though Bennett and the rest of cabinet were newly elected this year and couldn’t see the crisis coming. In fact, the Liberal government has not only known about Hydro’s fiscal dilemma for years and done nothing to fix the problem, they must share in the blame for creating it.

Under Gordon Campbell, the Liberals engineered the independent power production system and authorized private companies to dam rivers across the province to generate electricity when it’s in least demand, during peak Hydro production.

At the same time, they required that Hydro purchase that surplus power at inflated rates, which puts the Crown corporation in an unsustainable position. Hydro was financially hamstrung, since it had to turn around and sell that surplus power at prices lower than it paid.

As recently as last spring — just before the provincial election — Bennett’s predecessor, Rich Coleman, cancelled a B.C. Utilities Commission rate hearing. He said a 1.57-per-cent increase would be adequate. What he didn’t say was that it was adequate only to serve the needs of a political party that, at the time, had little hope of being re-elected.

Now the government wants to put the commission under its core-review scrutiny. That’s scary indeed, since they’ve used the commission as a political hobbyhorse.

Had the Liberals made the tough decisions when the decisions needed to be made, they would have been forced to account for the glaring failure of their energy policies.

Considering the cost now handed to them, voters would have been a great deal more reluctant to hand the Liberals another mandate.

We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by publisher Tim Shoults, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.

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