Charbonneau: Too easy to think the worst of Hydro

David Charbonneau / Kamloops Daily News
April 12, 2012 01:00 AM

It's disappointing that many British Columbians are so ready to believe the worst of B.C. Hydro. After all, it's our corporation, owned by the citizens of British Columbia. Profits flow back to us, not to some private corporation.

We are the shareholders of B.C. Hydro. It's "Our Dam Power" stressed B.C. Hydro workers when the B.C. Liberals imposed the inefficiencies that have left us with higher hydro bills.

We should be suspicious of schemes like run-of-river projects because they are ideologically driven: a way for private companies to make money by selling electricity to our public utility. We should be less suspicious about smart meters because implementation is based on engineering decisions which modernize B.C. Hydro. One faulty meter in Kamloops does not constitute a plot.

No wonder citizens have trouble separating the devious motives of government from the sensible solutions of B.C. Hydro.

Joyce Nelson describes smart meters as a "boondoggle" in her article published by the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives. Nelson doesn't seem to understand that energy efficiency is one thing and grid efficiency is another: "energy efficient appliances don't need the smart meter (or a smart grid) to function but smart appliances do."

Energy efficient appliances are a good first step. A smart power grid is next. B.C. Hydro already rewards us for the use of efficient appliances with a two-tier billing system in which we pay at a lower rate if we use less.

The next step is to reward consumers who use not only less electricity but use it at off-peak times. Consumers who insist on using power when generators are pushed to the limit and when we have to purchase dirty power from coal-fired plants outside B.C. should pay more.

Of course, sometimes we have no choice when to use power. The lights have to be on even at peak times but at least the load can be minimized through efficient lighting and appliances.

Unlike ordinary meters, smart meters allow you to see not just how much electricity you are using but when you are using it. That way you can modify your consumption. Smart washing machines and dryers can be programmed to run when grid demand is least. Smart meters will communicate when that time is.

Smart appliances are not part of some nefarious scheme as Nelson suggests. "So, making smart meters mandatory is an obvious boost for smart-appliance makers like General Electric and the whole ICT industry." Modern appliances are no more a marketing scheme than they were when early electric washing machines did away with the household drudgery.

Nelson also sees something sinister about B.C. Hydro's plans to sell power to the U.S. She wonders why we are selling power when we also have to import it. Nelson doesn't understand that this is the problem that smart meters are meant to remedy. If we can reduce peak-demand usage we won't have to buy expensive, dirty power from elsewhere.

If B.C. Hydro sells surplus electricity to the U.S., we are the beneficiaries of those profits. That money can be used to pay for government services that taxes would otherwise cover, or it can be used to reduce our bill.

Unfortunately, B.C. Hydro is often seen through the lens of government mismanagement. The ideological thumb of this government has been pressing down on B.C. Hydro for so long that citizens have forgotten who owns our dam power. It's in our best interests that B.C. Hydro is well run and it is the obligation of governments to keep their hands off.

David Charbonneau is the owner of Trio Technical. He can be reached at

© Copyright 2015 Kamloops Daily News

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