B.C. pulls plug on power projects

BC Hydro has cancelled or deferred four electricity purchase contracts with independent power producers, and the total may reach 20

Wind turbine components await construction at independent power project near Chetwynd in 2008. High construction costs stalled B.C.'s first commercial wind energy project

BC Hydro has cancelled or deferred four electricity purchase contracts with independent power producers, and the total may reach 20 by the time a review of projects is complete, Energy Minister Bill Bennett said Thursday.

Bennett said the review is part of a broader effort by BC Hydro to meet his instruction to “spend less money,” as he leads an effort to reduce costs across all government operations.

BC Hydro proposed the move, identifying the 20 project proponents that were not meeting their contract obligations due to financing, regulatory or other problems. That non-performance gives BC Hydro legal authority to delay or terminate contracts.

The utility has contracts with 81 operating projects, mostly run-of-river hydroelectric, and another 47 are under construction or seeking permits after receiving purchase contracts.

BC Hydro released its latest draft resource plan last week, which estimates the province has enough electricity supply to meet growing demand for the next 10 years. Bennett said he is skeptical about that forecast, with population growth and industrial demand from new mines and natural gas development in northern B.C., but it gives the utility some breathing room.

“I’m a real fan of the clean energy industry, but obviously we don’t want to be agreeing to buy more power than what we need,” Bennett said.

BC Hydro has been criticized in recent years for running up billions in deferred debt, as it completes major expansion and seismic upgrading of its network of dams. A new power line to northeast B.C. has run over budget, and the NDP opposition has accused the government of forcing BC Hydro to buy private power at inflated rates through contracts running as long as 40 years.

Bennett said he has asked for a detailed analysis of the cost of private power compared to new sources such as the proposed Site C dam on the Peace River or adding turbines to BC Hydro dams on the Columbia River.

B.C.’s Clean Energy Act requires BC Hydro to be self-sufficient in electricity by 2016, based on an average rainfall year to replenish its hydro dams. The requirement is to minimize the import of power generated by burning coal or natural gas.

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