The B.C. NDP government is moving ahead with plans to phase out contracted private power within the province, increase clean power imports and develop the mothballed Burrard Thermal gas-fired generating plant site in the Lower Mainland, possibly for clean energy production.
Energy and Mines Minister Bruce Ralston says amendments he introduced in the B.C. legislature this week will get rid of the former B.C. Liberal government’s requirement that B.C. Hydro be self-sufficient in electricity supply, even in low-water years for its network of big dams. That decision led to construction of the Site C dam on the Peace River, and a series of private run-of-river generating projects that were bitterly opposed by the NDP.
In an interview with Black Press Media June 25, Ralston said the shift to certified clean imported power follows similar moves by Washington and California, and will allow trading of electricity between jurisdictions that qualify. Instead of requiring power to be produced in B.C., the legislation required B.C. Hydro to deliver certified clean power to all customers connected to its grid.
“It will give a certain flexibility to the utility so that it will be able to import, particularly from jurisdictions where there is a 100-per-cent clean standard, rather than the self-sufficiency requirement, which was basically designed to make sure that private power companies were able to prosper,” Ralston said.
Alberta, which has coal and gas-fired electricity and was in discussions with B.C. for further grid connections, would not qualify as a clean power producer for B.C. under the amendments introduced June 23.
Ralston said private power producers like the Forrest Kerr project on the Iskut River in northwest B.C. will be around for many more years. AltaGas started that run-of-river project in 2014, with a 60-year, indexed sales contract with B.C. Hydro.
While Forrest Kerr serves a remote region, some B.C. private power projects were built or planned for export to the U.S. under former premier Gordon Campbell’s green energy plan. But the shale gas boom provided a cheap alternative to coal south of the border, making the U.S. the only major greenhouse gas producer to significantly reduce its emissions in recent years.
The ministry says B.C. Hydro will spend about $1.5 billion on independent power purchases in fiscal 2021 alone, and long-term contracts represent a future financial commitment of more than $50 billion.
The Burrard Thermal gas-fired power plant, first built in 1958 and the largest power production infrastructure in the Lower Mainland, has sat idle since 2016. Ralston says the 180-acre site on Burrard Inlet is mostly unused and is a sought-after industrial property that could be used for solar or other clean energy use.
“It’s a marvellous site,” Ralston said. “It’s connected to the gas pipeline, it’s on the water, it’s zoned for industrial use, it’s away from residential areas. So I think the potential to pursue alternate opportunities is huge.”
B.C. Hydro is prevented by heritage asset designation from selling or even leasing the site, he said, and not much can be said about the operators interested in using it.
“I wouldn’t want to predetermine what it is,” Ralston said. “There will be bidders and it will be a competitive process, but I know there is a lot of interest in the site.”